BLACK-OUT WEDNESDAY: Why the Wednesday Before Thanksgiving is One of the Biggest Gay Drinking “High Holidays”
I’ve mentioned before that here in Boystown there are gay “High Drinking Holidays” that somewhat overlap with mainstream holidays, or come the day before. Life for young gay guys revolves primarily around drinking and the bar scene…with a favorite bar serving the role that a church or lodge serves for many straight families (a place to go…to socialize…where routines are established and ties are made). When I talk about the gay “community” and the bar scene it’s mostly gay guys I talk about because lesbians don’t participate in any of this, by and large…because lesbians just don’t support bars. They might go once in a while…but it’s a special thing when they go; gay guys, however, go to the bars almost every day. As unusual as it is for lesbians to go to a bar it’s just as unusual for a gay guy under 40 NOT to be in a bar on any given night. Lesbians are more like straight men than they are gay guys and would rather be watching sports at home than going to nightclubs every day.
The “High Drinking Holidays” almost require a socially-connected gay guy to be drinking somewhere; if you’re not out and about on one of these nights, people will wonder what’s happened to you. There are really obvious “High Drinking Holidays”, like New Year’s Eve, Pride Weekend, Mardi Gras, and (to a much lesser extent than with straight people) St. Patrick’s Day. Then there are ones you could probably figure out if you thought about it…like Oscar Telecast Sunday or local festivals like Market Days here in Chicago (the first weekend in August). But the big “High Drinking Holidays” are the nights before guys have off work and also are compelled to go to some family event…such as tonight — the night before Thanksgiving — which is called “Black-out Wednesday” or just “Black Wednesday” because the Friday after Thanksgiving is called “Black Friday”. Calling it “Black-out” is acknowledging that people intend to get smashed out of their minds before heading to their families’ for Thanksgiving.
To understand most gay guys, you need to view them as perpetual teenagers…who can legally drink. A particularly apt description is to refer to them as “lost boys”…the Peter Pan, not the Keifer Sutherland, kind. If you’ve raised or spent much time around teenagers, you’ll know that they largely think they are too cool for anything around them and know more about life than you could ever imagine; hence the eye-rolls in the general direction of family traditions or anything they think is hokey or corny. Gay guys have this attitude too…and there’s a weird insistence that being cool or showing how smart (you think) you are involves putting down others, particularly your family members. Making fun of their parents is particularly a sport in gay social circles.
So, part of “Black Wednesday” immediately before Thanksgiving is going out in Boystown to complain about having to spend the next day with their parents and other relatives. So, guys go out to drink and compete to see who can make fun of their families the most. Remember that throwing shade and “reading” are a big part of gay culture; “shade” is (supposedly) witty insults told for the benefit of an audience that is expected to hoot and holler when someone’s put down and “reading” is when a gay guy directly confronts someone with a handful of real zingers designed to put that person in his or her place. It’s all a weird kind of performance art, with a lot of gay guys trying to ape what they’ve seen on the tee-vee. Essentially, they’re all trying to be Karen-the-drunk from old episodes of Will & Grace. To a person, they all think they’re spectacularly original and so very clever…when in fact all of this is just very, very sad.
There are some big generational shifts happening in gay life that are fascinating to watch. Guys older than 40 participate in Black Wednesday because many of them really are sad and want to drown their sorrows around the holidays, since they are not welcome to dinner with their families and they are either hurt by that or resent it. Guys younger than 40 just love the excuse to drink a lot, not have to work the next day, and enjoy competing with their little friends for who has the worst families. The guys who are in their 50s, 60s, and older who come out to bars on the night before Thanksgiving often actually cry while sitting on the bar stools…and some even look like they want to kill themselves. A few bartender friends of mine have reported that through the years they’ve been tipped ridiculously large amounts of money by guys on either Black Wednesday or Christmas Eve…and then those guys are never seen again. Urban legend is that those guys then cashed in their chips after deciding this is the last holiday they’d spend alone…though for all we know they could just have moved to Florida and that was their last Thanksgiving or Christmas in Chicago.
