Talking Shit: Looking for a Safe Place

Where are our safe places; our places for collective well-being?
William Wallace
May 7, 2022
William Wallace 0:01  

Alright, so we are recording. So once again, this is the first iteration of “Talking Shit: at the last gay bar in  Como. Thank you, thank you - you are too kind. Everybody who I've invited in on this project has had some kind of interest in community health. So, what are we doing here? How can we make things a little less shitty? What can I do about this thing actively? Or, I guess in my case, it's like, how do I, you know, have a community of people like you, as opposed to all of these little one on one conversations that we have had? So the big, kind of central, idea of this was like: How do I get these people in the  room? And some people gave me some money to do so. And then they didn’t give me some money to do so. And then they might give me some money to do so. But we are here already.

So, introductions for the recording that I may or may not transcribe: I'm William Wallace.

Can I ask y'all? Why did you agree to do this? 

Unknown Speaker 1:28  

Starting off with me, I would say, one, I always support everything that you have a vision for. Your vision is way bigger than  a lot of people think. And I feel like you've experienced so much in a short amount of time. And what you've told me about your story, it’s that type of story that can  inspire so many people. So when you were saying you may not, or you may, get the funds, it's okay. Because right now you need to focus on your big goals, because you're following your passion. The money will come - you just gotta keep following your heart. And I feel like you are one of my favorite people that I've met in Missouri. So, I decided that is why I want to stay here and have this talk.

Unknown Speaker 2:25  

So we've had many conversations here, circling around diversity, equity, and inclusion.  And that's my job. I work as a DI specialist at Columbia Independent School. And I've been in  the DI world for 10 years. So being able to have conversation, hard conversations that really  shouldn't be that difficult to have - we should just be able to talk about the things that are  frustrating and upsetting us - but unfortunately, in the world that we live in, anytime that you talk about the color of your skin, or who you love, it's perceived as, you know, a bad thing  sometimes. And I don't like that. I don't think that that's okay. So, I've been working in my field  to make changes and to help improve any community that I possibly can. And so when Will  was talking about his project and his ideas, I was like, ‘Yes, this is something I can see myself  getting involved in. This is something that I want to be a part of.’

William Wallace 4:49  

That's cool. Thank you for coming. Um, I guess I should circle back to like, Why? Why here? So  I recently, I guess it's been about a year now, got back to Colombia. I grew up partially here in Colombia back in like, the late 90s, early 2000s. It was a different town; it was pretty fucked up. A lot of weird stuff happened due to, you know, whatever family circumstances. Then I came back, because of the pandemic. And so, I found a little house on a street I'd never heard of. And, you know, this was like, pre-vaccine, pandemic o'clock. And I was just like, in my house in Missouri, like, what, how, why am I here, like after being in Philadelphia, living in West Philadelphia, very large, very  black city, very gay city. So it was a different experience coming  back to Como. And it's like, okay, I have to get out, I have to get out. And I’m like walking  around, and I see this place, I see the arch and I see the flag. I'm like, that place looks safe. I  don't know. And I thought that I would just walk by, but one day I finally popped my head in. And like, it was a slow Monday night. And it was just Pitt and this regular, who was drawing on the bar and telling these ridiculous jokes, and I'm like, ‘You know what? I think this is good. I like it here.’  And Pitt has been really welcoming. The whole community has been very welcoming. 

Working in the bar industry, trying to negotiate between the pandemic and the world I normally operate in, it's been like, ‘Where can I go? Where is  good?’ So back, when I was a kid, in Como, there was like, one big black bar, Lost Paradise. It was the spot. I didn't go as an adult. It didn't exist by the time I was an adult. And given how the place operated, I'm  dubious as to how not-straight friendly the place would have been. So it's like, where is this middle ground? It’s not just myself - a lot of people have been taken in by this gay bar; people who I could see would not traditionally have been accepted in a lot of regular gay bars over the course of history. So, it's one of the most racially diverse places that I have experienced. There's a  diversity of just all kinds of life, but it is at its core still a gay bar. It's like, I don't know, it's been very, very welcoming. So I wanted to just have a bit of a thought experiment with some of the people who I've met here, who are trying to do things in the community. So like, what if we didn't need money? What else do we want to see? How do we keep the things that we have in town? And how do we move forward? Where would we feel good? Where would we be able to do whatever it is we're doing? 

