Opinion | KAMS is so straight it’s gay


Candice Zhou

KAMS sits empty on Wednesday night, contrary to its normal busy nature on weekend days. Senior columnist Nathaniel Langley argues that the bar is so straight that it is gay.

By Nathaniel Langley, Senior Columnist

Saturday starts at Campustown’s premier bar, KAMS. Before festivities arrive, your pregame features several Charli XCX tunes alongside ABBA anthems — you’re gay.

By 10 p.m., your apartment door closes. A wobbly pilgrimage to Green Street commences. Yells to fellow Saturday enthusiasts echo against a dim quad. With “spirited” magic, the line suddenly appears ahead.

An hour or so later, following one ridiculous cover charge, Saturday kicks off. 

A noxious concoction of Drake and Travis Scott pelts your ears. The world spins. Neon blue and orange lights whirl while sloppy shoves snake you through the crowd. Flannels and backward baseball caps litter the eye-line, TikTok chains flame, smug hands yank ice from “blue guys.”

It’s straight. Too straight. But KAMS evolves. When one frat flannel arm wraps another. When the alcohol-dipped hand leans toward the other’s welcoming ear — to share tender words that blaring “Mo Bamba” blocks out — the bar expands its community.

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Beyond being another hypermasculine Campustown bar, KAMS becomes our gay bar for those stunning, homosocial seconds. A gay home within an absurdly straight space.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, a scholar in gender studies and queer theory, characterizes homosociality as social bonds between those of the same sex. Similarly, Sedgwick denotes a “homoerotic continuum” — a progression of desires between the same-sex drifting into homosexuality. 

Particularly between men, male intimacy within homosociality emerges as “male bonding” — “dudes just being dudes” behavior. However, once camaraderie and desire appear homosexual, men panic and “emphasize heterosexuality,” and advance “fear or hatred of homosexuals and misogynist language.”

Between those passing moments of a gentle KAMS whisper into the ear, intimacy climbs — panic-free, notably. Furthermore, these easy homosocial actions clash against the University’s heterosexual, male Greek life landscape — i.e., the campus’s bar population.

But through this brief homosociality, we reach an ambiguous return to a Champaign-Urbana gay bar scene.

C-U isn’t a stranger to literal homosexual spaces. As Sydney Wood reports for The Daily Illini, “back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, C-U’s LGBTQ+ scene was bustling with life.” Doug Barnes, a former DJ at Chester Street Bar, describes to Wood how “C-U’s gay bar scene was thriving with four or five simultaneously active clubs.”

These and the remaining others nationally offer an unparalleled opportunity: to let loose, vibrantly scream Janet Jackson and not have a Kanye West needle-drop jumpscare.

Yet, these opportunities today dwindle. For Chicago’s ABC 7, Greggor Mattson, a professor of Sociology at Oberlin College, found the city’s gay bar listings dropped 36.6% between 2007 and 2019, “more than a third of gay bars closed in a 12-year period.”

Moreover, Mattson notes these bars’ importance to a flourishing queer community, stating “they’re the only place where queer people can reliably encounter other queer people in public.” 

Still, through the rise in dating apps, as well as other bars welcoming LGBTQ+ patrons, the need for LGBTQ+ devoted spaces appears tragically unnecessary.

With the 2017 closure of Champaign’s last gay bar — Chester Street Bar — the nearest chance to escape Greek life-dominated bars arrives with Bloomington’s The Bistro — 50 miraculous miles away. However, a dedicated University gay space takes new shape on the hyper-straight KAMS floor.

Amidst Greek life’s monopoly, its control weakens while you wait across from the girls’ bathroom on the stompy second floor — pinched between the bar and a hammered parade poking you.

The awkward waiting minutes linger for an eternity until the KAMS DJ blesses the LGBTQ+ with their Dua Lipa song of the night. Hands flutter — necks find the beat. Even the gold chain and flannel crowd jams to Albania’s pop princess.

For two minutes, Greek life’s homosocial undertone shatters with dancing glee: Arms pull their hypermasculine group together for more soft words into ears. A peculiar pat to the back hauls in the homosociality.

KAMS horseshoes into a gay bar. From entry, you’re greeted by macho, emotionless guards thrusting you past a secured gambling section and onto the frat-packed floor. Pushing into the fitted polos holding blue guys, unthreatened homosociality presides. With “spirited” assistance, panic does not ensue.

All join together for the brief gay pivot — not from a dedicated “queer night” charging you even more to get into their bar; not from cringeworthy pandering to the LGBTQ+. 

KAMS’ one Dua Lipa song is enough gay activism for the day.

KAMS, to their casual credit, satisfies the gay bar demand. The prices are comical, the music is hit or miss and you’re sober by the time you’re through the line, but while waiting across from the girls’ bathroom, social bonds of all sort blend and groove.

A heterosexual paradise — Greek life-crafted — still reigns. Yet, through the bar’s exceptionally straight atmosphere, gay life finds its resilient way. A promise for camaraderie fulfilled: unabashed intimacy for all.


Nathaniel is a senior in LAS.

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