Get Out of the Club Scene & Into the Mainstream

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Mixed company in Old Town
(photo by David Quick)

Go to a Wichita gay bar on any given night and you’re likely to find some sad homosexuals mixed in with the karaoke fun and libatious celebrations. Go to a Wichita gay club and you’re going to see some forlorn fags and disgruntled dykes glued to the side walls amidst flashy friends sipping cosmos and dancing queens debaucherously shaking up the latest Top 40 techno-remix. For many, a “Wichita gay scene” centered on the club/bar life is an accepted avenue of socialization. After all, these venues do the community a great service by providing a safe and accepting place for people to be themselves and meet others who are like them. Their importance cannot be overstated. I think it’s time, though, for the LGBT community in Wichita to think beyond the bars.

I’ll confess that I’m biased. I’ve never really fit the high-fashion, super skinny mold that’s necessary to be a gay scene sensation. I spend most of my days in Delano or Riverside coffee shops and most of my nights at Old Town music venues or Commerce Street art shows. I prefer conversation about literature, philosophy, and politics over grinding my ass on the dance floor while competing for a randomly cute stranger’s attention.  I want real human connection, not sleazy one-night stands. I sense that I’m not alone.

Every time I bring up the topic of the local gay scene to other homos, there are usually plenty of moans and eye rolls. No one seems to be satisfied with the current state of socialization. Poetic waxes about the rich gay scenes of San Francisco and New York are standard. Hopes of one day leaving our fair, flat state for “gayer pastures” to the east and west are the norm. Most can’t seriously pack up and leave, though. All, however, can do something to reverse the doldrums and breathe new life into Wichita’s queer community. We need to get out of the “gay scene” and grace the “mainstream” with our queer presence!

Gay businesses aren’t the only places in this city with safe and accepting atmospheres. There are plenty of clubs and venues in Wichita that are full of accepting, cool straight people who just love the homos! They would love it even more if we became further engrained in their daily lives. There’s more to do than dance to tired Top 40 tunes in these joints, too!

Venture west of the Arkansas River on Douglas Ave into Delano and you’ll find The Vagabond. It’s the perfect spot to grab a martini with friends or share pita and hummus on a date while XM radio blares cutting edge indie jams.  Wander north and you’ll find The Riverside Perk. Under new ownership, this is a welcoming place for LGBT people of all ages to socialize without shame while enjoying a cup of coffee or mouth-watering bierock. Go into Old Town and there are plenty of places to see live, original music. The Blue Lounge, Kelly’s Irish Pub, Caffe Moderen, Mead’s Corner, The Anchor, and Lucky’s are some of the spots that showcase the best in local and regional talent. As a gay man, I’ve never felt uncomfortable in any of these joints. In fact, I feel more at home in these places than in any Wichita gay bar. Head east into the Douglas Design District and you’ll find places like The Donut Whole, Watermark Books, and Caffe Posto, that aren’t gay businesses, but are places with good food, great literature, and awesome art any queer can appreciate.

Speaking of art, Wichita has a rich scene that we need to get more in tune with! The Blank Page gallery in Delano is a hot spot for visual art, poetry, writing, and live shows. Their Wednesday open mic nights bring out the avant-garde, and it’s not uncommon to see newly-out high school kids in the audience relieved to have a safe space they can expresses themselves. Tangent Lab on Rock Island Road is another spot where cutting-edge art happens. Commerce Street’s Fisch Haus, The Jones Gallery, and The Go Away Garage are also portals into fresh visual expressions. These places are only the beginning—they are so many other places full of culture where we can feel comfortable being ourselves, and where we don’t have to feel the pressures of fitting in at a club or bar.

The gay community is really a collection of individuals. Clubs and bars—gay or straight—by their very nature don’t usually cater to individual development. They provide a space where lots of people can gather to let loose and have fun. That’s their function. The individual, though, needs more stimulation to thrive. When clubs and bars are the only avenues for socialization for a community, that’s a big problem! Those who feel disenfranchised by the limited gay culture in this city do have an outlet. We shouldn’t be afraid to claim our place there. This city is full of people ready to accept us and learn from us. We just have to give them the chance.

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