By V. A. DOUGLAS
Amongst the heaving crowd of pulsating blue and searchlight red, I was there. I was a woolen jumper in a sea of cotton singlets, a head of blonde hair amongst baseball caps. My eyes scanned the vastness of the place, its bare torsos and clambering limbs, the smell of sweat and excitement clinging to the darkness.
Now, several years later, the leaves are yellowing and many young LGBT people, freshly eighteen and in university, will also be going to a gay club for the first time. It is impossible to generalise people’s experiences going to gay clubs, and I can say with conviction that your experience (if you do ever go) will be utterly different to the one that follows. Nevertheless, let me recount my own first time.
It was the January after my eighteenth birthday and I had moved to London for an internship. It marked the beginning of my life as an adult (albeit a baby one), it was a surge of independence, and I was living a life I had chosen for myself. I had made a friend in a gay man a little older than me who suggested that we go to Heaven, an infamous name that I hadn’t actually heard of until that night. We queued and entered in a ritual of process that aroused a delicious nervous excitement in me. People giggled in playful conspiracies and bouncers searched suspiciously. It took a while to get in, and I remember not wanting to seem too young (I, too, wasn’t quite convinced that I was eighteen yet). My friend took my hand in his, and we glided into a vault of almost physically tangible pop music. We put my velvet jacket in the cloakroom, and made our way to the bar. What happened next? A man may have bought me a rum and coke, and the rest is a patchwork of all the other times I have been back since: furiously amiable chatter with strangers in the smoking area, claustrophobic dancing, losing and finding friends new and old and avoiding (or sometimes returning) stares from the blurry shapes of men across the packed room. And there it was, finally, a space in which gay sexual expression was in the open.
I had never been in a context before in which I was an object of sexual desire, and although it excited me at first, I quickly came to understand (with some bitterness) how I was viewed. I was objectified as a twink; a young, effeminate, pretty gay man- like the American sweet from which it takes its name: delicious but lacking in any nutritional value. People are often surprised when I take offence to this name, but it isn’t a compliment. This just wasn’t the way in which I wanted to express my desire, nor was it the way in which I wanted to be desired. I felt claustrophobic and restricted, because it just wasn’t me. And that is perhaps why I became, for a while, so embittered with the whole institution.
But now, I look back at the me who turned up to a gay club in a velvet jacket, and laugh, because it was so sweet and unaffected. Over time, my views on how I fit into the gay community and how I function within the world would change and my ideas would be challenged. Now I assert myself in no specific subcategory at all. I am, still, a little conflicted; whilst I find a comfort in gay clubs, I also know that I don’t fit in. But that’s alright, I don’t need to. And that’s quite exciting.