The Freezer Door

Every gay bar is an accidental comedy routine

Greta Waller, Ice Crystal. 2017, oil on linen. 36 × 24". Courtesy of the artist.

I remember when faggots kissed hello. We had so much to fear and so we feared nothing, I mean we feared one another but we feared fear more. Kissing one another on the lips, this was joyous and commonplace, a legacy we were inheriting, an art—how to stretch out our lips in front of our faces, how to queen it up in front of a loving or hostile public, how to emphasize connection or disdain.

We kissed hello because we had to. We had to know we could kiss like this, a simple greeting but something splendid and transgressive even when mundane, or that’s what it felt like for me when I moved to San Francisco in 1992, and I was 19. This kiss didn’t necessarily feel like a radical act, it was just something you did if you were a faggot, whether in suit and tie or broadcasting the pageantry of outsider imagination. Was this something that united us? I wouldn’t have said so then, but maybe I’m saying it now.

Yes, there were the ones who turned their cheeks, too good for this kiss unless they explained the sudden turn by mentioning a cold sore, one just starting or one in the past, whichever way we hoped we were taking care. Sometimes you knew someone had really bad breath, but you kissed her on the lips anyway, it was okay to endure a little discomfort to avoid seeming snotty or scared. Unless this was one of those queens who would grab you and start feeling you up, that was a good reason to avoid contact.

You kissed the ones you loved and the ones you didn’t even like that much, sometimes even someone you hated, just so you wouldn’t seem shady. Too much garlic was never a problem, we kissed anyway. We kissed the living and the dying, knowing that the dying were part of the living and we wanted to keep them with us.

Maybe this was a dream—I mean I know it wasn’t a dream then, but maybe it is now. Now we’re more afraid, afraid of one another, so even the gestures of intimacy disappear. Most of the time I don’t even think of kissing someone hello anymore, I reach for a hug if possible and this can be beautiful too, but in a different way. How strange to think that in the early ’90s, when it felt like everyone was dying, we were less fearful in certain ways.

More from Issue 38