My partner and I made a rare sortie into a central London gay bar the other evening, on our way to see a play. He was craving a cool pint of beer and the nearest decent bar just happened to be one where the more stylish boys hang out.

I’m pretty accustomed to gay bars and am a jaded pub goer, having launched myself on the gay scene at a slightly scandalous 16 years old but my partner has never really partaken in the scene much at all, being a much later starter and having lived in more rural areas. It sometimes takes an outsider to spot something and pinpoint a factor that you take for granted.

My partner noticed the constant staring. Being slightly vain, he loved it. Its normal practice in a gay bar to be appraised and I don’t even notice this anymore. The quick look up and down, the sideways glance and the full on full body scan are all perils that you face when entering a bar. It’s habitual, standard practice and is done without thinking and with no terrible breach of etiquette. In fact, it is the etiquette. I wouldn’t even think it rude were someone to look down pointedly at my crotch to see what I was packing or to perform a lengthy examination of my buttocks. It’s just the way of the gay. It often ends in dismissal (I’m with a partner, I’m over 40 and therefore unavailable/decrepit and not necessarily worth the effort) but can end in a brief eye contact, a mutual appraisal or a mutual disdain.

We talked about it and I explained the code of practice in a gay bar to my partner. I explained that it’s often meaningless; that gay men appraise men, just as straight men appraise women and it’s as much a habit as biting your nails or chewing gum.

I have a thousand sneaky ways of looking attractive men up and down in the street. Lechery has to be a skilful art at times. There’s the brief sideways glance at a hot businessman on the tube, over the top of a paperback novel. The window reflection study of a scantily clad hottie in shorts on the top deck of a bus is a classic manoeuvre. The distracted ‘just casually looking around but my eyes have accidentally taken in the lycra cyclist with the muscles and I’ve noted that he appears to have a massive penis’ is a very retro one which is easy to perfect, provided you can feign the right level of nonchalance.

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Let the Starey Marys stare in the bars. It’s not at all intimidating unless you let it be so and is actually, quite flattering should their facial expression register a glimmer of approval or lust. If they dismiss or grimace, then just let it amuse you.

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They clearly have no class or taste or you’re just in the wrong bar.

About the author: Chris Bridges
Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He's usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.

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