Branching out in Philly

Dating and hooking up aren’t the only facets of gay life. Columnist Joshua Fernandez sets out to find his place as an individual in the LGBTQ community.

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COLIN KERRIGAN TTN While issues of gender and sexuality are topics LGBTQ community members should be knowledgable about, Josh Fernandez writes that gays should look beyond their sexual orientation.

In addition to doing nothing but eating, bar hopping and oversleeping, I spent my winter break trying to accomplish a new goal: getting the most out of gay Philadelphia.

For various reasons, I no longer play a role on the executive board of Temple’s LGBTQIA organization, the Temple Queer Student Union. Between finals and internship applications, the “Where do I go from here?” thought never crossed my mind. Once finals were over and I had an almost all-day nap, I woke up figuring out how I was going to maintain a connection with the community.

I brainstormed lists, Googled “gay Philadelphia locations” and went out with friends. The only problem is that Philadelphia, unlike cities such as New York and Los Angeles, doesn’t have a wide range of social opportunities for young queers.

At some point during break, I became very familiar with the Web site phillygaycalendar.com, which keeps track of venues, events and news for all-things gay in the city. But prior to that, I was forced to rely on frequent trips to Woody’s this break.

My first trip to the infamous gay club during the break was mildly entertaining. I went with three other friends, and we danced and enjoyed a drink or two. At one point, a lesbian friend danced up on me from behind and teased me until the crowd she was with moseyed by us.

A few flirtatious eye games and a drink later, my friends and I exited Woody’s, walked across the street and were quiet for a minute until the only other male in the group blurted, “Why did we go there?”
We all laughed it off and went home.

That Saturday, I returned to Woody’s. This time I was with hometown friends, and we went through the same routine: drink, dance, drink, bathroom, dance, repeat.

I returned to Woody’s the following Wednesday with a crowd, and I’m now so exhausted from Woody’s that I’m positive I could go at least two months without seeing the place.

A couple days later, a friend and I had a guys’ night out and hit up three different venues in the Gayborhood: Knock, Q Lounge and finally, the Tavern on Camac, a little piano bar.

While enjoying the music, drinks and cute specimen, my friend and I talked about how we needed to have nights like these more often. After all, he said, when you’re young and single, don’t you owe it to yourself to have nights like these? How else, besides online dating and personal sites, can one market themselves?

I agreed with him. The only thing is, I’m not just looking for people to date and flirt with me. I’m looking for a connection to the gay community, something I lacked in high school. At some point during the break — possibly after a night of dancing and being surrounded by beautiful women-loving women at the once-a-month party event, Stimulus — I thought about something that occurred when two different groups of friends were in the same place at once.

The one group I was with sat as the other four friends, all female and all lesbian, made vaginal jokes and talked about lesbian- and queer-related things.

As a result of their conversation topics, my one friend looked over to me and said, “So, we’re the only ones at this table that like penis.”

All I could do was nod, while one female friend tried to put an embargo on queer/gender/women’s studies so everyone at the table could speak and relate to the topic.

Looking back on it, I realized two things.

First, for many young queers, gay/straight alliances and LGBTQ groups are a nice starter for meeting friends. For some people, these groups become a critical social outlet that was not available in high school, and that’s OK.

What occurred to me, however, was that scientists and human sexuality experts say one in 10 people is gay. If this is true — and I believe, to an extent, that it is — then QSU is missing roughly 2,800 LGBTQ folk from its organization. Clearly, whether its more or less than the estimated number I pulled out of my head, other Temple queers are around, and either they are not out of the closet, or they choose not to be in QSU and are connected to the gay community in their own ways.

The second thing I realized is that being queer and queer culture and equal rights do matter to me. I enjoy being able to write about queer things in this column and discuss them in an academic setting. But I no longer want people to only associate me with only “gay” or “queer” in mind. I’m someone who enjoys politics, fiction, poetry, journalism, pop culture, quirky family stories, et cetera.

Being queer is only a fraction (OK, maybe sometimes half) of who I am and what I enjoy talking about, and there are other things to me.

A friend and I had this conversation, and with regard to LGBTQ persons who only relate to each other because of their LGBTQ status, she said, “There has to be more to them than whom they sleep with. And if that’s the only way they connect to people, then what are they going to do once they graduate college? They won’t have QSU after they graduate or look for jobs.”

She’s right. But what I’m learning right now is that some people need that outlet in the beginning. Some people need that outlet always. I’m learning that I need a healthy balance of gay and other social outlets, which is why I recommend exploring any and all options in not just gay Philadelphia, but everything Philadelphia.

Being queer shouldn’t define every aspect of your life. It’s a crucial one, but not the only one.

Joshua Fernandez can be reached at josh@temple.edu.

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