I feel really bad for the older gay guys in their 50s and above here in 2012 because they clearly wish they could have had the open life experience that younger guys take for granted. This is especially true if you go to any of the gay bars in Boystown with male strippers…who incidentally are dressed up as sexy pilgrims, Indians, and even turkeys tonight. Older guys who look like grandfathers go nuts (and get very grabby) with strippers on Black Wednesday…which is an aggressiveness they don’t usually show. Typically, these guys are very quiet and sit in the corners…but the night before the holidays they drink much more than usual and they seem to be making up for lost time. Some of them wish they looked like the strippers and were young again…others wish that when they were in their 20s they could have been out and proud or have been a stripper too. If you’re a straight woman, you might be shocked to learn just how much many guys would have wanted to be strippers at some point in their lives.
There are so many straight, married guys who go to gyms and work out who would love to be ogled and objectified for their bodies. It’s something that guys don’t talk about openly to women…but straight men in particular really have a strong exhibitionist streak to them. For the record, about 50% of the guys dancing in gay bars are straight…but almost 100% of strippers dancing for women are straight (for those who are curious). The reason for the latter is because strippers-for-women make much less than guys who dance for other guys, so there’s no incentive for a gay guy to strip for women when he can always go-go in a gay bar and not only make a lot more money but also find hookups with guys he likes. If a guy’s stripping for ladies it’s because he’s getting a benefit out of it more than just the money…because he will make much less dancing for ladies (who are super-cheap with the tips).
It’s pretty rare to hear stories of guys under 30 who aren’t welcome back home for holidays…so our culture is really changing and a lot of the old evil is dying out. Just about the only young guys I know who are banned from family events are black gay guys who are out and not on the down low. Their families won’t allow them to come around unless they acquire a suitable black woman to come with them…that’s called a beard. Sometimes on Craigslist you can see women advertising themselves to be a date to gay guys for their holiday celebrations (for a fee, of course). This isn’t prostitution — technically — because no sex is going to happen…so it’s couched more as hiring an actress or a spokesmodel for a role. It’s so very strange (and sad), but “pretend girlfriends” or “Thanksgiving girlfriends” or whatever must still be in demand because every year they appear on Craigslist in time for the holidays. If someone wasn’t paying these women, they wouldn’t keep putting themselves out there like that.
I think the Millennial generation has had it better than gay guys have ever had it. I have quite a few friends who are moms and dads of Millennials, which probably says something…since they are moms and dads who are friends with a gay political writer. My boyfriend Justin is a Millennial and is 10 years younger than me. Years ago, his parents Doc and CarolAnne tried “fixing” Justin when he came out to them in high school. They sent him to counselors and even to some kind of facility to “fix him” so that he was not gay anymore…but the two of them are smart enough to have figured out quickly that you can’t “fix” people who aren’t broken. Since then, CarolAnne has tried every year to set Justin up with some girl she knows back home in Arkansas. It’s always a disaster, and about 80% of the girls figure out in seconds that Justin is gay and end up laughing along with him at what a joke it is that CarolAnne keeps attempting this. In the last few years, CarolAnne must have run out of girls to set Justin up with and has been moving towards cougars and divorcees. My favorite of these set-ups happened last Christmas, when CarolAnne invited over a girl who was in the Army and worked as a carpenter; she rode a bicycle, had biceps thicker than pythons, and was clearly a lesbian. It was hilarious that not only CarolAnne but also this girl’s mother tried setting this “date” up for Christmas 2011.
The funny thing about all of this is that I have so many friends whose parents have problems with the people they date. My good friend Abbey in Ohio is married to a black man, and her mother tried breaking them up for the longest time. Here in Chicago, my friend Althea was married to a white man..and her mother tried doing the same thing! So, it works both ways in terms of parents trying to chase away someone of the “wrong race”. This stuff happens with people who are overweight, have “a weird hair color”, or are just “bad” in the eyes of someone in the family. When I was a kid my cousin Laurel dated a guy named Eddie that no one in my family liked for really no reason in particular. He was polite enough, I guess, but he was just boring and generic…whereas Laurel was vibrant and engaging and “could do so much better”.
