Everyone remembers their first time in a gay club. Mine was at the age of 16. Having stole my brother’s ID and countered my acne-devastated face by wearing a nice shirt, my gay and lesbian friends and I visited our local club in Essex.
Somehow we blagged our way through security and we were confronted with a revelatory experience.
The club was crap. Yet through my eyes, I was faced with the greatest gift my self-hating teenage self could need. We were normal. We existed and we danced, we loved, and my god, did we have fun.
Nine years and several dozen clubs later, this seems quaint. But that was really the first time where I saw people like me come together. The importance of these spaces cannot be stressed enough. So maybe we should let straight people experience it too.
That is not the same as making our spaces straight. This is not even the same as making these spaces mixed. Just sharing the space with them. Encouraging them to go to certain nights to get a feel for what’s going on.
From a personal angle, this makes a lot of sense. I, like many other LGBTI people, do not hang out exclusively with people of the same sexuality. This presents an obstacle for me on nights out. Even when I’m in a small mixed group, we have to go to heterosexual clubs because I know they’re often not welcome in our spaces.
This isn’t just sad because I’m forced to go straight clubs, where music goes to die and men dance with the confidence of a half-trodden papier-mâché John Lithgo. These are people who love me and fully accept me as a queer person, yet they are utterly cut off from that part of my life.
There are other implications to this too. Many straight people have little experience with LGBTI culture. Many see just superficial parts and decide not to participate.
Club culture, while just a small facet of it, is the in-road to this. Especially for young people. Maybe this would help those friends who are not actually homophobic; those who just don’t understand why LGBTI people exist the way they do, so sometimes make ignorant comments.
Exposure to such a joyful part of the community could help combat these preconceptions built into them by our homophobic and transphobic society.
Perhaps most importantly, too, is that bisexual people exist. Just because they are in an opposite-gender relationship, doesn’t mean they should be barred from queer spaces.
The guides spread across the internet of how ‘straight people should behave in gay clubs’ always say they shouldn’t engage in public displays of affection because it ‘makes queer people uncomfortable’. This notion isn’t just juvenile; it reeks of bi erasure too.
Of course, giving straight people access to our spaces presents problems that can’t be trivialized. Straight men – believing they are woke – might simply ignore queer men kissing in the club, while the sight of queer women doing the same can melt their brains into a mush of old copies of Nuts magazine.
The general sexualization and dehumanization of women is pervasive even in today’s era of ‘woke’ shows and advertising. The historic theft of agency from queer women by appropriating their sexuality for the male gaze is rarely even discussed in mainstream circles.
Now, this isn’t an issue that exposure to queer spaces can fix on its own. This will take top-down dismantling of the patriarchy itself. However, this would dispel the mythology around queer women’s sexuality.
Being able to see sexual and romantic relationships exist in the open might open their minds, in a similar way to when young people’s minds (like my own) were blown and eased by seeing it for the first time.
Of course, we’d need specific measures to protect queer women and trans people should the worst people ever enter. Specific training from bouncers and bar staff, a general rule to look out for each other. But these measures should exist throughout our nightlife, regardless of sexuality.
Meanwhile, there’s also the problem with straight women. Look, I love women with all my heart. They are the best, they actually know how to express and feel emotions, and they are the saviors of thousands of gay boys across hundreds of playgrounds.
But the amount of times I’ve been touched up and sexually harassed by women in clubs because I’m gay is ridiculous. The perpetrators, though, are normally in all-heterosexual groups. By being exposed to this diversity and hammering home the unacceptability of this, perhaps the dehumanization that leads to this behavior can lessen and we can all get along properly.
Also, it might make both straight and gay men think twice before touching others without a person’s permission.
"I actually didn't vote Labour because the mansion tax would have hit us really hard. My parents bought the house for pennies in the 90s, it doesn't seem fair for them to be taxed just because it's gone up in price. I'm not rich or anything, I was on half a scholarship" pic.twitter.com/IhhKGtc9MP
— Sean (@seanbgoneill) September 23, 2018
The gay scene is at threat
Gay bars, pubs and clubs across the UK are closing at an astonishing rate. In some countries, like Sweden, the scene has been eroded down to a few establishments. Why is this happening?
In London, property prices have reached such a spectacular high that even God would have to remortgage the pearly gates to start a business there. Property developers buy land in high value areas – like the UK capital’s gay district, Soho – then use noise complaint laws to force them into closure.
While a lot of blame should be placed on these vultures, a greater societal acceptance means a lot of people are hanging out in mixed groups and so want to go out in mixed groups. A lot of the time, they just aren’t attending these venues where their friends aren’t welcome.
Allowing heterosexual people into our scene won’t fix this problem. It won’t solve homophobia or transphobia, nor will it stop sexual harassment.
But it’s a small step to a societal change.
If we can share each other’s environments in a respectful way, understanding can form. It will also encourage more and more people to use these spaces, keeping them alive for the generations below us.
It’s tempting to hoard the spaces for ourselves. LGBTI people and minority groups often have to make the strong decisions to get the world to progress. Maybe this time, our olive branch to straight people could be one of the most fun things we have to offer.