One day, out of the blue, I received an
email from well-respected writer Renee Bess. In her thoughtful,
elegant style, she asked if I would be interested in working together
to produce an anthology about the role gay bars have played in our
I was on board before I finished
reading. A gay bar anthology, I immediately thought, was a brilliant
idea and worked in so many ways.
For one thing, it would capture a big
chunk of our history, and document it, whether it be in the form of
memoirs or poems or fiction or essays. For another, it would honor
that history. Perhaps, I hoped, it would give young LGBT people an
understanding of the attraction of the bars, of places of our own,
back when holding hands under a table was both daring and forbidden.
Happy Hours – Our Lives In The Gay Bars is not about the
pleasures or tragedies of alcohol, but the camaraderie we found –
or didn’t find – inside those loud, dark, smoke-filled rooms
where we took our freedoms.
Renee emphasized how important it was
to her to have a widely diverse collection. I felt the same and we
committed to vigorous outreach.
Renee proposed we do the book as a
fundraiser for youth shelters, the antithesis of the bars. All
profits would go to that cause. Sounded perfect to me. We both chose
programs in the cities where we entered the gay world, Philadelphia
for Renee and New York for me.
We had an enormous pool of contributors
from which to draw. Not many writers resisted the companionship
offered in the heydays of the bars. That’s where we could feel
normal for a while, where we could go to hang out with friends, meet
our soulmates, dance, celebrate, blot out pain with liquor and
sympathetic ears, and be our real selves for a few hours.
Not to romanticize the experience, the
bars also gave us the opportunity to feel isolated from our own
people, breathe in dangerous levels of tobacco smoke, develop into
alcoholics, get into fights, be ripped off by the owners, and
arrested by the police. I wrote a whole book about that last, it’s
called The Raid.
When I did Off the Rag: Lesbians
Writing on Menopause, and The Butch Cook Book, my
co-editors and I had to coax, beg, plead, transcribe, and otherwise
badger submissions from women interested in writing about the
subject. With Happy Hours, Renee and I were elated to be
inundated with heartfelt, quality donations of every type of writing
from a hefty cross section of our tribe.
And donations they were. We’re really
hoping to make a difference to our kids with this fundraiser; every
stitch of work is volunteered. Of course, writers are used to giving
away our work just to get it into print somewhere. This time, though,
the publisher, Patty Schramm is taking no money and expending hours
and hours plus a goodly sum for producing the book, which will be the
inaugural project for her company, Flashpoint Publications. Patty’s
knowledge of the publishing process is magic. She’s doing the
Award winning cover artist Ann McMan is
in great demand, yet gave her time not only to produce a genius
cover, but to our requests for tweaks and changes. The result is a
dynamic and irresistible cover that truly represents what’s inside.
Writers Lori Lake and Nann Dunn have also heartily pitched in.
Editing, copyrighting – all the unglamorous stuff has been taken
over by the gay women who seem to live to create and broaden our
My energy reserves get lower every
year, but I knew this book needed to be out there and Renee was the
perfect partner to make it happen. She’s done all the hard
administrative work: concept, complications, keeping on top of
things. We’re both pretty low key and agreeable types, so have had
no conflicts or arguments. A lot of the time, all I had to do was say
yes to Renee’s creative ideas.
I continue to be stunned by the
devotion everyone has shown to our cause. The ambitious contributors,
though, are a special breed. Their excitement over Happy Hours
is a joy to see. All they needed was the go-ahead and they began
promotion and marketing on their own.
Our writers and poets make a little
community, with their wide spectrum of gender, color, backgrounds,
All the collaborators remind me of the
old days, when we were so embattled, a united front was a necessity.
While I don’t long for the days of collectives, communes, and the
teachings of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book, Happy Hours
is the product of the kind of enthusiastic shared undertaking that
powered the labor, civil rights, women’s, and gay movements.
After the Stonewall riots, it may be
the best thing to ever come out of our bars.
[Editor's Note: Lee Lynch is the author
of over 13 books. Her latest, Rainbow Gap, is available at Bold
Strokes Books. You can reach Lynch at LeeLynch@ontopmag.com]
Copyright 2017 Lee Lynch.