So, it’s not really fair to fault families who don’t like that their sons date other guys…since those families would be upset as well, I’m sure, if these guys were dating black girls, white girls, heavy-set girls, boring girls, dumb girls, foreign girls, older girls, you name it.
I think gays climb up onto a stage proclaiming martyrdom too often, since a lot of the Black Wednesday griping is similar to what a lot of people go through whose families don’t like their boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse. I think that older generations of Americans just have a culture of giving people grief about who they end up with. That used to be a big thing, apparently…and if you watch old movies or black and white tee-vee shows you also see a lot of this in the plot lines. I really think my parents’ generation is the last one that behaves this way. Friends my age or a little older tend to just ignore someone they don’t like instead of making a big deal about that person. I do that all the time with the husbands of friends…if the woman is cool and a great friend, while the husband is a jerk. The funny thing is that even if these guys don’t like gays they actually love that their wives have a gay male friend…because the wife then gets someone to go to a concert with or to movie or whatever when the guy just wants to stay home and watch sports. The wife’s gay friend is totally a husband’s dream come true in some situations.
I’ve had about 15 serious boyfriends in my lifetime and it’s been an interesting mix in terms of how their parents treated them. Only a few of them had families who disowned them because they are gay…and those were guys who were older than me by quite a bit. My parents don’t speak to me because I am gay…but this doesn’t make them bad people. They’re just very much “Cleveland” and it is what it is. I’ve never gotten drunk on Black Wednesday over it. On the other end of the spectrum, I dated a guy named Alex from France once whose mother Heloise was FANTASTIC; she was this elegant, platinum blonde chatelaine who walked into a room like an old movie star or lounge singer. She was so incredibly cool and was actually thrilled to have a gay son. Not “pretend-thrilled”, but THRILLED for real because she thought it was entertaining and interesting. She was so incredibly nice to me and we actually stayed friends for many years after Alex and I broke up.
I had another ex named Harvey whose mother could have been the inspiration for the character “Skeletor”. This lady was one of those lefties who pretends to be thrilled she has a gay son, but yet she insists on calling him “my gay son” or “our homosexual son”. Harvey was never just “her son” to her…and, just like a classic lefty, she never could pass up a chance to announce to the world how open-minded and wonderful she was because she “had no problem with her son being a homosexual”. Folks, I would rather be called a fag than “a homosexual”. At least with people who use the word “fag” I can chalk up their behavior to pure ignorance…but people who insist on using jarring clinical terms in casual conversation are the kinds of pretentious fools I have a hard time suffering. Harvey’s mom enjoyed trying to put be down and belittle me…and was surprised when I gave back to her as much as she dished out. For three years of my life, I had an actual nemesis. She tried breaking Harvey and me up every day…and I probably stayed with him a year longer than I wanted to because I just didn’t want to give Skeletor the satisfaction that she’d “won” by leaving him. In old movies and tee-vee shows I’d seen so many stories about “mothers-in-law from Hell” and being gay I always assumed I’d never experience that…but Harvey’s mother put Endora from Bewitched to shame. If only she was as stylish and fun as Agnes Moorehead, though.
Justin’s mother, CarolAnne, is a very nice woman…and she loves her son so very much. She doesn’t like that he’s gay — and she still keeps trying to set him up with women — but she’s not evil to him. Justin’s family has a truce on the issue where they just don’t talk about him being gay. They also pretend that he and I don’t live together and that I am just a writer that he knows in Chicago. What’s really funny — which some of you might not even know — is that CarolAnne used to read my essays long before I ever met Justin. I don’t know how she found me or HB, but she used to tell Justin about me and things that I’d say because she read me every day…and then one day I met her son, totally out of the blue, and I didn’t realize CarolAnne was a reader until one day Justin was telling me something that was really familiar and I realized I had written that. So, it was very meet-cute for us because of that.
