I often joke with friends that the best example of irony I can think of, as both an openly gay man and an openly die-hard fan of the New England Patriots, is the fact that I associate gay bars with rejection and ostracization and I associate football games with love and acceptance.
You may think that it feels weird to lump these two seemingly opposite activities into the same category but really, whenever I find myself surrounded my men, shouting, and booze, then chances are that I'm either at a gay bar or a football game. So I associate them pretty closely.
I vividly remember my first experience at a New York City gay bar, having moved there in 2010 as an NYU grad student at the age of 22. Giddy about finally being able to experience and join one of the largest, most historic gay communities in the world, I shared my excitement with every man who talked to me that night.
Here's what I was expecting them to respond to me with: "Welcome! Make yourself at home. We're all here to support one another, and we thrive on making meaningful connections with one another, so if you do end up sleeping with a guy tonight, please feel free to develop feelings for him."
Yeah. That didn't happen.
I talked to a bunch of different guys -- some of them told me that my naïveté was adorable, some made fun of me for it, and one guy told me that I reminded him of a 12-year-old. One or two tried to take me home for no-strings-attached sex. A few totally rejected me when I tried to talk to them, and many more glared at me with strange, competitive, eye-roll-y looks of disapproval.
And none of it made any sense to me.
I know this experience isn't unlike that of many other gay men in urban areas who have already written about dating at length, so I'm not even going to attempt an explanation for why this happens. I'm just acknowledging that it does, and it sucks.
After my initial experience with the NYC gay scene, however, my disillusionment with the gay community was more or less kept at bay for a while until last summer, when I dated a guy who outwardly told me that he thought I was fat. Or, to be fair, that I am fatter than his typical preference for ripped guys, but he was willing to make an exception for me.
My admittedly low self-esteem actually allowed things to continue with him for a few weeks, until I finally came to my senses at the Patriots home opener during Week 2 of the regular season. I spent that day eating every tailgate food item ever, talking about my fantasy football roster with the strangers, and cheering on my team ultimately realizing, at some point during all of these shame-free festivities, that I'm actually not inadequate.
Indeed, football games are noticeably lacking in the pretentious, judgmental, and often vapid atmosphere that tends to pervade far too many of the gay bars I've been to. Football games simply involve a large group of people of different shapes and sizes, from different walks of life, and with different sets of beliefs coming together to celebrate the one, often only thing that we all have in common.
We're there because we want our team to win.
Imagine if we could make gay bars the same way.
NICOLAS DiDOMIZIO is a writer from Connecticut. He blogs at keychangesblog.com, tweets @ctnicolas, and is currently working on his first book. He also works in the music department of MTV Networks. He holds an MA from New York University and a BA from Western Connecticut State University.