From Iceland — Advertising Lifestyles: Reykjavík’s Gay Scene

Advertising Lifestyles: Reykjavík’s Gay Scene

Published July 23, 2004

Advertising Lifestyles: Reykjavík’s Gay Scene

But when I heard several guys utter the words “I’m gay, but I’m not advertising it,” I began to question what was happening. The statement slapped me on the face and threw me into a state of paranoia. Am I advertising it? And if so, what does that mean?
For me, this declaration resembled a hesitation to live openly, regardless of how society has labeled gays and lesbians. Besides a small clique of more eccentric types, much of the community stays hidden beneath the straight lifestyle. This small percentage of visibility is common in small communities like Reykjavík. But wandering through artsy bars and clubs filled with fashionable young men, how do I know who is gay if no one is willing to advertise it?
My first attempt was a sad scene, staring at an empty coffee cup.
“It takes one to know one,” Baldvin explained to me in Samtökin ’78. It was plainly true; the smallness of the community allows most gay Icelanders to know their own. For the visitor, however, going to uniquely gay places is the key to getting to know who’s who in Reykjavík.
Samtökin ’78 is a membership-based organization that opened in 1978. It has about 300 members and houses a library of gay books and publications as well as a café (both are open on Monday, Thursday and Saturday nights). These evenings are typically filled with regulars, while the occasional tourist (or “new flesh”) does make an appearance.
But whether you are new flesh or old meat, breaking into such a tightly knit community is trying. My first attempt was a sad scene, staring at an empty coffee cup and trying to strike up a conversation with an uninterested bartender. It may help to bring a friend to chat with while you work on the locals.
This suggestion also holds true at the gay-friendly Café Cozy, a tiny establishment that welcomes its guests to candlelit chats over cheap beers, coffee or a delicious hot chocolate drink.
Owner Ásta Williamsdóttir opened the café two and a half years ago when her lesbian daughter complained that there were no coffeehouses for the community. Although “La Bamba” and “The Macarena” may sometimes be questionable music choices for the place, the current three beers for 1000 kronur (from 11-23) is too good to pass up.
“I’m gay, but I’m not advertising it”
Late-night weekends at Cozy are probably the wildest adventure in gay Reykjavík, as the tension rises with drunken customers jammed between chairs and tables. Here you can experience anything from a brawl to a bold gesture from a seat partner.
Jón Forseti is the most recently opened nightclub for the community. The weekends vary from relaxed to rowdy and the interior design keeps the atmosphere moody. The dance floor, however, feels awkwardly exposed, so it usually takes me a few drinks and the milkshake song to get out there.
But the milkshake doesn’t always bring the boys to the yard, often leaving Jón Forseti and the other gay establishments desolate. I wonder if there aren’t enough members of the community to go around. Or people think a proper gay club is unimportant. Maybe it threatens their comfortable assimilation into the straight world.
It’s been a long winter for the gay community. But with the opening of Jón Forseti, the drag performances and gay pride on the way, Reykjavík’s gay scene has a chance to blossom into something wonderful the whole year-round. Something no one should be afraid to advertise.

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