I doubt I will ever meet CarolAnne or the rest of Justin’s family in person because they just don’t want to have a relationship with any guy that Justin’s with. I respect this 100% and don’t demand anything from these people. The funny thing is that I know in the years ahead this will change slowly, because I am here to help all of his family if they’d ever need it. Justin’s sister Darcy doesn’t like that her brother is gay…but she has massive medical bills and creditors harassing her every day. I’ve offered to take on the project of resolving the medical bills and am willing to jump in to help her the second she’d let me…but she doesn’t want my involvement. I am here, though, in reserve the day she really needs it. It’s the same thing with Justin’s parents as they get older and start having various issues. I will do anything they need…and I expect nothing in return. Frankly, after dealing with Harvey’s mother and contending with a real-life nemesis for so long I’m just thrilled I don’t have an actual villain in my life anymore. CarolAnne is someone who approaches life from a place of great fear and is always wrapped up in some conspiracy or another…but she’s sweet and loves her son and brought a very nice guy into the world who I happen to love very much…so she’s a good lady and I’m glad Justin has a mom like that.
You’ll always hear gay groups screaming and yelling and demanding this, that or the other but I’m a gay guy who is telling you that in life you can’t make demands on anyone…especially not whether they’d like you or not. If I was straight, I’m sure I’d date girls whose parents didn’t like me because I was white…or because I’m a Republican…or because I’m a writer and not a doctor or a lawyer. I might not be tall enough or rich enough or old/young enough. I think the family of the guy you’re with is part of the package deal that comes with him…and it’s up to YOU how to handle the situation.
Just the other day in downtown Chicago I got into a screaming match with someone who really wanted to have a fight about something related to politics…and this person was mad at me about a story I’d written. A mutual friend of ours thought it would be funny to introduce us, not bothering to tell me that this woman was angry with me and you should have seen her face when she realized she had the chance to curse at me in person. She was actually mad at me for talking about seeing Congressman Aaron Schock in the gay bar MiniBar here in Boystown because she thinks it’s “none of (my) business” and that I should keep his secret. I told her that it’s not a secret he’s gay because he’s going to gay bars and making out with guys in public places in Chicago…and that he should just come out of the closet so that Democrats don’t use his lies about being straight against him later. I actually like Aaron Schock and think he could be a US Senator from Illinois if he’d only come out and remove the Democrats’ strategy against him…but this woman believes he needs to keep in the closet “so that he can win the primary in a few years” because she thinks “downstate voters” won’t support a gay Republican Senate candidate. This is a strangely controversial issue here in Illinois, but Republicans don’t seem to understand that voters have a problem with a guy lying about who he really is and will punish him for that…but they wouldn’t punish a hot, young, gay Republican for being who he is.
The woman wanted to keep yelling and screaming on State Street at 6 o’clock during rush hour and I had a decision to make: do I scream and yell back, or do I diffuse the situation and give the woman a way out? So I followed my instincts and I told her at one point, “You know what I think of you…I think you have real passion. I love that. You have a fire in you. I don’t agree with you, but I like you. I hope we become friends and can get a pizza or something one day because you are someone I want to know”. I actually tend to be friends with outspoken, high-energy people so I really would like to get a pizza with her. My saying this to her really threw her for a loop…and it took her a minute to get her bearings…and we parted on good terms with her giving me a little hug. All of this could have ended much differently…but it was my choice to take charge of the situation and steer it to something positive.
