I Got My Life Straight At A Gay Bar
A hero’s Journey is a story in which a character has to leave their home and embark on something they’ve never done before to achieve something they’ve never achieved. In the face of adversity and obstacle they must go somewhere uncomfortable or scary to save him/her/themselves — maybe The World. Bilbo Baggins has to throw a ring into a volcano. Keanu must stop a bus with a bomb on it. Lena Dunham must make it out of Brooklyn with a writing job and her group of friends from college intact.
The novel The Alchemist is the blueprint; there’s a trip that must take place. He must leave to understand his purpose, meeting people along the way that guide him with insight. He learns to look for omens, clues that he’s going in the right direction, and arrives. That’s The Alchemist, but we’ve been over this many times. In The Goonies, Mikey must find the jewels to save the village from gentrification. In Stranger Things, the boys must flip the upside down around, killing the Demogorgon. In Big he must get the Zoltar Machine to turn him back into a boy. Sean Astin is in two of those things. But this isn’t about Sean or any other of those stories. This is my story.
My Name is Matt McManus and I’m a superhero. I’ve traveled long and far, over state lines, over both literal and figurative mountains, and through nearly four decades to get here. I didn’t see things going this way. I really should have just opened my eyes, looked for the omens. The signs were there — I was on an invisible yellow brick road. As time prevailed that road became less invisible. It started adding more colors — a rainbow.
As far back as I can remember I have been running. I ran from everything, the past the present, towards the unknown. One time I rode my bike from East Islip, NY all the way to Montauk (about 60 miles) in the middle of the night. I was 12. I never really knew what I was running from. I just felt the need to go.
I was born completely cross-eyed. I was very premature. I had to stay in an incubator and finish growing. They were supposed to put protective eye glasses on me. They didn’t. This damaged my eyes. I had completely crossed eyes till I was four. One is still a little messed up. I also had a rare eye disorder that made me hallucinate all the time. They figured this out when I was in fourth grade, after a teacher took me out in the hallway to tell me I was stupid for not being able to read. She did this in front of the entire class. Everyone laughed. I cried. She smiled. Don’t worry she was fired and never taught again.
That’s when all my testing started and I was placed in special education. Up until this point it was hard for me to learn. It was really hard for me to make friends. Bullies used to kneel on my arms and spit on me. Kids would show up to my house and headbutt me. I remember my dad telling me to fight them back. I didn’t. I learned to use my words as weapons. I was obese and cross-eyed I needed some form of defense.
In this new school I was with the “Problem Children”, each with their own issues. Back then they put all the special kids together; academic, physical, emotional, you name it. We all had our own abilities, like The Avengers, or the Justice League. I was their Batman. Batman is the only one with no real super powers, he just had his will. I still remember telling these kids that the stuff that make us “Special” or different, was our strength. That our supposed disabilities or special needs actually made us very special. Foresight. I learned how to learn. I learned how to make friends. I learned that I enjoyed being on stage, making people smile.
My parents were children most of their adulthood. There was just no way that that house was to be healthy for my three siblings and me. I’m not going to go into great detail. Just know there was a lot of love, anger, resentment, and extra-curricular activities that coincided with The Eighties and money.
The reason I tell you all of this is because it contributed to why I was running from everything. I tell you this because I want you to know that I know you’ve felt the same way. If you’re a runner and you’re reading this, I get you. I got you. You’re not lost anymore. I’m the captain now.
Eventually I used my ability to make people smile so much that it became who I was. I used the social anxiety I had around large crowds. I was able to flip that emotion around and become alternate versions of myself. I was becoming a superhero.
After college I moved to Brooklyn with five friends and performed comedy in the city for half a decade. When we broke up, I took my talent of disappearing on stage into the streets making Tom Green type of street videos in the infancy of YouTube, as this hyperbolic character called “The Chad”. The more people around, the easier it was to disappear into a blur of absurdity and giggles. This content garnered some success. I went to the only place you can go — Los Angeles. I didn’t like it, at first.
When I moved out here I had very little idea what I was doing. I knew that I wanted to make a name for myself, but I didn’t even know what the fuck that meant. Did it mean fame? Did it mean evolving into a star? All these years had been spent building up to this move. There was the sacrifice of leaving everyone behind to chase this need, this dream. I guess I just wanted to be weird for a living. I wanted to prove everyone wrong. Man was I wrong with that last part.
I remember calling my dad. It must have been about a month in. I told him that there were no bagels, or pizza, or even good shitty Chinese food. No one was who they say they were and that grown men wore fedoras. He said simply, “Matty, you’re in the land of fruits and nuts now. Either you stay, or you leave. Embrace it. See what happens.”
That’s exactly what I did. I started eating burritos and drinking the Kool-Aid (kombucha). Here’s where my omens start peeking out.
Maybe my fourth month here I get a call from my friend that’s a reality TV producer asking me if I’d be willing to dress in drag on an episode of a show called Ru Paul’s Drag Race. They were in their third season. This elimination show had five Queens left competing for a crown.
They were being paired with straight men and the teams would compete in a series of Drag races together to win the episode. She told me she would pay me and that I could win a bunch of cool stuff. I didn’t know what to do. I was broke. I needed the money. I’m a comedian. I love disappearing. So I did it. I was paired with the wonderfully talented and beautiful Manila Luzon (whom I’m still friends with). My name became Fuchsia Luzon. I had no idea the amount of work that went into Drag. It’s a full-time job. It’s laborious.
One must contort and manipulate the body in order to fit into those outfits. With no judgement I decided not to tuck my own body. I thought I was going to get disqualified. Also, boobs — you have to wonder about breasts. It’s all push-ups and shadowing. There’s A LOT of shadowing and shading that goes into this art. Makes sense, these queens sure do shade each other. It’s all in good fun though.
