Groups, Gay Bars, and Election Night

On Tuesday, I’m going to watch the election results at my local gay bar.

It’s a potluck. Folks have been encouraged to wear pyjamas and bring “screaming pillows.”

And I’m so, so relieved that I get to go there.

In 2008, I watched the results roll in an implicitly queer space without really thinking much about it. Rachael’s Cafe wasn’t advertised as queer, but the woman who owned it is openly trans. I went with a gaggle of folklore and folklore-affiliated graduate students, all of whom had been in Bloomington about a year, and we watched the results roll in with a wide slice of the community that we–newly-minted, ivory-towered graduate students that we were–didn’t normally interact with much.

Indiana went for Obama by a razor-thin margin. Rachael, the cafe owner, got a phone call from the new President-elect, thanking us for his support. (Sorry for the paywall. Can’t do a thing about it.)

We’re not under any delusions that Indiana will miraculously turn blue this year like it did in 2008. Hell, this town doesn’t even seem to like Hillary much these days, though she had a pretty solid following during the 2007 primaries; this was Sanders turf, and a lot of locals seem to be voting for Hillary more in opposition to Trump than in direct support for her.

But I’m really, really glad that I can go watch this damned election at a gay bar.

I’ve had a few curmudgeonly conversations with some younger queer folks who dislike queer bars for having too many straight people in them. I’ve had a few more curmudgeonly queer folks who argue that the era of queer bars is over because it’s passé to feel that we need to segregate ourselves. Ironically, I sometimes have these two conversations with the same person.

But I’ve been thinking about groups of people. We obsess about them a little in folklore studies: what they are and what they’re not, who’s in them and who’s out, and what the heck the word “group” means in the first place. A folk group can be made up of any group of people whatsoever who have at least one thing in common — thank you, Dundes. But I like the fact that one of the main things that people will have in common at that bar tomorrow night–apart from, in all likelihood, an opposition to Trump and varying degrees of support for Clinton–is that we all chose to go to a gay bar to watch the results come in. A lot of us will be queer. Those that aren’t will recognize that they’re in a queer space. To be queer is to be marginalized, to some degree, and to be marginalized is, in all likelihood, to be viscerally frightened by the potential outcome of this whole mess.

I’ve been thinking of Noyes’ “Group”: she talks about how community is the project of a network, and groups create themselves through differentiation from others as much as through celebration of (or reification of) similarities. There’s a cynicism implicit to this description, which Noyes herself acknowledges: groups are created through shared dissatisfactions, in response to intrusion or aggression or oppression. But then, when that sense of intrusion or aggression or oppression begins to abate or to be addressed, groups may reach out to one another. We reach out from the site of these oppressions and find that which is common with other groups who have differentiated themselves for the same reasons.

So tomorrow, I’ll hang out with people who share many of my dissatisfactions and feel the impacts of many of the same intrusions and aggressions and oppressions. We will, I hope, feel better and stronger as a result, and that will empower us to reach out to many other groups who are likely to sequester themselves away for analogous reasons and may then feel empowered to reach back, so that “[these] intelligentsia, because [they] cannot participate in empire, [make] national revolution.”

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