Enough with the rumors! New Orleans is open, safe and ready for the gays. I have just returned from what some are calling the most spectacular Southern Decadence yet. Various sources have claimed that over 100,000 revelers descended upon the Crescent City for this annual event.
Southern Decadence is a four-day long party in the New Orleans French Quarter. The celebration attracts gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and their friends from all over the world; I met a few Canadians and a really cute French boy. Southern Decadence is known for its loud displays of gay culture that the conservatives in our community wish would stay underground. It is a defiant celebration of spirit, sexuality, and who-gives-damn-what-you-think.
Southern Decadence started about ten years before I made my first appearance on this earth. This iconic event began as a small, impromptu gathering of friends that evolved into an annual celebration of being different. There is no way that the handful of people who participated in the first Southern Decadence in 1972 could have conceived the scope the event would take on.
My partner, Jason, and I arrived at the Hotel Monteleone around 5:30 p.m. on Friday. We usually fly but this time decided to take the land route. The drive wasn’t bad, about eight hours. The Monteleone is a grand hotel in the classic sense. The Monteleone family have been taking care of New Orleans’ visitors since 1886.
The rooms here aren’t as large as some of the other, more modern four-diamond hotels in town, but the Monteleone’s location (on Royal, one block from Bourbon) and its century of charm and elegance more than make up for this. Besides, who goes to New Orleans just to hang out in their room? The Monteleone’s traditional rates can be pricey – it is a luxury property after all – but the size of the hotel means they can often offer great deals to help fill rooms. Even if you rest your head at one of the other boarding establishments in town, visit the Monteleone’s Carousal Lounge. The bar is modeled after the traditional carnival ride and makes a complete rotation every 15 minutes.
Friday night Jason and I were scheduled to go see Robin Tyler as part of DecaFest. DecaFest is a supplement to Decadence that focuses on the culture side of things. I didn’t know much about Robin Tyler before we went, but the show was a wonderful surprise.
Robin Tyler was a funny, famous lesbian before it was cool to be a funny, famous lesbian. In fact, she has stumbled her way through so many landmark moments in LGBT history it is hard to keep track. I was embarrassed to have not known more about her, until I realized I was in the majority. Robin Tyler: The most influential lesbian you’ve never heard of.
There is always something going on at Decadence, but most events are concentrated in the evening. The first thing I do when I get to New Orleans (for Decadence or any other time) is grab a copy of Ambush Magazine to see what’s happening when.
Jason and I decided to take it easy during the day and to not start drinking until early evening (you know, 3ish). I have a hard time sleeping past nine no matter how long the night before was, so we had to do something to kill time.
Staying in the French Quarter meant that we could walk just about anywhere we wanted to go. We grabbed some delicious breakfast from Café Beignet, a block from the hotel. I then spent a couple of hours dragging Jason through the scores of unique galleries and antique shops on Royal Street. I was finally able to convince him all the browsing was worth it after we purchased a cute little piece featuring a cat smoking a cigar. After our brief period of playing ‘high-class gays’ we walked on down to my favorite New Orleans dive: The Corner Pocket.
One reason I like The Corner Pocket so much is that there is nothing like it here in Nashville. Many of New Orleans’ other gay joints have similar counterparts in Middle Tennessee but not The Corner Pocket, it stands alone. The Corner Pocket is a dive bar that turns into Twinks-on-Parade in the evening. It’s not as large, as loud, or (usually) as crowded as the other bars with dancers and that makes the experience more pleasant. The drinks here are stronger and cheaper than you’ll find at the Bourbon Street gay palaces, Oz and The Pub. The schedule sometimes changes, so it’s good to call ahead to see when the boys are dancing, but even of the entertainment hasn’t started, it’s still a good place to get a drink. Also, the staff and dancers at The Corner Pocket are some of the nicest and most interesting people you’ll meet in town. When you visit, tell bartender Bruce I said hello.