Unknown Speaker 8:27  

For me to feel good doing what I want to do, I would have to take down the MMU and the  hospital birthing programs. So that's a lot bigger than the steps that I can take. So I'm starting  on the inside. And that's what I think would make things better, but that's just my lane. I think  our yoga community is very uppity and uptight. I think that black people can really come back to their roots through yoga, and come back to themselves. And I mean, for any person that has  been ostracized by society, it gives you a safe space to be you and to feel something in your body. And I think that the world, Colombia, everywhere we go, doesn't get enough of that. And so many people are so disconnected from, like, their source, that we're just all kind of, like, grasping onto whatever we can hold on to, and just like holding on as tight as we can, because it's hard to trust in a pandemic, and it's hard to trust in a city that's not very diverse or that doesn't champion you, and it's hard to trust in a country that doesn't champion you. And so, building trust amongst one another would definitely, I'd say, be the first step. I see lots of pockets of people, but I don't really see much of a web that  interconnects. And I think that's what is missing. People are trying and reaching out. But there's some disconnect.

Unknown Speaker 10:20  

I agree with that. Because if I had unlimited money, it would be to have some kind of central  arts center in Colombia. Because I mean, I'm a musician, right? It's not by trade, I don't make  enough money by hobby, I guess. And so, I know a lot of musicians throughout Columbia, and  they're all in these little itty bitty pockets, and we do try to reach out to each other, but we don't always overlap. And when I think of a safe space, a safe haven, my safe space was always the music room, wherever that was. And so I want kids to have that ability to have that safe space, be it the music room, the art room, the theater, space, whatever that artistic place is, because I think that's something that's getting lost. And it would bring in such rich cultural experiences for people to see art from other perspectives and other cultures and other eras  and other places. Hearing Music, Western African music, versus our current music - it would just make a  richer community. And honestly, if kids were more involved in the arts, we wouldn't have half of the issues that we have right now. Right now, a lot of kids don't have an outlet. So I mean, yeah, give me that money. I'm building an art center, smack dab in the middle of Colombia. 

Unknown Speaker 12:28  

But to add on, I guess I missed the unlimited money part. I don't have a studio, or just a safe space where people could practice with me or just have space to use. So I mean, my bigger dream, if I'm looking for what we would do in Colombia, is to have a space for wellness practitioners in Colombia for all of us. So if I had my studio, I'd obviously use it for my classes and maybe for my Doula clients, but then there's probably 10 other hours of the day that it's not being used and so it gives us space to use. My only caveat for the use of that space is to come to either a monthly meeting and summit, or a group thing where everyone comes together and we can talk about what efforts are we making towards the community and what's working and what's not. As opposed to all these individuals coming in and just using a space, we would have the requirement of coming together, and like having a collective thought for steps that we would take.

William Wallace 13:37  

Pitt, you want to get in on this? 

Pitt 13:39  

I'm listening intently right now.

William Wallace 13:43  

Well, I am curious about your perspective as well. You are this community icon - how did your space come to be and what is it like maintaining this space?

Pitt 14:00 

Like you, I lived down around the corner when I got here. I got a job with the local equipment rental place through a manager in San Jose. And when I got there, the manager and I got along just fine. And when he left they brought in somebody else - we did not see eye to eye, so I lasted there a few more months before they asked me to leave, and I was good with that. I felt quite joyous actually as I walked out the door. I never thought I'd feel that, but at that point this place [the bar] was actually close. It was really a restaurant, and on Sundays there was karaoke out on the patio. And the place was attended by mostly gay people. But there were some during that time who said, ‘No, it's not a gay bar. It's not that.’ That group acquired us and kind of ran it into the ground. So within a year, they disappeared from town, and the place was left vacant. Meanwhile, I didn't have a job. And I was considering going back to California and living in poverty, but I just decided, well, here's an opportunity. Let's see where this goes.

And Les was doing the karaoke here and was also a cook. He wanted to be a chef, and I was more than happy to let him do it. I've been in our business since I was a teen, so it was very familiar to me. So I opened it [the bar], and it was like to the gay community it was a safe place. There was also SOCO Club for the drag shows, so we did have somewhat of an agreement where we would be complimentary as opposed to competition. And for about 12 years, we did that. And in those 12 years, Columbia has become more tolerant of gay people, or trans people, or people that don't fit the heteronormative. 

Basically, we can go anywhere we want right now. And, not in fear of being hit, which did happen in the early days. Those days are somewhat behind us, I think. But as things change socially, more transgender people are more vocal; they are more visible. And like you say, I  started this place. Everybody needs to have a place where they're accepted; where they can just simply be who they are. Whatever that is. And, as a friend put it to me, she says there's only two things in this world that anybody ever needs: to be happy and to be kind. Those are the only rules.