Everywhere one looks in this city, on every annoying telecom ad, every billboard, every corner, every shining example of the hyper-market highway to bliss, there they are, those two, smiling back at you.
The happy couple, standing close over a cart filled with sundry goods or an especially amusing SMS-ka, arm on waist, a beautiful woman with a not-so-apish man, basting in the juices of their emotional bond heightened by their shopping experience, eyes brimming with their sickly-sweet secret.
Sometimes this place can seem sappier and more domestic than a Full House marathon, if such an ungodly thing exists, and when one is alone and banned from the piss-warm baby-pool of wuv, it's like a giant crooked finger pointing out your solitude to the strands of "The Lonesome Loser".
So what is it like for the guy who doesn't want the girl?
Of course being homosexual isn't really catered to by any mass culture, but in a environment as Cleaver-esque and couple-centric as this one, the hammer must fall a bit harder, right? I asked a couple of Prague's gay residents, one a foreigner and the other a Czech, where they feel they fit in Beaver's neighborhood.
Some things never change. Yes it seems that no matter what, Czechs fall victim to the perverted wishes of older and richer German and Austrian tourists.
Apparently Czech men, or more specifically young Czech village boys, are the kings of the Gay porn world, serious international superstars, and this has produced quite a few fantasies that people carry over the borders with them.
These fantasies are then carried out with young Czech boys who go to certain bars to sell themselves into the arms of the nearest fat old queen, most of the time out of their minds on drugs and unaware of what they are doing.
As this is no different from what some Czech girls deal with from the same types, it should be left at that, but one can't help but marvel that Czech men, constantly the subject of b*tching from foreign women, are so popular among foreign gay men.
I sat down with Mr. X, the foreigner, in order to get an outside perspective on the scene and the societal pressures coming down on it. At first he was reluctant to admit that this place is any different from any place else when it comes to difficulty being open or feeling comfortable, but the more he spoke about the lifestyle, the gay scene, and where it all fits into Czech society, the more apparent the pressures became.
He first emphasized the smallness of the scene, putting his forefingers and thumbs together to form a tight circle. He said that in two to three months time he had begun seeing the same regulars at most of the bars and clubs, and said that it was easy to get a reputation in a very short period of time.
He also mentioned a certain feeling of exclusion at certain places, and when asked if this was due to his foreigner status, he replied that it might be, but that certain Czech friends of his had said the same. He was never at any point completely willing to blame things specifically on Czech society, but instead spoke of the general pressures and problems that typically befall gay men.
He said that while there is a thriving night-life, filled with sex and excitement, it can leave people feeling empty. The nights he described were definitely outside the normal realm of experience of most heterosexuals: going into a bar, making eye-contact with a person or another couple, and ten minutes later being in a dark room with one's new friend(s) having sex in some capacity, usually not anal but oral or perhaps just touching, and being surrounded by other couples and threesomes doing the same.
He emphasized the obscurity of these rooms, bodies transformed into moving shadows, and sounds being the main indicator of what was going on, who was where. He described gay relationships as being much more straight forward than heterosexual ones, and I couldn't help but agree, but when I asked him if he thought this was a good thing, his answer didn't come right away.
"That's the worst part of being gay," he said. "Everyone is desperately looking for some long-term relationship, but it's not easy to get."
This made sense; when you couple an active and promiscuous sex life with a very small, insular group of people, it would be extremely hard to find someone you thought was very special. He at this point did start to admit to small social pressures, coming from an unidentifiable source.
"Being gay is not so easy," he sighed. "It's easier to get married, have children, and live a proper life." Proper of course meaning a man and woman, in wedlock, with screaming brats, and hey! whoah! all of a sudden we're back in the Beav's neighborhood.
When I asked him about the working environment for gays, he told me that he was straight with his employers from the first day, that is, he told them he was gay, and met with no problems. However, he talked of the many men he meets in the clubs that attempt to pass, that is to live an outwardly straight life, meaning suit and tie, wife and kids, and use the clubs as a sort of escape or haven, only then letting their true selves out.
