January 9, 2020 at 10:38 am EST | by Brock Thompson
Gay Key West: body positive on the Southernmost point
Key West, gay news, Washington Blade
Key West (Photo public domain)

Yes, it’s that time of the year — resolutions abound. Social media is full of them. And I guess you could call this column one of those. As for last year, my resolutions were pretty simple, more solo travel and to be more body positive. So, in keeping with that, last weekend I went down to Key West to enjoy myself with just shy of 20 other gay Washingtonians at one of the island’s male-only resorts. Clearly I didn’t achieve the solo part, we travel in packs, but the resort was clothing optional. So, you couldn’t help but to be more body positive. 

Key West is only so big, being an island and all. But it has a pretty vibrant gay population and the bars and such to go along with it. Meeting gay men from as far away as Finland, the island has certainly secured a spot among what I’m calling the big three American gay getaways — Provincetown, Mass.; Fire Island, N.Y.; and Key West. And before I get harassed via twitter by gay civic groups in those particular places, I’ll just say that list is in no particular order. 

Though of course thoroughly modern and comfortable, the whole place reminded me of those old school queer havens that before the Internet made up a rather remarkable queer cultural exchange network. I know it’s hard to imagine a time before the Internet, but how gay men shared news, history, and how they expressed themselves for each other, aside from a few gay magazines of the time, these places carried great importance for our community.

Aside from all that — Fire Island, or Provincetown, and I guess even in some ways San Francisco — I’ve always found it endlessly fascinating that queer people are attracted to the these end-of-the-earth type places, literally the last step before you fall into the ocean. 

Key West itself boasts a large monument, not looking unlike a plug of some sort, marking the southern most point in the United States. Tourists line up to take pictures with it. But again, with these lands-end type places, the places on the margin have always protected the marginalized; they’ve all been a haven for artists, musicians, and just those who sought somewhere else. These places offer a certain security, a snugness of sorts, a general feeling of knowing you are now the majority, having something in common with everyone around you. Sort of why we’re drawn to gay bars in the first place. All these places have colorful queer pasts. Did you know Key West was one of the first American cities to elect an openly gay man as mayor, doing so in 1983? 

As for me, I found familiar faces and good times in Bourbon Street Pub. You know, where they lower the drag queen in the giant glittery high heel on New Year’s Eve. I had many a frozen drink in the infamous Island House and caught up with D.C. boys I’ve known for over a decade. In these “post-AIDS” years, I think gay men are finding out again just how precious long-term friendships are. 

As far as my 2019 goal of being more body positive, Key West was, of course, great for all that. And I’m not saying if you can’t be more body positive around a bunch of 70-year-old British men, where can you be? I am saying something like this, the confidence and encouragement these places give off can’t be understated. The freedom, the snugness and security, that all could certainly be exported around the country. 

All I know is 2020 and beyond for me will see more confidence in D.C. and certainly in places like Key West. 

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.

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