Tuesday was the first party. I wandered into the Party Suite on Peg’s directions. The suite officially belongs to Geoff Halprin, the president of SAGE, the sponsoring organization of the conference. However, it clearly belongs to the alcohol, and run by the Gay Mafia.
The Gay Mafia, as one quasi-innocent first timer named Patrick had asked earlier, is what “runs SAGE.” It was an old accusation, and offensive at first. No one would name it mafia if three program chairs in a row were straight. The response was lighthearted — they made “Gay Mafia” ribbons and wore them, showed some solidarity.
But as Tuesday’s night grew into Wednesday’s morning, swifter for the seven kinds of gin and six kinds of scotch, I saw a different power: playful, touchy-feely amorous attention from the gay men in the room, returned or not. A gentle touch of affection had an implicit promise of more buried in it, if only the recipient asked. Granted, we’re a little hung up on casual touch and even sexual undertones, in theory. But people wouldn’t sit on couches and talk to avoid discomfort. People were made less welcome for their own beliefs.
I spent the night talking to Chris. He was very uncomfortable with the scene; both because he usually is, but also he’s more sparked and fiery and inclined to crusade than I am. He’ll be on the SAGE exec some day, but not the Gay Mafia. But SAGE in a way is that party suite. The group has yet to grow beyond a social organization — it has only recently been given self-rule, and the board members are still trying to change their mentality from opposition to governors. And even when that happens, any association should be able to gather its members in festivity rather than gravity.
But the Gay Mafia unwittingly pushes people away, makes welcome only the guys straight or gay who are comfortable with random affection. I’m a relative newcomer, gaining a ticket in because of Lois and Peg. If I hadn’t known them, I may not have been welcome. I may not even have known that scene exists.
So I left the party suite and went into the hottub, inhabited by much the same crew, but a bit more quietly. Patrick was there and Chris and Trey and others. Trey noted that I seemed remarkably relaxed. I hadn’t noticed, but it was true. After all, human interaction is my bread and butter after all, and I hadn’t gotten enough in months. All my stress was 3,000 miles away. I ended up going to a very late night meal with Chris and sleeping through the first session in the morning. I wondered whether I was in the middle of a change, a reaching out for new people, or simply was creating another clique loosely aligned with the existing ones.