Take Back The Night

7.29.2009

By Joshua David Stein

But if that is the party you want, a new venue in Washington, D.C., is breathing life into that formula too. Ed Bailey and John Guggenmos have been running gay clubs in the city for 20 years. They took over the legendary Tracks in 1989, opened the Nation in 2000, and Town in late 2007. The 20,000-square-foot Town used to be a straight hip-hop club that got shut down by the city and was taken over by a developer whose grand idea to turn the place into condos was gutted by the economy's epic failure, a sign of the times. But even Bailey acknowledges the scene's diversification is a good thing. 'Up until now, you didn't have a lot of nightlife options,' he says. 'You did the whole big gay club thing because that was the only place where everyone could go and be gay.' Now, D.C.'s gay scene thrums with 'alternative' parties like H'sker D's Bob Mould's Blow Off and a monthly dance party at DC9 called Taint, which features 'disco-dance skronk, punk-funk weirdness, and Bmore bangers' and caters to the people who know what those things mean.

After years of monolithic nightlife, pumping and looping like an endless techno track, why is gay nightlife suddenly fragmenting? For one thing, the model has shifted from gay super-clubs like Twilo and Limelight to small, more intimate venues that depend less on mass. Or, as Susanne Bartsch says, 'Bars are the new clubs. It's no longer about mega.' The same is true for identity. As self-confidence increases and prejudice wanes, gay men and women are free to be just who they want to be. Thanks in part to Google and Facebook, we now know that however obscure one's interests, there's always another gay out there getting his groove on to, say, Slipknot's 1999 hit 'Wait and Bleed.' As groups of all types of people -- from gay indie rockers to gay minimalist techno geeks -- reach sustainable critical mass, identifying as gay is no longer as interesting or as useful as it once was. We can be many identities simultaneously. Or, as Walt Whitman said, 'I am large. I contain multitudes.' So, like an AT&T ad, there are more bars in more places.

Perhaps the most misunderstood protagonist in the resurgence of gay nightlife is the Internet. The Web has been variously demonized as the destroyer of gay nightlife and lionized as the savior of the gay community. The truth is probably somewhere in between. A year ago, Phillip M., a 27-year-old grad student in Minneapolis, began to keep track of all the things he wasn't doing because he was on Manhunt. 'I thought of all the books I wasn't reading, the dinners I was skipping, the friends I wasn't spending time with.' So he deleted his account and began to read, eat, and go out. 'I began living my life in ways other than just sitting in front of my computer screen.'

He isn't alone. For many young men, Manhunt simply isn't cool. (Although it claims a majority membership of young users between 18 and 35, the online traffic-monitoring website Quantcast suggests it skews older, in the 35 to 49 range). 'Manhunt is totally 1.0,' scoffs Ryan Tracy, a young opera critic in New York. 'If you're at a bar,' Phillip explains, 'you won't necessarily feel bad after spending four hours out, even if you don't go home with anyone. But if you spend four hours online and sleep alone, you feel like you failed.' According to Dick M., a writer in New York who finds himself at bars more often than not, 'You can't have your drinks paid for online.' But Manhunt has also been yanked into the service of the new and better bar scene. 'The prevalence of Internet sex has changed everything,' says Starkweather. 'You don't have to go to a bar to get laid. There are plenty of chances to do it at home. Parties like Manthrax! are less about whether you can get your dick sucked and more about just having a good time.'

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