After a downing a few drinks and handing out some dollar bills, we grabbed a cab and headed toward the Central Business District. I had scored us reservations at John Besh’s new Restaurant, Lüke. Lüke is a hip joint that serves fine food in a relaxed atmosphere. I personally enjoy eating like a king without having to dress (or spend) like one. I admit that Jason is the foodie in our house, but I now understand what all the fuss is about. I’m not much of a seafood fan yet the oysters I had as an appetizer made my toes curl. The rest of the meal was just as amazing. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat at Red Lobster or Outback again.
Another cheap cab ride and short walk puts us back at Southern Decadence central, the corner of Bourbon and St. Anne. A free concert was going on and the intersection was jammed. This is where I got a true sense of what Southern Decadence is all about.
Partying together on the street where grandpas, grandsons, bears, boys, outrageous queens, bondage freaks and every other variety and sub-culture of our community. Everyone was out there and everyone was having a good time. Judgments and arguments were suspended and unity was encouraged. I think we have tried too hard to conform to the false norms of society. Putting an end to “if we act like them, they’ll like us” self-loathing is a key motivation behind many of those who go to Decadence (sex, booze and fun also being key). Standing on the corner outside of my favorite Bourbon St club, Oz, I can’t help but think “we aren’t just like straight people……we are a hell of a lot better!”.
I have to mention the protesters. Now, I’ve been involved in gay advocacy since I was in high school, and I’ve seen my share of homophobic protest. I wasn’t surprised to see misguided God-warriors at Decadence, but I was surprised at how few of them showed up. It was truly the most pathetic show of intolerance I’ve ever witnessed. I almost felt bad for the suckers. I think they have posted a video over at YouTube so you can see how sad it really was. If they were God’s army, I must have God confused with someone else.
Sunday is parade day and trust me when I tell you the Southern Decadence Parade is like no other parade you’ve ever seen. It is chock full of men in trash-drag and wild costume. Many of the participants were older, much older, than Jason or I. Here was a street full of men who lived through some insanely rough times. These are the men who spent decades in the closet because there was no other option. I can’t imagine that any of these men would have been able to conceive of an event like Decadence when they were my age. So go ahead boys, flaunt it, be rude, be loud, be inappropriate, tell society to piss off, you have earned it.
Another note on the parade, Jason and I headed to Oz early so we could get a balcony view of all the action. We were standing next too a few boys who were scrambling for the attention of someone across the street. Who was this lucky person? It was none other than mega-gay Larry Paciotti (most people know him as Chi Chi LaRue). The king of queers and his team were tossing out beads like candy to throngs of hot boys hoping to be spotted by the Midas of gay porn.
Throughout our trip people had been telling us how many Tennesseans they had seen. This was strange because we didn’t meet any other Volunteer Staters until Sunday night. I had, of course, dragged Jason back to the Corner Pocket. There we ran into up and coming Nashville-based porn star, Ryan Conners. He is a sweetie. Keep your eye on him, this boy is going places.
Later that night, while snapping photos for my curious readers, I ran into another group of Nashvillians. Unfortunately they weren’t quiet ready to show their costumes to the hometown crowd. I ended things early on Sunday because Monday meant a drive back (I do all the driving, Jason does the packing).
I love New Orleans and I desperately want it to thrive. You should too. New Orleans, while it’s past isn’t perfect, has been there longer for the gay community than any other city below the Mason-Dixon Line (and most above it). The cab drivers are delighted when scores of gay boys and girls descend upon their city in the dead of summer. The town embraces us and encourages us to be our outrages selves.
Outside of Decadence there is plenty to do; New Orleans is hopping year round. So, if you are looking for a good three-day weekend or even a week-long vacation, give NOLA a chance. The clubs are open year-round, the museums and gardens love visitors, and the people are the most amazing collection of races, languages and cultures that you’ll find anywhere in North America.
New Orleans has helped lift gay society out of the shadows and into the light. It is time to return the favor.