"gone country : negotiating masculinity in a country-western gay bar
Johnson, Corey W
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Scholars in leisure studies have advocated extending our research on marginalized populations beyond the examination of individual identities, toward the macro-structures that perpetuate and foster inequality. Gay bars, specifically designed to wall out straights, remain a central social institution and leisure context for a number of gay men. Informed by feminist theory and critiques of masculinity, this ethnography focuses on how gay men come to understand and negotiate the meaning of masculinity in a country-western gay bar and is driven by the following questions: 1) How does this gay bar serve as a leisure context for its gay male patrons? 2) How do gay men in this bar negotiate hegemonic and counter-hegemonic gendered practices? 3) What structures exist to facilitate and/or prohibit gendered practices in this gay bar? Using participant observation as my primary method of data collection I spent over 140 hours in the site. In addition, I conducted semi-structured and ethnographic interviews and analyzed artifacts collected during my time in the site. To understand Saddlebags as a leisure context, I thoroughly documented the bar’s relationship to the community, its physical location, design, décor and ambiance, its inhabitants, its historical existence, and how it varies according to different nights of the week. Moving beyond this description I conducted a more intensive analysis to identify social practices that reveal how gay men negotiate their masculinity in Saddlebags. Dancing (specifically two-stepping), dress and migratory patterns, and a competing discourse about Lesbian Night are those social practices I identified as most salient to my research. A discussion around these themes elucidates how organized social space can allow non-heterosexuals to resist compulsory heterosexuality and hegemonic gender ideologies. Since the reproduction and enforcement of the heterosexuality in everyday life often causes gay identity to be suppressed, or at least monitored, in the spaces and places of leisure, gay bars like Saddlebags provide a necessary separation from the straight community whereby a more “normal” social context for gay men is created. However, my data also reveal how Saddlebags patrons also use their leisure to reinforce dominant ideologies about gender and sexuality.