For many people, bars are merely gathering places, a spot to catch the big game, cut loose or grab a beer after work. But for some, bars represent a safe haven, a space to live freely. Since bars and restaurants were ordered closed, members of the Dallas LGBTQ community have found themselves without a place to gather with their chosen families.
The bars on the Cedar Springs strip were not among those that opted to reopen at 25% capacity this past weekend, and while most patrons were understanding, some are finding themselves lost without their second homes.
Before the outbreak of coronavirus, Dallas-based drag performer Kilo Kikii, who is non-binary, was set to move to New York City. They decided to put their move on hold until the pandemic clears up and is currently quarantining with family. Kikii says their parents have not been as supportive of their drag career as their queer and trans friends have.
Earlier during the pandemic, Kikii had been doing livestreamed drag shows, but once their parents found out, they immediately demanded that they cease.
“When my parents realized that I was being seen on big platforms they instituted a ‘no livestreams in the home rule,’ under the guise of ‘privacy and protecting the family,’” Kikii says of their drag performances. “They really just wanted to prohibit the growth of my drag career. Now I spend most of my time locked in my childhood bedroom to avoid being misgendered and really only leave to go outside, eat or use the restroom. Tensions have been rising because of the clash of ideologies in the house.”
Kikii says that their parents consider drag performance to be a sin and will not support their career.
“I would even go so far as to say their religious extremism has informed a belief that myself and my drag siblings are possessed by demons because we do horror themed drag,” Kikii says. “They believe that if they supported my work that they themselves would be sinning by encouraging ‘deviant behavior.’”
What Kikii misses the most about the bars is being around people who they feel are brave enough to be authentic despite facing persistent challenges and discrimination.
As we've learned from the numerous seasons of RuPaul's Drag Race, drag is an art form that takes a considerable investment of time and resources. Having to put the show on hold is frustrating for many like Kikii.
Once the closures end, Kikii plans to resume their plans to move to New York. Before leaving Dallas, they plan to throw a private drag party with a group of friends, to celebrate getting through this difficult time.
“How could I not throw a party when my last name is Kikii?” they add.
Dancer and gymnastics coach Aaron Whitfield is also feeling down about not being able to see friends. Whitfield says that while he doesn't agree with Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to reopen bars and restaurants, he still has mixed emotions.
“It depends on the day, if I’m fine or not,” Whitfield says of social distancing. “I have my days and I miss my friends a lot.”
During this time, Whitfield dances at home as a means of coping. He also stays in touch with his gymnastics students. While he says he's fortunate to have these ways of keeping himself in good spirits, Whitfield sympathizes with those who aren’t as lucky.
“Some people only have the bars and their gay friends,” Whitfield says. “Since some of their families haven’t talked to them, some of them have built their own.”
Many of us take for granted the ability to torture our family, friends and social media followers with every new development in our love lives. For newcomers who are still in the closet, the nightlife scene is the only chance to speak freely without risking a confrontation, judgment or even shunning from their families.
Not everyone who frequents the strip is hiding away from a conservative community. For some, it's just a good time.
With the LGBTQ bars and clubs closed, those who frequent the strip are finding other ways to keep themselves occupied and feel fulfilled. Krista De La Rosa has been hosting livestreams to help people figure out how to request their stimulus checks and how to file for unemployment benefits. She's also grateful for the opportunity to spend time with her biological family.
De La Rosa makes it a point to check in on her friends every day.
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“For some people it has definitely taken a mental toll on some individuals who can’t physically surround themselves with their chosen family,” De La Rosa says. “Even though we have Zoom, it’s still not the same as a face-to-face encounter and maybe hearing some Rihanna or Madonna in the background. Mental health is a serious issue in our world today and I don’t think enough is being said or done to help those who may struggle with mental health issues.”
De La Rosa says she enjoys saving money and spending time with her family, but she misses supporting local entertainers and watching performances at the bars.
While demonstrators protest salon, gym and other venue closures, claiming oppression, members of the LGBTQ community, who have a better understanding of oppression, are not calling for reopenings.
“A lot of companies and individuals are choosing not to go back [to work] so quickly because they understand the severity of the situation we are currently in, and I applaud them for doing so,” De La Rosa says. “Yes, we are giving people a chance to return to work and normalcy but we still haven’t flattened the curve yet.”