The fact is, though, gay men and women have lived in Southie for years, but found it wiser to do so stealthily. To illustrate that point, let’s go back to the Junction. When I first walk in (on a mission to meet my gay roommate and his gay friends), I make a stop at the bar to order a stiff gin and tonic. It is there that I find myself in the shadow of a lumbering colossus dressed in what appears to be the typical Southie bar-brawl garb (backward cap, athletic attire, jeans, and sneakers). From an outward appearance, he defies every caricature one would have of a gay man. And for a minute, I wonder if he is the odd one out, not me. As I watch him guzzle down his beer, I am even more convinced that this light-skinned, muscular man, with his thick Southie accent and shaved head (mostly concealed with a bright-green Red Sox hat), is straight. But when I strike up a conversation, it turns out that he is in fact here to congregate with his fellow gay New Southie members.
He explains that he has lived in the area for more than 10 years, but was never open with his sexuality on his home turf. “There’s a large gay community in Southie,” he confides to me, “but we were always very discreet. There was no need to be flamboyant here. As they say, ‘When in Rome . . .’ ”
Initially, he asks me not to reveal where he works, but by the end of our conversation he seems elated (and, dare I say, filled with pride?). He turns to me and says, “You know what? Fuck it. I work for the MBTA — and I’m proud of it.”
GAY WILL HUNTING: Phil Sheats (above) wasn’t sure how his gay-meetup group would be welcomed in historically parochial South Boston. After three months of events, “the New Southie” is filling up the bars and breaking down barriers.
Everyone loves a parade!
Upon my arrival at Shenanigan’s for September’s New Southie event, Sheats greets me with a huge smile and a hug. Familiar faces fill the room while a young man sings a karaoke version of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” Relative to my last New Southie jaunt, the crowd seems more affectionate with each other, somehow more comfortable. Everyone’s guard has been lowered, and the buzz of a relaxed atmosphere now permeates the scene. In short, progress.
New Southie has certainly come a long way since its first event in July across from the Macallen Building (an eco-chic condo development whose pool area is casually referred to as a “gay cruise ship”), at the Franklin Café — which has a second, gay-friendly location in the South End. But given Southie’s turbulent history, some members didn’t attend the group’s second outing at the townie enclave Tom English’s Pub for fear of being ridiculed — or worse.
“Here we were,” recalls Sheats, “a bunch of homosexuals, taking over a Southie pub! I thought for sure we’d get jumped or stabbed.”