It seems like only yesterday that a very tech-savvy friend of mine helped me create my first fake ID so I could get into the smoky, sweaty firetrap that was my neighborhood gay bar. The Quest was (and still is) a dump, but it’s the kind of dump you’re only aloud to criticize if you’re a local. In its defense, it’s the only bar I’ve ever found that is open 24/7 thanks to its “private” club status. (Becoming a member is about as difficult as obtaining a CVS ExtraCare card and provides a similar level of prestige.) The place is always packed with the cream of central Alabama’s gay crop, which includes a surprisingly healthy stockpile of amazing drag queens, husky frat boys, and towering black guys who fought to be majorettes and dance-team captains in their backwater high school marching bands.
The decor is cinderblock-prison chic meets the Party City clearance bin. Yet, the sound system is top of the line, packing enough bass to rattle loose most dental work. The music is almost exclusively remixes featuring sassy pop divas—the kind of songs that could turn even the Brawny paper towel man into a hot tranny mess of pantomiming and lip-synching once he hit the dance floor. Back in my day, a typical rotation might sound something like this:
- It’s Not Right, but It’s Okay
- Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here
- Can’t Fight the Moonlight
- Let the Joy Rise
- Ballad of Cleo and Joe
- Absolutely Fabulous (see below)
These days, nothing makes me feel older than overhearing a few of my gay students talk about their weekend plans or their favorite new songs. I look at them and sigh, partly out of regret that I can’t turn back time and partly out of pity that the best equivalent they’ll have to the Pet Shop Boys and AbFab is Fergie’s, “Labels or Love.” (This song will surely be coming soon to a drag show near you, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.) Sadly, they only know Whitney as a punchline on SNL. Cher’s comeback came and went before they came out, “vintage” Madonna includes anything before Confessions on a Dance Floor, and Ellen’s sitcom is just “that thing she did before she had a talk show.”
Perhaps we need some sort of gay culture museum—a place where we can preserve the best artifacts of our past so that future generations can learn and respect their proud gay history, from the first AOL m4m chat room to the early work of Kristine W and Kim English. More importantly, such a museum could serve as the foundation of a really great site for assisted-living condos where countless dried-up old queens could sip cosmopolitans and complain about everything that’s wrong with gay kids today.