Since opening the Cape Club Complex, Jeff Robinson has been one of the most visible members of Cape's gay community. Even straight people know his name and face -- many of them visit his bar for fun entertainment that includes some of the best "female impersonator" shows in the area.
But there's a lot more to Jeff than an unconventional sexual orientation and a burgeoning business. This month he talks to OFF writer Nicole Stanfield about life in the local gay community and his own struggle with cancer.
OFF: Tell me a little bit about your past.
Jeff Robinson: I was born in Atlanta, Ga., and lived in Georgia all my life until I moved to Missouri about 16 months ago. I went to West Georgia College, and started working for Delta Airlines in 1968, and worked there until I retired in 2001. I retired early because I had cancer and was on disability.
After 9/11 they offered me a package that was to my advantage. So I retired and moved here with my partner in March of 2005. We decided that summer to open up this club.
OFF: Why did you move to Cape?
Because he's from Southeast Missouri, and at the time he owned some video stores in the area. He wanted to get back to this area. We started in St. Louis but it was too far from his businesses. So when we came to Cape, I really liked it.
OFF: What do you like most about this town?
The size; it's a large enough town that you have all the conveniences that you need, but it's small enough that there isn't too much traffic. It's a friendly town; when I came here I really liked it.
OFF: Why did you and you partner decide to open the club?
Well, we came here and looked around at entertainment and things and we weren't even thinking about opening a night club. But we just felt that in the community there wasn't enough offered. And I'm talking about the gay community. But when we opened the bar, I didn't want it to just become a gay club; I wanted it to be an alternative club -- there are a lot of liberal straight people that visit and have a good time. We decided that there was a need for this type of club here. And it has proved to be so because we are really doing well.
OFF: What has the community's reaction been to the club so far?
I'm sure that there are a lot of people who do not like it because they don't agree with the lifestyle of the gay community. You know, it just goes back to civil rights. The rights of black people and other races have been violated in the past. We have our rights, too. I don't feel as if my lifestyle is a choice. It's a choice whether or not I act on it, but me being gay is not a choice.
OFF: You recently raised money for the Cancer Society, didn't you?
Yes, we had a wet t-shirt/wet boxer contest and auctioned off the water to wet people down with. We raised over $100 for the American Cancer Society.
OFF: Do you plan on any other charitable events?
Oh yeah, we plan on more things like that. It's kind of slow getting started while trying to get a new business off the ground. In fact, starting next month (August) we will be having an alternative church service here. The pastor of the United Church of Christ, Pastor Randy, is going to start holding services here Sunday nights. And we will have an alternative gospel band that will be playing upbeat gospel music. People who don't feel comfortable going to an organized church can come here and practice their spirituality.
OFF: I want to touch a little bit on your cancer. You were working at the airline when you found out you had cancer, when was that?
Nineteen-ninety-nine, a little over seven years ago.
OFF: So in those seven years, what sort of challenges have you been through battling cancer?
Well, I was devastated to begin with, but I figured the only way I could beat it was with a positive attitude, and I am a very positive person. I was diagnosed with stage four metastatic colon cancer. The prognosis was a 10 percent chance of making a year. And that was in 1999. In 2001, I had a reoccurrence, and they had me three to six months, and they said they would not do any more treatments because they did not want to ruin my "quality of life."
And I told the doctors if you take away my hope, you are ruining my quality of life. And I insisted on getting the treatments anyway … they said that 90 percent of what they'd seen was gone. My doctor said he would never advise people not to have treatment ever again. The doctors say I am a miracle. I've had four colon surgeries … and am on my fifth round of chemo.
OFF: How long have you had chemo?
Three days every two weeks. You never get over a treatment before the next one starts, because your energy level is still low. That's one reason I'm just exhausted. The first few days you're just really sick, and it's hard to cope with anything but just keeping yourself comfortable.
OFF: When did you realize you were gay?
I realized at a very early age I was different … even when I was an adult I hadn't come out. The term "gay" wasn't even used, there were more derogatory terms. I had my first sexual encounter with a man when I was a freshman in college, and I realized then. It scared me so bad that I thought it was something I could change. Within six months I got married. And I was lucky: I married a wonderful person. I stayed married and faithful until her death in 1990. I knew the whole time that I was gay, but I wasn't going to ruin [my family's lives]. I had two children … after she passed away, I made the conscious decision that I was going to be who I am.
OFF: Tell me what it's like to be a part of the gay community in Cape Girardeau.
Well, I don't know what it's like for everybody, but for me it's been wonderful because I do own the most popular nightspot in Cape Girardeau.
Everyone here's very supportive and very nice. I'm everybody's friend; I own the bar! It's just like in any community; we contribute to the community. We have nurses, we have firemen, we have policemen. All walks of life are part of the gay community. We're a contributing part, even though a lot of people would not like us to be. But they don't really know who we are. The people who are against us haven't taken the time to know us.
OFF: How has spirituality played a part in your life?
Because of my upbringing, it made it harder to come out. But I realized that Christ is love. I try to treat people the way that want to be treated. I try to be kind to my neighbor, I pray daily. I believe I am still here because of God. It's one of the reasons I'm opening a church for the alternative community.
OFF: What are your goals in the next few years: for yourself, for the club?
My number one goal is to conquer cancer. I do have a positive attitude about that. For the club, I just want to see it grow and get better and see more people enjoy it. I got tired of working for the corporate world but this is a fun job. I plan on having more guest entertainers, and I'm still trying to get the patio and pond finished. My treatments are slowing me down. I'm just trying out more innovative ideas. For example, next week we are starting our own version of "So You Think You Can Dance," a competition for couples or singles, with prizes. We are planning a big theme party in the fall and a huge blowout for our one-year anniversary in October.
OFF: Finally, what do you have to say to that person in Cape Girardeau who hasn't visited your club yet?
I wish you would come and try it. If you enjoy good entertainment and a fun atmosphere, you will like it. I've had a lot of people who have told me they never would have visited a gay or alternative club become regular customers.