Every gay person I’ve talked to about the massacre in Orlando has expressed feeling numb, cold inside. Shocked. There’s an element of randomness in terror attacks, the overall marketing strategy being that relentless killings can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. No place is safe. This is, anyway, what vigilantes want us to think, and the uncertainty of when and where is partly what causes the feelings of numbness in the aftermath of an attack. It forces you to think about your daily rhythms and the small, last-second decisions you make to be or not be somewhere. A change in route, a change in plans. You “could have been there.”
This time, with an attack on a gay club, a place that is supposed to be a safe haven, a place to go when there’s no place left, the feelings of numbness have to do with the fact that many gay folks look forward hitting the club on the weekend. “I was at a gay club when I got the news,” one friend told me. At the gay club we’re pouring the drinks at the bar and we’re turning on the fog machine and we’re spinning music in the DJ booth and we’re working in the coat check and we’re lip synching in full regalia to eternity. We go to gay clubs to dance, drink, meet new people, let our hair loose and ultimately to find our queerness, to find ourselves.
Orland could have been any one of us.
I love nightlife and I always look forward to going to the club. I’m never sure what’s going to happen, and that’s sort of the point. We shave, we get dressed up, we put on cologne and perfume and we become our best selves. We flirt and we kiss and we love.
Clubbing is resistance.
I’ve spent thousands of hours in nightclubs over the course of my lifetime, and I can say that some of my most memorable experiences have happened while I was shouting to someone over loud music in a nightclub. Gay clubs were the first spaces I learned it was OK to be gay in, a place I could sneak to in college without my folks or even my roommates knowing. When I came out to my cousin Katrena as a late teen I made her go with me to a gay club in East Saint Louis — made her in the sense that I didn’t have a license so I couldn’t get there by myself. I had to bribe her with White Castle. We had a blast and I bought her one of those huge, oversized dildos at the club’s giftshop as a joke. She loved it.
With gay pride celebrations popping off in cities around the world, and as we think about those we lost in Orlando and process our numbness and exhaustion at the reality and frequency of gun violence in the United States, to say nothing of hate crimes and the fight for equality, we must remember that gay people and spaces, including nightclubs, have always been under attack. Sometimes the attacks are legal, like laws that ban gay people from even congregating openly in social spaces in the first place. Other times the attacks have much more force, like when a bomb exploded in a lesbian bar in Atlanta in 1997 and when another went off at the Admiral Duncan in London’s Soho in 1999. Not to mention Stonewall in 1969.
As ever, clubbing is resistance.
Queer nightlife is always about survival, community and resistance, not booze and boys in boxers dancing on light boxes (though it’s about that, too). A place of refuge. Queer nightlife is a safe haven when no other place seems safe enough, when walking down the street holding your girlfriend’s hand could get you killed. Queer nightlife matters because it creates a space, perhaps the only space, where it’s possible to be yourself, to realize you’re not alone.
We have to keep loving. We have to keep dancing. We have to keep being fucking fabulous.