Just back after four days in San Francisco, a city I don’t know well but that has captivated my imagination since I read Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series in my 20s. For the most part, I spent my time this visit doing pretty standard work conference activities. But the last night, a colleague cum friend sent a text inviting me to join her and her husband at a Market Street wine bar. After a longer-than-expected walk, I arrived to a quiet scene. My friends were there along with two gender bending, male-identified men behind the bar and two women, apparently a couple, sharing quiet conversation.
We were enjoying appetizers and a bottle of wine when my colleague’s husband burst into song with a falsetto that let me know this was going to be no ordinary night. The three of us are in our 50’s and the songs of our youth were topping the playlist. As my colleague and I talked shop, her husband kept singing and befriended the couple to his left. Soon enough we put away our workplace concerns and let the impulse to sing and dance take over. At first, it was the three of us. One of the bartenders began to act as DJ, taking requests. First Journey, Queen, Pat Benetar, then Bye Bye Miss American Pie, The Cars, more Journey….music that took me back. Another colleague arrived and joined the fun. Eventually, one member of the unknown couple decided to dance with us, and with some trepidation her reluctant partner joined in. Soon enough the bar tenders were strutting their stuff and we jumped into a joyous, raucous-for-me, evening. I’ve been basking in the glow of the laughter and camaraderie ever since.
But there was so much more to that evening than a spontaneous dance party in a far away city. Our evening stood in contrast to the news story that had broken that afternoon in which a group of boys from a Catholic school in full MAGA gear appeared to taunt and disrespect a Native American elder at a protest in Washington D.C. What actually happened is now the subject of debate and I’ve not followed every nuance. But our current national life is so filled with stories of open prejudice and hatred that the complexity of this situation hardly matters. We hear similar things almost weekly, incidents that are either ignored or celebrated by our leaders.
Indeed at one point in the night, in the midst of the dancing and laughter, one of the women we met began to cry. A Latinx lesbian woman who valued her Catholic faith even though many who share it would reject her, she was dismayed by the boys’ behavior. (For the record, many claiming Christ would reject this woman. Her Catholic Church is not alone its exclusion.) For her, because the boys were Catholic she hoped that they would choose to represent a message of Christian love. When we saw her sit down and her tears begin, we dropped to our knees in front of her and joined hands forming a circle to share and acknowledge her sorrow. What a gift to share our collective grief with this stranger-friend for a moment.
The tears passed and we kept dancing, singing, and laughing. Two very young couples joined the mix, and soon thereafter it was time to call it a night. As we said good-bye, one of the bar tenders explained it was his first night on the job and said we had made it great for him. But really we all made it great for each other. For one evening, by tacit agreement, we all remembered what it was like to be young and open to new people and experiences. We agreed to let our stereotypes drop, stereotypes about how 50 plus straight people, and 40 plus lesbian people, and 30-ish gender bending people are “supposed to” act and relate. Those stereotypes would have kept us in our corners, no spontaneous falsetto, no singing, no dancing, no understanding, no joyful connection. For a moment, as the song goes, we belonged to the light, we belonged to each other, and we belonged together.