My First Gay Bar Experience

Most of you know I identify as lesbian. Really, the words are “femme Dyke“… a more political, descriptive explanation of how I walk in the LGBTQ+ community.

Buzzfeed recently asked folks to share their first gay bar experiences as a way to express the good and bad of the atmosphere in what used to be seen as a safe space. I wrote mine out and wanted to share it here as well, especially since my babies have asked me to write my life here on the blog.

There is so, so much more to the story, but here is the outline of my life at the Parliament House in Orlando.

Parliament House Motor Inn, 410 North Orange Blossom Trial Orlando
Parliament House, circa 1979

What Gay Bars Mean to Me

I was 17-years old in 1979 when my gay boyfriend and I ventured to the Parliament House in Orlando, Florida. It was like walking into Wonderland; an alternate Universe I never knew existed. For once, being a fat girl didn’t make any difference… I was embraced and accepted for all that I was. In fact, I found myself in the midst of brilliant, eccentric, artistic and whirling-twirling misfits that pulled me into the middle of their all-male fold.

Besides dancing to Donna Summer and drinking watered-down gin & tonics, the PH had a Show Bar where Drag Queens performed twice nightly. The Divine Miss P emceed, her biting snark gave me a view into humor I’d never experienced before. There is nothing quite like being the object of a Drag Queen’s dart.

Divine Miss P

For some reason still unknown to me, the Drag Queens took me under their wing. I was not even in the bar legally, must have made a fool of myself with my ignorance of gay culture a hundred times, yet they sat me down in front of the make-up mirror and taught me how to “paint my face.” For years afterwards, I was asked if I was a Drag Queen (although the huge rhinestone brooches and bracelets, the feather boas and glitter in my pink hair might have had something to do with it, too). It took until I had kids that I learned to tone down my make-up enough that strangers didn’t think I was about to lip-sych a song for them.

Being in the bar allowed me to explore my then-fluid sexuality, no one telling me I was disgusting or sinful. I wandered in and out of the closet for another few years before identifying as lesbian after the kids were born. Those early days were a whirlwind of round-robin kissing, casual sex, copious drugs all while struggling to finish high school. A time that was ignorant of the things that would kill us in the not-so-distant future. A time when we would never, ever have remotely thought someone would bring a machine gun into the bar and kill us by the dozens.

37 years ago, here in Orlando, that would have been me in that bar. Instead, it was children of my peers. My heart sobs for the loss of innocence.