Party Out Of Bounds

Once Upon a Time in the Deep Deep South: A Look at ‘Small Town Gay Bar’

Small Town Gay Bar, 2006, directed by Malcolm Imgram

Small Town Gay Bar, 2006, directed by Malcolm Imgram

Co-Founder’s Note: Hello again! I know, I know what you’re thinking: We didn’t have a Party Out Of Bounds post last week. Well, nagging nelly, we were all on vacation…or a bender…whichever you’d like to call it! Anyway, we’re back now, ready and revitalized for our weekly nightlife madness. Since our last few posts have featured quite a bit of New York nighttime history, we thought we would take a different approach and ask our faithful contributor Osman to take a look at rural nightlife through the film Small Town Gay Bar. So grab a Bud and read forward, intrepid readers:

Needless to say, the city makes us people spoiled. The abundance of possibilities and limitlessness of the outreach perpetuate a lifestyle centered around endless shuffling and seeking the ‘newer’, ‘the prettier’ or simply ‘the better’. Small Town Gay Bar, Malcolm Imgram’s 2006 documentary about two gay bars in deep deep Mississippi serves as a reminder of how not every dish is served with the same ease and hospitality to everyone’s plates.

Rumors in Shannon, Mississippi, the first of these two bars, is a tiny establishment tucked in the middle of nowhere, and owned by Rick Gladish. His parents are neither aware of his business, nor have an idea about his sexuality, proving a common epidemic in tight conservative communities: ‘we kind of know it, but we don’t talk about it.’ Gladish’s remarks on Rumors underlines the shelter/sanctuary aspect of his bar for those who feel they are in a dark hole –closeted, ignored, ostracized or alienated–in need for a community feeling. Knowing you’re not the only one, even though you’re left to think that way, is what they urge to rely on, and these small town bars stand out as those rescuing hands.

When asked about Rumors, Bill Curtis, the then Mayor of Shannon, says this is a free country and everyone is welcomed. He adds a reminder that they are a tightly knit community in which everyone knows each other (Isn’t that the venom of small towns anyway? Everyone has their nose in everyone’s business because they are ‘so tightly connected’). People interviewed in front of Rumors emphasizes the same point in their own ways. No matter who you are and regardless of how you feel like behaving, you are welcomed here, they say.

The big separation between these small town gay bars and the ones in urban cities rises at this very point. Walking into a bar say in Hell’s Kitchen or Chelsea and seeing butch lesbians and flamboyant boys sharing the same territory is not likely. The abundance of possibilities and the segregation coming from different political, social and economical reasons in gay communities in big cities, allow different sub-cultures follow different paths. This segregation within the communities becomes tangible mostly in the social context such as bars, neighborhoods, fashion and even behaviors.

The tale usually tells us the story of a closeted (and mostly bullied) gay kid’s liberation from his fucked-up small town to a big city where he can finally realize himself and be a part of the social agenda. In this big city, the kid is presented with many different circles and possibilities to pursue. Small Town Gay Bar introduces those who didn’t or couldn’t follow this physical and mental journey. This is the story of those who come together under the same roof to have the freedom of being what or who they want to be.

Rumors in Shannon, Mississippi

Rumors in Shannon, Mississippi

What needs to be noted is that outside these bars is a different world waiting for them: extremely homophobic and not welcoming for the ones that are different. Ignorance, religion, idiocy are only some of the reasons for why these people are so harsh towards the different, and small towns with their dormant and neglectful attitudes are the perfect environments for them to act our their hatred.

At this point comes the story of Scotty Weaver, a young kid brutally murdered by three teens for being gay. “His lifestyle didn’t set with someone else’s and they took care of him because of that,” says one the interviewees. Then there is Jim Bishop, a day-time receptionist at Animal Care Center and night-time drag queen at Rumors. Bishop notes that he chose to live the life he’s living even though it’s not always sunny to live this way, and he adds that his night-time persona, ‘Alicia Stone,’ is his escape from reality.

Introducing Fred Phelps in to the argument gives even babies in their sleeps the creeps, but since he talks at some point in the documentary, mentioning his name will be necessary. He’s probably having gourmet breakfasts including scrambled coal and ash hash with some actual ‘Bloody’ Mary where ever he is now so there is not much to say about him other than a big sigh.

Malcolm Ingram and Kevin Smith

Malcolm Ingram and Kevin Smith

Charles ‘Butch’ Graham, the owner of Crossroads, the second bar mentioned in the documentary, says he never judged anyone based on their color, race or sexual orientation. As much as it sounds outdated and ‘so what! good for you’ for jaded city people, his statement matters in the small town of Meridian, Mississippi where the majority thinks the opposite. Crossroads when compared to Rumors stands out as more experimental and raunchy. So much that in the documentary the actual photos of those bizarre nights at Crossroads are backed up with Electric Six song Gay Bar.

What the locals say and the documentary shows is that Crossroads gained a circus-like freak show façade due to the untamed extremity performed inside. Stuck inside an unwelcoming lifestyle in ‘real world’, its customers left no holds barred when they entered Crossroads, so much that the bar was shut down two years after the documentary.

The documentary, produced by Kevin Smith of Clerks and Dogma, ranked 68% from the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and was shown in Sundance Film Festival and SXSW Film Festival. Proving that little voices keep on fighting to be heard no matter what in the midst of all opposing shouts, the documentary, with all of its technical and cinematographic flaws (we are not even going there because it’s not the case in this article), still earns a spot in the discussion about LGBTQ rights in America, not just New York or San Francisco. “Society is against us, even our parents are against us and all we have is each other,” says one of the regulars, summarizing the whole seventy-five minute documentary in a few words.

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