Gay bars have been closing by the hundreds. The story goes that increasing mainstream acceptance of LGBTQ+ people, plus dating apps like Grindr and Tinder, have rendered these spaces obsolete. Beyond that, rampant gentrification in big cities has pushed gay bars out of the neighborhoods they helped make hip. Who Needs Gay Bars? considers these narratives, accepting that the answer for some might be: maybe nobody. And yet...
Jarred by the closing of his favorite local watering hole in Cleveland, Ohio, Greggor Mattson embarks on a journey across the country to paint a much more complex picture of the cultural significance of these spaces, inside "big four" gay cities, but also beyond them. No longer the only places for their patrons to socialize openly, Mattson finds in them instead a continuously evolving symbol; a physical place for feeling and challenging the beating pulse of sexual progress.
From the historical archives of Seattle's Garden of Allah, to the outpost bars in Texas, Missouri or Florida that serve as community hubs for queer youth—these are places of celebration, where the next drag superstar from Alaska or Oklahoma may be discovered. They are also fraught grounds for confronting the racial and gender politics within and without the LGBTQ+ community.
The question that frames this story is not asking whether these spaces are needed, but for whom, earnestly exploring the diversity of folks and purposes they serve today. Loosely informed by the Damron Guide, the so-called "Green Book" of gay travel, Mattson logged 10,000 miles on the road to all corners of the United States. His destinations are sometimes thriving, sometimes struggling, but all offering intimate views of the wide range of gay experience in America: POC, white, trans, cis; past, present, and future.
About the author
Greggor Mattson, PhD, is an author and Professor of Sociology at Oberlin College & Conservatory where he teaches courses on sexuality, nightlife, and cities. He is the author of The Cultural Politics of European Prostitution Reform: Governing Loose Women (2016). His work has appeared in the Annual Review of Sociology, as well as in Slate, Literary Hub, Business Insider, and The Daily Beast.
"A fun, thoughtful, and nuanced examination of the past, present, and future roles of the 'gay bar' as the demand for and economics of queer community space wildly in flux."
—Hugh Ryan, author of The Women's House of Detention and When Brooklyn Was Queer
"Who Needs Gay Bars offers a powerful collection of microsociological portraits of gay bars across the United States. It accumulates into a nuanced map of a queer world shaped by desire, social and political urgencies, and politico-economic pressures as diverse as the community—from large urban to isolate rural outposts. It is ambitious in its expanse and surprisingly intimate in approach."
—Ramón H. Rivera-Servera, The University of Texas, Austin
"Breathtakingly intimate and yet vast in scope, this passion project balances sharp insights with the kind of lived-in details that make you want to pull up a stool and stay a while."
—Samantha Allen, author of Real Queer America and Patricia Wants to Cuddle
"With intelligent and easily accessible writing, this account stands as a testament to our community's resilience."
—Alex Espinoza, author of Cruising and The Five Acts of Diego León
"Queer bars have been a life-saving sanctuary for LGBTQ people over the last century, and they continue to serve as incubators, not just for queer and trans culture, but how we might also continue to build an even queerer future."
—Honey Mahogany, Co-Owner, The Stud
"In Who Needs Gay Bars? [Mattson] paints a vivid and nearly comprehensive portrait of the current state of gay bars as an institution and as an important component of the LGBTQ community in all its unwieldy diversity. He also paints a personal journey that many LGBTQ readers will relate to."
—Gary L. Day, Philadelphia Gay News
"Mattson does his best to survey as many of the myriad issues as possible, faced by an equally myriad number of bars of a dazzling variety. It's also a personal journey by the author that many LGBTQ readers will identify with."
"[one of] the best queer American travelogues since Edmund White's States of Desire was published way back in 1980."
"[Who Needs Gay Bars?] does an excellent job of addressing how both the LGBTQ+ community and the non-LGBTQ+ community are responsible for the decline in access to gay bars.... Recommended."
—A. J. Ramirez, CHOICE