I’m just a gay man trying to get a coffee

Keith Zerbian writes that he used to enjoy going out in Boystown not for the drinks but for the camaraderie, which would often end with a late-night coffee. He talks about what it’s like to get a coffee today as a gay man at his suburban Dunkin’.

SHARE I’m just a gay man trying to get a coffee
A cup of coffee.

Even now, getting coffee still serves as a reminder of the daily battles the author faced in the ‘90s.

Maggie Sivit/WBEZ

I came out later in life, in my 30s and was never a “bar person.” But during my clubbing years in the ‘90s, I looked forward to weekends on Halsted Street — not for the cocktails, but for the camaraderie of being with other men like me. It felt safe.

I was never much of an alcohol drinker. Plus, at the time, I lived in the suburbs and had to drive home. One late night, I stopped in to Melrose on Broadway for a cup of coffee and to warm up because, after all, I was wearing my black muscle T-shirt, and my arms were chilly.

When I was finished, I started to get up and head to the cash register when the late-night manager, handling the register, came from the kitchen with his own hot plate of food. I could have been insensitive and walked over to pay, but because I also worked in the restaurant industry, I decided to wait a few more minutes so he could enjoy his hot meal. Did I mention that he was cute?

As I was walking to my car around 3 a.m. down Roscoe from Halsted, I heard a man scream, “Help, help!” I ran toward him and saw two shadowy figures race away. He seemed to be all right. As we were chatting, I thought to myself how lucky it was that I waited for the manager to finish his meal. Talk about having a guardian angel watch your back.

These days, I do not go bar-hopping much. I retired my black Cuban-heel shoes long ago. But I still miss going out — and getting coffee still serves as a reminder of the daily battles I face.

Now, I head to my suburban Dunkin’ for my coffee. When I go, I walk past retired men who sit at a round table shooting the breeze and refer to me and the clerk behind the Dunkin’ counter as “Sweets.” Whoever coined the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” certainly did not grow up gay.

With all of this so-called progress, these small indignities remind me that prejudice, judgment and discrimination are still prevalent, just as they were years ago. And that’s coming from someone who grew up in Chicago in the ’70s, attended public school and went to a Baptist church. I unfortunately have many unpleasant stories to share.

But for me, pride is not waving a rainbow flag in a parade (although I have done that a few times). I am just an ordinary man who stayed in the background of life fighting my own battles with other ordinary folk. I have had to learn to stand tall and be internally strong against those who judged and bullied me. That is gay pride to me.

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PRIDESTORIES-Keith-Zerbian

Keith says that Dunkin coffee is the only place he goes where he adds sugar.

Provided.

Keith Z grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and has read the Sun-Times everyday since graduating high school. He interned for LesBiGay Radio in the late 90s, graduated from Columbia College and has worked for White Castle for more than 40 years.
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