It’s hard to believe now, but the first time I visited Madrid, I had to put real effort into tracking down any gay people.
The year was 1990, and Madrid’s gay community was exponentially more discreet than they are today, but I knew Chueca (pictured, below) — the then-scruffy neighborhood I’d only glimpsed onscreen in Pedro Almodóvar movies — was where the city’s few gay bars hid in the shadows. So as I headed out for the evening on my first Friday in Madrid, I asked my hotel’s front desk clerk for directions to Chueca. “Oh, no! You don’t want to go there,” she cautioned, glaring me like I’d asked her how to get to Hell. I assured her that I most definitely did want to go there.
She hesitantly scrawled some directions onto a map, which I followed to Chueca. As promised, it was a little unkempt, but it was also packed with young people having a good time, in the style of La Movida Madrileña. I would later learn that this was a way of life for young Madridians — a devil-may-care response to Spain’s decades of oppression under Franco. Chueca was the movement’s spiritual nucleus, and to me, the place didn’t feel dangerous: It felt totally alive. The streets weren’t overtly queer by any means, but I managed to find my way to the area’s few small gay bars, and I knew I had found what I was looking for.
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