Know Your Subculture

The LGBTQ community is diverse, and not just in terms of race, class, and gender. We're also diverse in terms of the stuff we're into, and just like straight folks, we can get really, really into our shit. And we sort of have to, because for a very long time, there wasn't a good sense of what our lives were supposed to look like, once we were written out of what queer theorist and gadabout, J. Jack Halberstam, calls "heteronormative time"—that life-course thing that takes people from the prom to college (maybe) to a job to marriage to a house (if they're lucky) to kids to death. If we can't do that stuff, we can go ahead and build alternative universes where we never age out of the subcultural lives we created in our teens and twenties—our party scenes, our sex clubs, our lives on the margins of the "normal." It's certainly true that for many LGBT people, the allure of the heteronormative is strong (cf. campaigns for same-sex marriage rights—we're just like you!), and straight people are increasingly staying off that "straight" path. But for queer folk, our subcultures have long histories, and they're here to stay.

And there's a place for everyone: From queer bicycle builders to bears to nudists to Christian singles, Baltimore's got you covered. This new-fangled internet thing has also made it ever easier to find Your People. When Gerry Fisher and David Kimble moved from Boston to Baltimore, for example, they faced a new city without an organized bear den, like D.C.'s Beltway Bears, which organizes regular events for bears all over the capital region. The two logged into some chat rooms and quickly discovered that though not institutionalized, Baltimore's bears have their own informal dens—some Sunday nights, downstairs at Brewer's Art, for example. Meetup, an online network of local groups, is also a good place to start looking for groups catering to almost any interest—and there's always room to add a new group. You can also just type your interest into Google and find an organized group of like-minded queer square dancers to join up with. Here are just a few of the many groups brightening up LGBTQ life in the city.

Chesapeake Squares is Baltimore's LGBTQ-friendly square dancing club, one of an international network of such clubs. Social dancers from all over the region come to dance with the Squares in an environment that is open and friendly. And that openness offers welcome relief from the awkwardness of, say, the straight couple that refuses to switch partners with you and your girlfriend—not that I know anything about that from personal experience. Ahem. Founded in 1986, this group hosts regular open-house dances for folks to learn the basic calls and meet the Squares. After this first dance, newbies can join a class to learn the over 60 calls, and there's even a graduation ceremony. A yearly gathering called Pass the Ocean, Hon is held in Ocean City, allowing dancers from all over the region to meet each other and get down. Learn more atchesapeakesquares.org/.

Baltimore has a thriving kink community that is open to people of all genders and sexualities, not just members of the LGBTQ community. This is important, says Jacq Jones, owner of the "shame-free and sex-positive" adult boutique, Sugar, in Hampden, because there are a whole lot of sexual tastes out there—or, as she puts it, "because we are delightfully human, our sexual practices are delightfully diverse." The quickest way to find a place in a kink or polyamorous subculture is to log on to fetlife.com where members of a huge range of subcultures (and subcultures of subcultures) find like-minded folks, from geeky kinksters to rope specialists and almost anything that can be dreamed—or fantasized—up. According to Jones, unlike the scene in bigger cities, Baltimore's kink scene is remarkably integrated in terms of gender, orientation, and other differences. The larger community also enjoys the yearly Red and Black Ball, where kinksters of all kinds celebrate in an environment that is safe, consensual, and where as long as you abide the rules, "you can be pretty sure you'll be welcome."

That sense of welcome is exactly what drew David Kimble to the Bear community. Uncomfortable with the body fascism of some parts of the gay male community—what Kimble calls the "mustache and muscle look" of the 1980s—Kimble found in bears a welcoming community that encouraged men to feel comfortable in their own skin—pelts and all. Although the stereotype is the barrel-bellied hairy man, bears come in all shapes and sizes—otters, cubs, muscle bears—and stereotypes are open to change. Kimble notes that for him, being a bear means "there's no need to follow a fashion thing or whip your body into shape," and widespread acceptance is where it's at. And that also means accepting the contradictions of the alphabear with whom Kimble recently travelled for a gay softball league: He was all alpha, sure, but he also found himself fretting with the overalls stretched over his burly chest, wondering out loud if he should fasten the strap like this, or leave it down, like that, to show off more of his skin and pelt. It's an embracing community, offering a bear hug, if you will, for a wide range of people and bodies.

And then there are the groups for people with very, very specific interests, like mine. I'm a queer with a passion for bicycles and a resentment of parts of the bike community that assume I don't know what I'm doing, don't want a real bike, or just don't get it. For people like me there's Bearings Bike Project, "a women, transgender, queer, and people of color-run bicycle collective in Baltimore." It might seem like a subculture of a subculture, but for those involved, it is a necessary space for community members to learn about their bikes and meet other LGBTQ and feminist cyclists. According to Dulcey Lewis, a collective member, Bearings started a couple of years ago because the founders saw a need for spaces that created a more open and encouraging environment for people who grew up "without having tools put in their hands all the time." Even well-meaning bike people can take the tool out of the hand of the person who doesn't fit the stereotype of the masculine straight guy who owns all his own tools. "It's encouraging to have spaces like Bearings," Lewis argues, "because the bike world's not always friendly" to LGBTQ folks. Yep, I'm not the only queer to feel this way, and it turns out there's a space for me. There's a space for you, too, out there.

This "unfriendliness" of the world has meant that LGBTQ people have had to build their own cultural lives and institutions for themselves, and the result has been a bright and glowing rainbow of groups that continue to change, multiply, and enable new ways of being in the world. And if that group that caters to your very specific niche need isn't out there? Baltimore's the kind of city where if you want to do it, you can just go ahead and do it—and chances are, there'll be another queer who'll join you and never want to grow up, either. Here's a few more groups that do already exist:

LGBTQ and looking for a place to worship? Check out this list of welcoming congregations compiled by Gay Life (baltimoregaylife.com/welcoming-congregations).

Yes, we have our own bowling league. Keep up to date on the latest at the Charm City Kings and Queens Bowling League Facebook page. (facebook.com/BaltimoreGayBowling)

Contrary to popular belief, not all queers are in their twenties. Prime Timers of Baltimore provides activities for older gay and bisexual men. (ptbalto.org)

Maybe you aren't LGBTQ yourself, but your friend or family member is. PFLAG is for you! (pflagbaltimore.org)

LGBTQ and a bridge player? Yes, there's a place for you. (meetup.com/Baltimore-Gay-Bridge-Night)

Gay men who enjoy the outdoors meet regularly for adventures. Join them at meetup.com/Baltimore-Washington-Gay-Men-Outdoor-Adventure-Group.

The GLCCB offers space and organizational support for a wide range of groups, from Black Transmen to "spiritually in-tuned lesbians," from youth aged 13-19, to those living with HIV and AIDS. Check out their list at glccb.org/programs.

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