Ryan Lee

Ryan Lee: A 12-year journey through ATL’s ‘gay scene’

I recently met a fresh transplant to Atlanta and asked him whether he was enjoying his first month in the city.

“I love Atlanta, but I can’t do the gay scene,” he said.

“And what is it about the gay scene that you can’t do?”

“The guys here are so phony and messy,” he said, as he began to tell me about his previous night.

I had to interrupt him midstory for clarification: “So your friend’s tires were slashed at the other boy’s house or at your place?”

“In my building’s garage,” he said in a New York accent, with a tone of voice that made it seem I was the simple one for not being able to follow the kaleidoscopic nightmare he was narrating. As we talked a few more minutes, I learned that he had been to three restaurants that day and sent back a dish at each. He lied to me about his age, which I had no interest in to begin with. And he tried to make a scene about being confused by the “millions of doors” in an establishment that had exactly two.

I’m used to hearing disappointment in Atlanta’s gay scene from new arrivals, and complaints that it is filled with vapid, conniving, materialistic sluts. I’m sure many characters are out there, but in my 12 years as a resident I’ve mercifully been able to avoid them—except for the sluts.

Here are a few other observations to mark my dozen years in ATL:

ATL v. Atlanta: Our city is an enchanting place to visit for a convention, Pride or weekend of partying—it’s “where the playas play … like every day.” Except for the five days a week when most people have to work, pay bills, do laundry and handle other aspects of being an adult. Many folks are surprised to find that daily life in Atlanta doesn’t always resemble the ATL allure.

Boyfriend No. 1: After college, I moved to Atlanta to be with a man I loved—which was sweet, but a classic rookie mistake.

Boyfriend No. 2: My ATL fairy tale came true one Wednesday after work when I made eyes with a sexy guy in Publix and we clumsily introduced ourselves. There were great times in our relationship, but we stayed together for probably a year too long, simply because neither of us wanted to lose the adorable story whenever people asked us, “How did you meet?”

Boyfriend No. 3: My first open, and arguably most successful, relationship. Honesty works.

Corporate Stunt Queens: The worst betrayal I’ve experienced in Atlanta was not from a friend or jilted lover, but rather when the company at which I worked for almost eight years put a note on the door announcing it was closed for good. Stunt queens wear suits and ties, too.

Familiar Faces: I saw a guy in the club a few weeks ago, and even though we know each other only passingly through mutual friends, I gave him a big hug and told him how inspired I am anytime I see him out. “You were one of the first people I would see when I was visiting Atlanta,” I said. “It’s good to see you still growing, thriving and having fun.” Of course, many people from those years had too much fun without growing or thriving, and have moved back home with their parents.

Familiar Faces, Part II: I shit you not, there are some dudes who have had the same profile picture in gay chat rooms for the entire time I have lived in Atlanta. Ageless catfish.

My ATL: All of the above is based on my 12 years of living in Atlanta, which is likely different from how you’ve experienced the city. My ATL is as kick-ass as it was a dozen years ago, and yours is what you make it.