That’s really how I feel about Justin’s family. I always had a choice in how I wanted to handle this: I could have been weird about it and demanded that Justin’s parents acknowledge me and invite me to things…or I can just accept that they want a relationship with their son but not any guy their son is with. It’s nothing personal against me…it’s just the situation. The whole thing reminds me a lot of the movie The Evening Star, which was the lackluster sequel to Terms of Endearment. I doubt you’ve seen it, but it’s worth a look if you ever have an evening to kill with Netflix. In the movie, Shirley McClane plays Aurora Greenway…who hates her daughter’s friend Patsy. When her daughter dies, Patsy steps up and helps Aurora raise the daughter’s three kids…and Aurora hates Patsy for decades and is downright nasty to her. But Patsy doesn’t go anywhere because she loves the kids and is part of the family too, even if Aurora won’t admit it. And then Aurora gets old and sick and Patsy is there to help her…and Aurora finally makes peace with Patsy and they become sort-of friends.
That’s totally going to happen with me and CarolAnne over time…and the good thing is that this all starts from a place where CarolAnne doesn’t hate me…but just wants to pretend I don’t exist so she can keep trying to set Justin up with women. I am not someone who needs validation or attention by demanding CarolAnne acknowledge my relationship with her son or have regular dealings with me. If she really needs to get ahold of Justin and he’s not answering his phone or email, CarolAnne will call me and ask for him…so she clearly knows we’re together and accepts that…even if she feels better pretending otherwise.
I think life is short and CarolAnne needs to do what makes CarolAnne happy. As long as she is nice to Justin and loves him then I am happy.
So, Justin and I typically celebrate a holiday a week early and then he drives down to Arkansas to spend the actual celebration with his family…especially when there’s a chance for him to see his little niece Astor, who is going to turn one just after Christmas. I actually like this arrangement because he and I both get to have two holiday celebrations…one together…and then another one on our own with different people. I get to thus have all the old traditions I’d do when I was single during the holidays and Justin gets to go back to his family like when he was little. Everyone wins!
And, no, I’m not upset in the least that I’m not invited to Arkansas. If I really wanted to, I could fly down to Little Rock and spend Thanksgiving there staring at the Clinton Museum or I could find my own way down to Eureka Springs and explore Justin’s hometown while he’s on his parents’ farm…or I could do things I enjoy doing and spend holidays volunteering somewhere or with my friends or whatever I like doing.
I’m not someone who thinks two people need to be together every waking minute or that family time for Justin should necessarily involve me. I know that I will always come in second when it comes to his family and I am okay with that. We’re slightly imbalanced because I don’t have a family anymore since I came out…but I have HB and that takes up more time than a family does, and is a harder-to-understand demand on my life than relatives. So, Justin has to deal with the unique challenges that come with being with a political writer and editor of a website…and that’s probably as hard for him to handle as it is for some people to deal with the challenges of in-laws.
I just think I’m very blessed with what I have and I don’t wish it was different in any way. Life here at Buzzquarters is never dull and time just races by…and I can’t imagine things being any greener or better on any side of a fence. I am very grateful for how my life turned out and I am so happy to have so many wonderful friends coast to coast and even overseas. I have a great (and very hot) boyfriend who is sweet and charming…and he has a great family who loves him very much. In a perfect world I guess we could all be at events together…but everything is a tradeoff and there’s no guarantee that would be better than what we have now. I actually kind of like CarolAnne and Doc being off-screen in my life…and remaining people I hear about but never see in person…like on old tee-vee shows such as Cheers where they’d talk about someone’s mother or wife or whatever but they’d never cast that part.
I’ve experienced a real-life equivalent of a mother-in-law from Hell before…so it’s actually quite charming to have Justin’s relatives be these unseen characters that he tells me about. I’m sure they enjoy me being “just a writer that Justin knows” too. I know both his sister and his mom loved when I was in The Globe magazine October 1st and they discovered that in the supermarket checkout without Justin telling them.
So, we have our own unique relationship that works for everyone and is what it is.
On this Black Wednesday before Thanksgiving I raise a toast (of Diet Coke) to all of us and feel absolutely no compulsion to drink anything stronger or drown anything out over that.
© 2012, Kevin DuJan. All rights reserved.
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