The pain and mental anguish involved in this kind of charade surely could not be justified simply by advertisements and stares on the metro.
"When you're working in a straight society, where everyone thinks that you are straight, [then] if someone knows that you are not, it could escalate."
When I asked him what he meant by "escalate" he replied that "when your boss knows about that, it could influence your future."
Of course things like prejudice against homosexuals is something so globally prevalent that it has to be measured in degrees, but perhaps these degrees are worth noting.
Mr. Y, a Czech man in his middle years who is openly gay and works at a high position in a button-down firm, didn't like the look of the recorder and thus left no quotes. He firmly asserted that Czechia was no better and no worse than any European society in dealing with its gay population.
He told me that he has never received any ill-will from any of his co-workers or bosses, but had a very interesting reply when asked if he was open from the get-go. He told me that he had revealed himself gradually at work, waiting until he had proved himself to be quite good at his job, perhaps indispensable, before becoming open, and that this had worked well for him.
Simply put, first earn their respect as a straight man, and then say "See? Gay people can do good work too."
Of course, considering the treatment, or rather lack of treatment, the subject received under communism, this is a relatively mild social construct. Homosexuality was simply blanketed under the regime, not discussed, eradicated from existence by silence.
It is therefore not surprising that the majority of Czech gay men are not too "in your face" about their sexual preference, and also regard those who are as being an extreme, much like the extreme of the gay man playing the part of the straight. Mr. Y expressed a certain amount of disapproval for this type of behaviour as being too public with a subject that should remain private.
He said that when Czech people come out, it's usually just to family and close friends, not to the world, but this could have a lot more to do with the Czech tendency to keep to themselves about personal matters than social pressure.
He was also quite positive about the help the community is receiving from the local media, and of all places on TV Nova. Nova sports some bastardized version of The Dating Game, where humans do their level best to win whatever warmed over hunk of meat is sitting on the chopping block. Mr. Y informed me proudly that this show featured a show for gay men as well as gay women. Baby steps, right?
John Waters, the acclaimed and openly gay director, was once quoted as saying that he didn't like gay bars or clubs because he saw them as just another form of segregation, keeping things safe for everyone and therefore a lot less interesting.
I asked Mr. Y what he thought about this and he said that he agreed, but that a totally integrated bar scene was neither possible nor desirable. He said that an openly gay man in one of the city's more basement priced pubs might meet with physical harm, if he was the type to express his homosexuality "flamboyantly".
He also said that the gay community largely didn't want integration of the scene, because they would find it inhibiting. The fear of seeing a co-worker or boss would be too uncomfortable to allow them to relax, have fun, and be themselves.
Until this pressure, or this feeling of encroachment and harmful intent goes away, the scene will most likely remain very quiet and small, and gay and straight people will remain largely socially separate.
The real b*tch of this is, that the longer the scenes stay separate and distinct, the more these feelings of fear and distrust will grow on both sides, and the less one side will know about the other.
This society, as I have observed over the past couple years, is not one to force social issues or force two groups to be together if both sides don't so desire. In fact, I would say it rather functions on the concept of racial and national segregation, so the fact that the gay and straight scenes are sharply divided comes as no surprise.
Of course this is destructive, and this construct will continue to convince gay men of their need to pass as straight, and will continue to make living a normal life more difficult for those with the courage to be open, but I would like to say that in a way this could be less destructive than other societies, for instance the United States.
While Czech society tends to turn a blind eye, and perhaps sniggers behind its fan, there is a noticeable lack of militants and fire and brimstone preachers telling gays that they're all going to hell. While some western societies may be more advanced in acceptance, these same societies have opposite, smaller factions which make up in condemnation and violence what they lack in size.
Per usual, people here generally neither throw open their arms nor put up their fists, and we foreigners are left to wonder which is better.