Terrified, But Never Terrorized

Hilary Lustick writes about her first time in a gay bar, and the queer alternative she found in order to be out in the community

HilaryLustick
Hilary Lustick (Photo: Facebook)

In 2006, at age 23, I went to a gay bar for the first time.

I went by myself, because I didn’t have any queer friends to go with me. I trembled the whole way there, like I was doing something illegal. I felt so awkward that I only stayed a few minutes, came home, and emailed a friend as witness to my having taken what felt like an enormous step toward self-acceptance and the social life I wanted but had no idea how to create.

I can measure my coming out process in Boston and NYC Prides, recalling how I went from contemplative observer to boisterous bystander to Boston Keshet marcher to New York City Dyke March marshall to New York City Dykes on Bikes passenger. And I did build community, thanks largely to the existence of clubs, and so much more to my lesbian posse in graduate school, a group of women who always believed in me and showed me how to have that social life I’d craved — one that was, in retrospect, as important as romantic love or sex, but in a different way.

At last, I could go to a club with a group of people I knew. In the uncomfortable, loud, alcohol-drenched space of the gay club, I could feel the beginnings of a sense of belonging.

As an introvert, I never grew to like going to clubs. Eventually, I made enough bookish queer friends that I could find other ways to hang out and even date. I found other ways to be out in my community, like publishing queer poetry and serving as a trainer in Keshet’s LGBTQ-inclusion program for religious school educators. But in those early years, I stuck it out at clubs. The sheer overwhelm of mass queer exposure, the outrageous come-ons, the music, the dancing, and the abandon were not about “getting out there” as a shy kid. They were about getting into life as a queer adult. And without threat to my physical safety, they were terrifying enough.

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