Somewhere over the rainbow
Homosexuality is not as big a taboo as it used to be, but gay bars are nevertheless needed. In straight bars, an LGBT couple may attract unwanted attention and if you are single, it could be hard to mingle. Mixei is the oldest gay bar and club in Finland, waving the rainbow flag high for the Tampere LGBT community.
People take swift looks at each other. Two groups of friends sit down side by side on the fluffy couches. Slowly the girls start chatting with each other and making new friends. Eyes keep scanning the red and green bracelets that signal the person’s relationship status. At the bar, two middle-aged men are eyeing each other up while hit songs are pouring out of the speakers. From the young to the middle-aged, people have gathered to a singles Saturday night at Mixei.
The only gay bar in Tampere, Mixei is the backbone of the city’s LGBT community. The bar celebrated its 26th birthday in January, and a month later, the bar received an honorary mention in the QX Gay Gala as the gay bar of the year, an honour that is granted every year to a bar outside of Helsinki. Mixei’s new Executive Manager Pauli Huhtala still remembers his introduction to Mixei.
“I recall how nervous I was going to the bar for the first time in my early twenties. For a second or two, I stood outside the bar but then I got the courage to go in. I felt like I had finally come home”, Huhtala describes his first Mixei memories.
Huhtala has a long history with the bar, having been active both as a volunteer and partygoer. In 2014, he and his husband Kristian Syversen celebrated their wedding at Mixei. Huhtala began his job as the executive manager in mid-January, and he hopes that Tampere will remain a cultural capital alongside Helsinki for all sexual minorities.
“The previous owner focused on services for male customers, but we’re going to change the decor and throw more diverse parties. Parties for girls are not out of the question, either. Besides that, we are planning to organize more live events.”
Many have thought of Mixei as a bar for gay men. Both in the bar and on their Facebook page, the walls were decorated with pictures of half-naked guys. Since 2009, the corner room was a “dark room”, a place for sex and porn. A leather sex swing used to hang from the ceiling of the room.
As soon as Huhtala started his job, he got rid of the sex swing and the dark room. The corner is now a lounge area, ideal for board games and chit chat. The new executive manager is hoping to shake off the bar’s only-for-men image. He says all open-minded people are welcome to Mixei. Pictures of women are now included in the wall decor, too.
Huhtala thinks the attitudes in society have turned more liberal particularly in the last decade. Publicity and pop culture have increased people’s awareness of homosexuality, and openly homosexual and bisexual celebrities have helped smooth out the divide to LGBT and straight people.
“The Finnish soap Salatut elämät was the first TV show with a gay character, and that was a long time ago. Today, nearly every show on TV has a sexual-minority character. Many celebrities come out of the closet all the time, too. There are plenty of role models to look up to.”
Huhtala thinks same-sex couples still cannot relax as much in straight bars without extra attention. Also, gay bars are useful in search of a partner.
“Gay bars are very important, especially for young people in the closet. Here you get to spend time with similar souls and it’s easy to stop by. Now it seems that more and more heterosexuals are finding their way here, too. It’s the kind of place where nobody asks who you are”, Huhtala says.