Goodbye to the Chute

I remember the first time I went to the Chute. I had just come out about twenty minutes earlier, and...well, let me back up.

I've always been a planner. I'm sure I could fill a bus with people, friends, former employers, coworkers who could vouch for how important it is to me that as much groundwork be in place as possible before I take any significant chances.

So I came out in 1997 (yes, it's been ten years now) and so much preparation went into making that announcement that, in some respects, and to a few people, it wasn't much of an announcement. In fact, I have an old friend named Mary Beth, who I've since lost touch with, and to her I fully morphed from this closeted acquaintance when we met into a full-on queer a few years later when she moved away. It all happened so slowly, seemingly methodically, and she was present for it all, that I think formally "coming out" to her somehow didn't have to happen.

I had read a few issues of the Advocate and Out, along with Andrew Sullivan's still brilliant book "Love Undetectable" and Michelangelo Signorile's "Life Outside." I'd come to fully, comfortably define myself, but I still didn't know any other gay people.

That's not quite true. I didn't know any gay people at Belmont, where I was a student (we were all closeted during our Belmont years back then, remember), but I did know a couple gays at the restaurant where I worked part-time (of course, I did).

Trouble was: they weren't the kind of gay I had fancied myself to be. In fact, I look back now and realize how much an idealist I was back then. I didn't want to associate with the waitin'-tables, goin'-to-the-bars, Jack-McFarland gays. I styled myself as one of the fully integrated, anti-ghetto, buttoned-up, we're-just-like-you, Will-Truman gays.

I suppose (I say this now to conserve my ego) that's how many of us start out when we come out, convincing ourselves its most important to know and be prepared to explain ourselves to all these straight friends and relatives who may or may not want to comprehend our newly uncovered identity.

Anyway, I suppose it was a Friday or Saturday and I had nothing else planned so I found my way to OutLoud!, which was almost brand new back then. Remember the very first OutLoud! store, one block over from where it is now, just past 18th Avenue on Church Street, right where that Indian restaurant is now, with those two tiny little parking spaces out front?

I remember that I was just so out-and-proud of myself that I didn't hesitate to take one of those spaces right out front (funny, I know, yet to this day--or, at least up until I moved away a couple months ago--it was still fairly routine for someone to park one or two blocks away and walk the distance, all the while passing who-knows-how-many empty spaces in front of the gay store, and the gay bar, and the other gay bar).

Once in the store I found a copy of Xenogeny, or was it Query? I dunno. Remember Query? (For that matter: remember Xenogeny?). Always with the bar listings, and the advertisements of all sizes with the smiling, sometimes devastatingly attractive people, imbibing and ... well, gaily enjoying themselves, or so we were led to believe (even at the slummy bars). Never a mistake, though, the Chute was on the back page, selling to us its six bars, its show lineup, its drink specials.

I know that first time I visited the Chute that it wasn't bear night or leather night. I look back now and see it was just a regular ol' night at the gay bar. I walked in, paid my cover and what with all that idealism pent up in me for so long, I was destined to have a terrible time.

What was I looking for: love? Sex? A friend? I didn't know. These were my people, I figured, and it was time to take this next step, to engage with my people. I suppose, now when I look back, that I was likely looking (though I must have convinced myself otherwise) for all of the above.

The one vivid image to be forever locked in the vault of my memory, the one that proved (whether I was cognizant of it or not) that I wasn't gonna find love, sex, or a friend that night was the vision of this older man who was just off-his-ass drunk. Practically off-his-barstool drunk. I'm talking dah-ruuunk. I knew he wasn't my people.

I didn't even make it back to the show bar when I knew it was time to go home.

It took more time, and a lot more relaxing of my idealism, my expectations of myself and to understand that an acknowledged identity doesn't demand that I "represent" that identity to everyone the world over at all times, before I ventured out into gayland.

I suppose there are a lot of us, and I say this for the sake of my ego, who needed to learn how to just give up, and relax, before everything made sense.

Over the past few years I've come to love my visits to the Chute; now that it's gone, I suppose my memory will tell me I always loved it.

I'll miss sitting in the piano bar with a glass of wine, complaining under my breath to nobody that I seem to be the only person who enjoys a good country song, muttering quickly under my breath when the room goes silent: "play some Dwight Yoakam."

I'll miss the twenty minute eardrum-busting prelude to the show in the Rainbow Room, when it's so loud you wonder if maybe you should go back outside and risk not getting a seat by coming back in when the entire bar flocks in.

I'll miss how those shows, and some of the pageants, tended to run far too long, but for the sake of providing equal time to each performer (we're all liberal gays, right?), we all understood and just continued to sit there. Or not.

I'll miss bartender Timmy acknowledging me by name when I came in. I'll be honest now: I don't believe I hang at the bars that often so I can't say I was at the Chute all that much, yet that one gesture unfailingly assured that I'd add the Chute to my list the next time I went out.

The bad news: I won't miss the bathrooms and I won't miss that there was only one bar that accepted credit or debit cards. If those two things had been different, I guarantee you that I, at least, would've spent a lot more and pee'd a lot more.

I could tell as many stories as I want right now but the truth is I'm not of the generation that will remember the heyday of the Chute.

Find someone now in his (I dunno) mid-40s who was out in Nashville twenty-ish years ago. I guarantee he will talk your ear off about how hip, citywide, the Chute was, as well as its then neighbor the Warehouse. I've heard stories of stars, cool people across the southeast and the nation traveling here from larger, major cities to be at the Chute.

While you're at it, ask one of your older lesbian friends about the various "women's only" incarnations of that bar on 2nd Avenue where DeVil's was located before it closed. That one small building I hear is filled with just as much history and, as these years pass on, I'll bet less and less people know about it.

It's our history, so if we don't take the time to learn about it, who will?

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