SHORT STORY – Brad Liberti: But I’m a Bartender…

short story

I spent my 20’s making no apologies for my overt sexuality. After all, if straight guys could construct their entire social lives around the hunt for tail, then why couldn’t I? Especially since I was so good at it…


Wedding rings and shared real estate meant as little to me as DJ’s and mixology. All were distractions from the task at hand–or rather, the ass in front of me waiting to be conquered. This glorious pursuit of dick gave me purpose, fixed my perceived deficiencies… made being gay tolerable. And if you happened to call me out on my often-lecherous ways (though can they be called that if you’re young and cute), I would simply respond, But I’m a bartender

You see there’s a moment in every gay person’s life when they must make a very personal choice–not about whether or not they are in fact homosexual (sorry right-wingers, not even gonna go there), but instead, about whether or not to acknowledge this truth and ‘come out’. Personally, I always knew that I was different, but it wasn’t until I was 22 and had spent nearly a year binge drinking with the intent to blackout and or stumble into some darkly lit NYC gay bar just in time for last call, that I found myself confronted with this life-altering decision.

Of course, being the entitled – perhaps even a little spoiled – Gen Yer that I am, the reward of living in my truth wasn’t nearly enough to warrant the public scorn and, or questioning of my manhood that I assumed would accompany such a big reveal. As with report cards and good behavior while I was growing up, I needed a tangible incentive to justify the effort. There was no gay marriage, or NPH-style surrogate babies at this time, but it wouldn’t have mattered at all; I knew what my dangling carrot was, and it had little to do with the thought of sharing real romantic love with a partner, or building an open, honest life.

No, when I was wading through the choppy waters of self-discovery, weighing my options and deciding if life as an out gay man was for me, my PRO’s list consisted of only one thing… pure, unadulterated man sex. I fantasized incessantly about the cornucopia of pleasure that would now be open to me- tall, lean guys, small, thick ones, white ones, black ones, brown ones… and for half the work it took to sleep with women.

Every fantasy about armpits and rounded shoulders, tree trunk legs and hairy butts- everything that I was told was gross as a kid (after all, only women’s smooth, curvy bodies were sexy)… Every hot guy I had ever imagined naked as a teen– or wondered what his taint looked like or how big his nipples were- these were the ONLY thoughts that flooded my mind. Like Madame Bovary or Diane Lane, I was caught up, rapt by the potential of lust, and willing to give up everything to pursue it.

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In essence, my libido became a life preserver, floating me past thoughts of suicide and, or worse, of living like one of those truck stop closet cases. When difficult moments in the journey would arise (ie. coming out to my parents or high school buddies, getting harassed while drunkenly holding hands with a trick on Houston St), I would calm and fortify myself with the thought that even though public opinion might be cruel, this was but a small price to pay for achieving sexual nirvana.

Yes, I actively encouraged myself to reap the precious rewards of a birth-rite that seemed to carry with it so many unjust punishments. Guilt and shame became aphrodisiacs (I am Catholic after all), insecurity and uncertainly morphed into lust-driven momentum. While my straight friends were now dealing with the questions that face anyone who leads a linear, socially acceptable life (career planning, health insurance) I thought only of how I could keep the party going and get paid for it. Of course, not wanting to send my grandma to an early grave, I figured I’d settle for what seemed like the next best thing to prostitution- bar-tending.

DISCLAIMER- I am in no way calling bartenders hookers – at least not all of them. I am only saying that for myself, at the ripe ole’ age of 22, the conscious decision to start slinging drinks in gay bars was made, not because I gave the slightest f**k about what was in a mojito or how a stout was properly poured (I still drink Bud Lights and vodka crans)… Not because the lure of nightlife with its multimillion dollar sound systems and thumping club beats was simply too much to resist (I’m somewhat deaf and have never been able to hear variations in sound quality)… I got into this business because I knew I could get paid to flirt, and to indulge the only thing that was ever on my mind- chasing dick.

Again, no thoughts of a partner, or finding true love, or even what my version of a ‘healthy’ gay life would look like; just a constant pang as primordial as my heartbeat, a need to see every penis that was denied to me growing up. To reap what I was owed for having been dealt such an embarrassing ‘affliction’. To dive headfirst into a pool of men and never EVER come up for air.

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Now, somehow along the way, I did manage to maintain several rewarding, if highly dysfunctional relationships, and despite my one-track mind, I even made some real gay friends. But ultimately, nothing ever came as close to assuaging my inner turmoil as a quicky with a go-go boy behind the keg cooler, or a wild night working the Back Bar for Folsom, or a sexy, shy Midwesterner out by himself on Underwear Night.

Alas, I’m a little bit older now, and things are quite different than they were during my unforgettable 12 Years a Whore. I’ve experienced the earth shattering love described by singers and poets (and still have the scars to prove it). I’ve come to peace with my sexuality, at last seeing it as a blessing as opposed to something that needs to be paired with an incentive. Hell, now I even catch myself imagining my husband’s eyes on our wedding day, or the birth of our surrogate twins, or our Christmases with his family in Vermont.

Basically, I’ve made room for other passions in my life, and most importantly, I’ve stopped being ashamed of who I am; so constant conquering – and or being conquered – no longer has the same hypnotic pull over me that it once did.

But even with this Norman Rockwell-ization of my life (or as some of my SF friends might call it, this surrender to conformity and patriarchal social constructs), I refuse to disavow my decade of dick hunting. So what if my introduction to my sexuality played more like Porky’s than Brokeback Mountain? So what if I achieved official gropey uncle status by the age of 25?

This desire is what got me through one of the most difficult transitions of my life; what incentivized a choice that I needed to make in order to survive. And just like it did at age 22, the thought of a hot, sweaty, naked man is still enough to bring a smile to my face no matter what’s going on. Well, that and the decade of memories that I have working with some of the greatest guys, in some of the coolest joints in the country. Because at the end of the day, I may have mellowed out a bit, but I am and will always be a bartender at heart.*

*Once again- I repeat. Not suggesting that all bartenders are whores, sluts, or even necessarily promiscuous. Some truly do care how to properly muddle an Old-Fashioned. I am not one of them.

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