Life is made of ever so many partings welded together,” says Charles Dickens. Grab a soldering iron, Houston. It’s time to say goodbye.
I’m writing this while sipping a lukewarm mocha and staring down at an empty banana peel, perched on the second floor of Agora Cafe on a drizzly Saturday. This is the same block where I so quickly felt at home in Houston, almost exactly two years ago.
I had just moved from New York City to Texas, a change I admittedly wasn’t completely ready for—a new city, a new job, new people…and all south of the Mason-Dixon for the first time.
When my (progressive and liberal) family and friends in the northeast would question whether I’d fit in, my response was always, “They’ve got a gay mayor, y’all! It’ll be fine!” Two years later, I now know that Mayor Parker is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Houston’s LGBT community.
That said, my first impression of the gay scene here did leave some room for improvement. Before I moved, I flew down to interview with Mix 96.5. I was barely here for 24 hours, the Monday and Tuesday after Thanksgiving. After spending time with my new potential managers and coworkers, I was exhausted and winding down at the Hotel Derek when I forced myself back into my rental car, at 10 p.m., to see what Houston’s gay nightlife scene had to offer.
Now that I’m a seasoned Montrose resident, I would have told the New Blake, “There is really nothing going on on Monday nights in Houston. Don’t expect much.” But I had to experience at least one gay bar in Houston to be sure I was ready to make the jump from New York (Gay Mecca) City. Gaycities.com told me JR’s was the most popular bar here, and said they were open on Monday nights. Perfect!
I saddled up to the (fairly dead) bar and ordered a Maker’s. “$5.50, please!” I got a puzzled response when I asked “Oh, is that on special?” Reasonable drink prices. Score.
A few minutes later, a big fabulous drag queen was lip-syncing Aretha Franklin. Southern drag! Fun!
Then Kofi began presiding over the amateur strip contest. Yikes, Toto. I have a feeling we’re not in NYC anymore.
Despite the tragic contestants, I ended up having a great time, staying longer than I intended, and felt ready to make the move.
Two months later, after my first few days at work, I was looking for some apartment stuff along Westheimer, on the same block where I’m sipping coffee now. It was January, but a beautiful 75-degree, sunny Saturday. I found some of my still-favorite stores, and walked into one antique shop that was smattered with Closing Sale signs (and would be for months afterward before it finally shut its doors for good). A quirky German lady offered me wine and welcomed me to Houston. I don’t know if it was the cold boxed Merlot, the fabulous (and cheap) mirror I bought, or the welcoming vibe of Montrose, but I suddenly felt at home.
A few months later, I found myself fully immersed in Houston’s LGBT community, hosting various fabulous events, volunteering for amazing organizations, and gaining an abundance of incredible new friends in the process.
And though I’ll miss the bargains at Buffalo Exchange, the stumbles between Meteor and F Bar, and my weekly dinners at Uchi, it’s the people of Houston that make me sad to leave.
My coworkers at CBS Radio. The staff at Outsmart. The folks at the Montrose Center. The people behind AIDS Foundation Houston, Bering Omega, and Live Consortium. The bars, and owners Irwin, Woody, Gray, Bruce, and Charles. (Now, can all of you please just try to get along?? Your customers coexist peacefully—can’t you?!) My fellow Bunnies on the Bayou, who work tirelessly to put together Houston’s best LGBT event of the year.
And of course, my friends. I love you all.
Now, I have three assignments for you:
1. Get more involved. There is a disparaging difference between the crowds who volunteer and the crowds at the bars. You, my peers, can always do more to help our community. If we don’t, who will?
2. Keep pushing for change. We may have reelected Mayor Parker this year, but Houston still has a lot of work to do in the Equality Department. Too many people I know here are discouragingly naive to the fact that legal protection in Houston (for gay couples, for gay employees, and for gay renters) is far behind many other parts of the country. You can still get fired from your job for grabbing a drink at JR’s. You may have a lot of supportive friends, but you still live in Texas, y’all, and complacency isn’t going to achieve equality.
3. Embrace more. If we’ve met, we’ve probably hugged. But I’m not just talking about a physical embrace. We’re on the same team, but fracture too easily. Organizations, bars, and the different fragments of the LGBT (and straight ally) community are more often at odds than in concert. This isn’t just a problem in Houston, but across the country. Imagine if we banded together instead of bickering? Celebrated, instead of judging? Grew up, instead of gossiping? Hugged, instead of hating?
Here’s one more hug, Houston. I can’t thank you enough for your southern hospitality. I promise that from here on out, I’ve got your back. Keep making me proud to call myself an honorary Houstonian, and when friends in the northeast start trash-talking Texas, I’ll tell them about a sunny January day in Montrose, and a vibrant community that I deeply miss.