It was once the epicenter of the gayest neighborhood in New York City. Today, any traces of the infamous Chelsea Gym are nearly impossible to find.
From the mid-‘80s to the late ‘90s, the Gym at 17th Street and Eighth Avenue was a big part of my gay youth (late gay youth anyway). As one of a few all-male gyms in town, Chelsea was a required stop for the party circuit and even what passed for the muscle glitterati. There were photos of semi-famous actors and would-be porn stars in mid-pump. Even Schwarzenegger himself worked out once, or so legend and an autographed picture attested. Some weekends, the place was overrun with beautiful, built, burly out-of-towners, leaving us locals either delighted or intimidated. And tucked away downstairs, the steam, sauna and shower areas saw enough action to fill volumes of erotic memoirs if anyone ever has the balls write them.
I had looked into those blue eyes many times before. When he would jump on me to wake me up whilst still in just his briefs, laughing and pushing his face into mine. Wrestling me to the point that I was unable to move, my eyes would make quick glances over his half naked body. I could feel all of my senses coming to life, but I had no idea what this meant.
1977—I hated my first job. I was spending long hours in a rigorous bank training program in Manhattan and, besides infrequent and random pick-ups in gay bars, I had little social life except with a few college fraternity brothers and their girlfriends and my fellow trainees. Frustrated with my situation, I decided one day to place an ad in the personals section of the Advocate national gay magazine:
“ALL-AMERICAN AND GAY – Honest, good-looking, athletic, educated, and very muscular ‘normal’ American male wishes to meet same. Object: friendship. Just coming out; at ease with being gay, but uncomfortable in the gay world. Send informative letter with photo to…”
August 2012-September 8, 2013—For a lot of closeted gay men, the Internet, social media and smartphone apps offer an excellent opportunity to explore sexuality in a space where your identity remains hidden. Unfortunately, the Internet also allows vulnerable populations to be ridiculed, harassed and “outed.” Stories of 13-year-olds hanging themselves after being bullied online have become a common trend.
2004ish – I was staying in a friend’s apartment on 17th Street off Eighth Avenue in Chelsea, then Manhattan’s gayest neighborhood, while visiting NYC from Miami in 2004 or so. I returned from a day spent running around town to find the block cordoned off and a number of NYC firemen standing nearby preventing bystanders from getting too close.
At Lafitte’s, the bar was made of thick old bayou cypress planks polished by thousands of men leaning, cruising and drinking on it for over 45 years. Underneath these planks was a cheap burlap skirt and not much else hiding the jockey boxes and equipment. The bar was a large and amorphous island, open on three sides. In the center of the bar was a tree shelf of liquor—a rough triangle attached to 3 poles. Each bartender, working their stations, on each side this tree of liquor used it. This was the call liquor.
1978—Werner Seelig and I met in the South of France. He was twenty-one and from Indiana. I was twenty, a hippy from California. We were both staying in a commune up in the mountains of the Languedoc. I was immediately attracted to him and over the course of a couple weeks of exploring the wilds of the countryside together, we became inseparable buddies.
NewFest, NYC’s LGBTQ film festival, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this week, starting Wednesday and continuing through the following Tuesday (Oct. 24-30).
NewFest first got started in 1988. At the time, like most gay men and women of that era, I led a double life—by day I was a closeted investment banker, by night (and on weekends and holidays), I spent my time reading gay publications (everything from Honcho to Mandate, but also more lifestyle and culture magazines like the Advocate and Christopher Street) and seeking out low-visibility gay hangouts—bars, discos, Fire Island—places where I could comfortably express my queerness.
1979: The crowds were still in full force around the stage for the Bourbon Street Awards and the only space available was under the balcony where the stage itself blocked the view but gave a bit of space to hang out. Clyde and Al and I watched the very end of the Bourbon Street Awards here under Lafitte’s beefed up balcony- it was closest to the front door where there was at least breathing room. It was just the 3 of us. Huge cheers had gone up for the last of the award and Ed Smith was winding the awards down. I was buzzed and very happy because I was hanging with my two favorite daddies and I know they were as buzzed as I was. I saw Al looking at me and just smiling. He grabbed me with both hands and gave me a big ol kiss on the lips.“I’m so happy to be here with you for your first time,” he said. “And I’m proud of you.” I choked up as this was a pretty huge for him to say. Clyde put his arms around both of us. This was a big moment. We 3 relished it. Then Al turned to me and Al said quietly, “Bobby I’m leaving on the redeye back to San Francisco tonight.”