Gay Caballeros

At closing time on a recent Saturday night, Ignacio leaned against the bar at Bamboleo's, a gay Latino club near Oak Lawn, satisfied that he'd snared one last beer before the cut-off.

He wanted it known that he usually would have been drunk by that time, but instead of boozy pronouncements, he offered a lucid conviction about Texas' 2 a.m. law. Ignacio is from Mexico, where 2 a.m. doesn't mean you stop drinking. "That law is stupid," he said. "It's not like these people are going to church tomorrow."

In the tradition of 2 a.m. introductions, Ignacio didn't offer a last name, but he did give several strident opinions that night, maybe because he was upset: Ignacio wasn't getting what he came for.

He looked toward the dance floor, sunken beneath the main floor. The people in the dancing pit could have come straight out of an innocent hoedown in small-town Texas, except that all the dancers were Hispanic, male and dancing with each other. Seen from up above the dance pit, a sea of white cowboy hats was bobbing up and down in time to Spanish rock, cumbia, ranchera, norteña and drawn-out club versions of popular American hits.

At even routine fiestas like this, it is an unspoken rule that a Mexican--even if he is in the United States--should obey his urge to offer up a grito, a tight, controlled ai-yai-eeee sound that erupted into the air here and there. Small groups of guys in spiny ostrich cowboy boots and tight Wranglers with ironed creases had gathered around the tables, but they were all looking at the dance floor. Sometimes the dancers do a kind of Texas two-step, but more elaborate, like a waltz; during other songs, one man wraps his right arm tightly around the waist of another, as if he were helping a friend off the field after an injury. The couples follow one another in a slow circle around the packed dance floor.

A couple wearing black Wranglers were hovering near the dance floor, both of them with a hand in the other's back pocket. They had on black cowboy hats whose broad brims had been tightly curled toward the sky. One of the men had pinned a golden brooch to his brim that spelled out his last name; the other man's pin said "Zacatecas," announcing to everyone in the bar not only the Mexican state he comes from but his pride in his provenance.

There should be nothing surprising about seeing the two of them gently kiss each other. Bamboleo's is a gay bar, after all, but something about their macho outfits and shit-kicker self-possession makes a white reporter who owns neither cowboy boots nor Wranglers strongly suspect that had he seen the two of them on the street, his gaydar would not have alerted him to the fact that they are gay.

Bamboleo's is Dallas' official watering hole for gay Hispanic immigrants, and weekends are a happy reunion for the immigrants, acculturated Latinos and white gay men who show up there. Throughout Bamboleo's, there's the usual predatory cruising that goes on in any gay bar, but despite its boxy, warehouse layout, Bamboleo's feels homey after you've been there a few times. That's because Bamboleo's patrons have made its two dance floors their own: The dance pit, where techno music is now played, draws a young crowd that seems less like they've been living in the United States for a while--more like the crowd at Kaliente, another gay Latino bar about a mile away. The immigrants arrayed in cowboy gear don't visit that area of Bamboleo's anymore, because the crowd wanting to dance to Mexican country music has swelled so much, Bamboleo's owners have started playing the ranchera music in the larger dance floor.

The night that Ignacio was at Bamboleo's, the DJ played a quirky, "Macarena"-like club anthem, "El Gato Volador," which means "The Flying Cat." "There was a party in my barrio," the song goes, translated from Spanish. "Don Gato arrived/Tom the Cat arrived/Felix the Cat arrived/Sylvester arrived/Garfield also came/But there was one cat missing/Do you know who it is? Hmm?/The flying cat." The dancers were flowing in their circle around the dance pit, but Ignacio wanted nothing to do with all that communal happiness.

His blustery swagger and good looks weren't attracting anyone; after two years in the United States, he still seemed to expect people to come to him. We'd struck up that kind of amiable and intimate talk that sometimes happens between two people at a bar who aren't busy talking to someone else. I said, "Well, you're gay. You must know how to talk to a guy, right?"

And then, right in the middle of a gay bar, Ignacio told me he is not gay.

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Claiborne Smith