It may look like all fun and games and bright and bold. It is all of those things. As a performer it’s one of the hardest things to do in show business.
We won the episode. I learned how to walk in heels. I was comfortable in that setting. In some small way it felt like home to me — not because I was meant to be a queen; I guess I felt the subconscious struggle of everyone involved. In spite of that struggle they were brightening up the world one eyelash, one laugh, one episode at a time.
I decided to use my skills of talking to strangers in the street with this new found knowledge and I made a video called Flowers For Gay Guys on YouTube. I walked up and down Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood, a place called “Boys Town”. I asked men if they were Gay. If they said yes, I gave them a rose. It was a big success. I just wanted to improve the relations between the two groups with humor with humanity, with flowers. Little did I know that many years later that street would teach me so much more than I knew in that moment.
The years went on. I stacked some successes. I was on a couple TV shows. I had written for a couple as well. There was some press. I fell in love with a girl that I met when I was a kid. Twenty years had gone by. We found each other on Facebook and quickly made our child. This was all happening at the same time. I had gotten this great comedy job on TV and I had a baby on the way. But — our relationship ultimately didn’t work out the way we had intended, neither did my career. I lost that job because I refused to hurt the feelings of strangers. I wasn’t mean enough. That wasn’t my path.
Here I was, 34 years old, with about four hundred dollars to my name. I was living on a friend’s couch. I had no idea what to do.
I moved into a new apartment and my neighbor saw a scared look on my face. I said, “I’m 34. I’m a dad. I have no job. I’m a loser.” He simply asked If I’d ever bartended before and if I was okay with Gay people. I said yes and yes. He took me to West Hollywood and introduced me to everyone. Eventually I went to the busiest bar/nightclub on that strip. He told me to walk up to the owner at 7 PM on a Friday and not walk out without a job. This place gets hundreds of resumes a month. They never hire. I got the job.
This place was so busy. It was loud and bright. Adjusting to all the stimulus was an experience. I was shy at first. I wanted to do a good job. I didn’t really let anyone know how weird I was. I just needed money. I didn’t intend on making friends. I just needed to pay my bills. After a bit I became more comfortable. I started observing the scene. With the help of my coworkers, I began to see the intricacies of the culture, the decades of struggle. I had no idea that there were so many sub-genres inside the culture. I began to understand each of the letters of the acronym. There’s so much more to all of this than who a person wants to have sex with. That’s almost an afterthought. These amazing humans all around me, were just like me. Most had been running their entire lives, having left their homes/hometowns due to unresolved issues stemming from family’s inability to understand or accept them.
I never knew the insight and knowledge that I would obtain working in this place would mold my future the way that it has, pushing me towards a unique understanding of myself and my world. Once I realized that I could be my full self in this setting without judgment I started living with a full-blown smile on my face. I began doing my crazy dances behind the bar and having fun being myself. I started making money, and saving it. I bought a car. I paid off my student loans. I repaired my credit. I was able to see my son every single day. This life I’m living is the life I’ve been seeking.
Every Sunday I show up at ten am to work this long shift. I watch the place turn from a restaurant to a nightclub before my eyes. I have these regulars that show up like clockwork and talk to me in the morning. They take an interest in my life, and ask about my son.
There was this one man named James who came in regularly. He passed away not too long ago. He was probably in his early eighties. He owned nightclubs and bars in San Francisco. This was back when being Gay openly made you a completely vulnerable target. We talked about his friends, his past, about watching AIDS eviscerate his comrades. He reminded me of the bars on Long Island and in Manhattan that I grew up around, places like Cheers, where people remember your name and story.
I’ve been living in LA for nearly ten years and this bar is the only place I’ve found that has a regular group of patrons. These men are my friends. These men define this city. I’ve worked Gay Pride in the eye of the storm for three years now. We wait behind the bar like it’s battle of Winterfell, waiting for the dead to come, but instead of zombies we are waiting for a title wave of people celebrating a culture that has every right celebrate. They made it. Fuck it, we made it, to here. I worked the day that Trump was elected President. That was an experience as you can imagine. But this is the key. I see men and women come in with their young adopted children.
Plain and simple these kids have parents that love them. More love in the world is better than less. Let’s end the debate.
Each of these folks have a story worth sharing about the town or closet they left. These people where runners. Just like me, and I was home. I had found myself. I had found myself at a Gay bar. For so long I had been running from my problems, my parents, the bullies and teachers at school. Now though, I’ve stopped running. I’ve realized my purpose. I realized that it was my job to help the kids inside of us and the ones around us. To tell them that it’s OK to be you. You’re gonna be alright. Just trust the journey. Look for the omens.
I needed to share. I needed a message. I recorded a rap song called “Special” as the artist #MCM. I went to the LBGTQ youth center in LA and got some wonderful kids to dance with me in a music video. I recorded an entire album called Problem Child, a funny and informative music project aimed at the youth. It was talked about all over the Hip-Hop internet. Even a DJ at Hot 97 in NYC posted about it. It received so much attention that I turned my story into a one man show. I just finished a successful run of it in the Hollywood Fringe Festival. I may take it to New York this year. I had turned my problems into powers.
I moved to LA to be an actor, a comedian, a writer, an artist. For so long I was leading with my ego. I was trying to burn the past and light a way towards the future. That was wrong, because none of this was attached to my purpose. I’ve found that now, because of this bar, because of you. I feel grateful and humble knowing I’m accepted in this environment. Thank you.
My journey is far from over. In many ways it’s just started. I’ve arrived at my purpose. I just needed to acknowledge the omens. My first job in LA was on Drag Race. My last job in LA is at this place. Everything that took place in between is not inconsequential. I know now though, that everything I do moving forward, is certainly significant.