I’m not really the type of person who goes clubbing.
I don’t like the loud music or the sweaty bodies, and I’m always afraid that I’ll get suffocated by the crowd of drunk people who seem to have no concern for my personal bubble. Or, at least that’s what I tell myself. The truth is that my social anxiety is usually what keeps me away from bars and dance clubs. I’m scared that people will laugh at my outfit, my dance moves, maybe even my hair. I’m even more scared that my wide eyes and tendency to drink when I’m nervous will make me look like prey, and that it might encourage some stranger with bad intentions into my bubble.
I’m scared that I won’t be able to defend myself. So I don’t risk it. I stay inside.
Around the time of my 19th birthday however, my friends decided that it was absolutely unacceptable for me to just stay in. They spent the days leading up to my birthday convincing me to go out with them, just this once, and told me if I didn’t like it, we could leave. I agreed, knowing that their promise to get out as soon as I got uncomfortable would be cashed in about ten minutes into the adventure.
I was expecting them to take me to a frat party or even to the tiny, locally owned bar down the street from my friend’s house. Instead, I ended up at my very first gay club.
There were only a few queer people in my friend group at the time, and I myself had just admitted that I wasn’t completely straight. It was my first gay club experience and I was hesitant. My expectations were hinged on the idea that a gay club wouldn’t be any different from a non-gay club.
As I started to gather my things and rehearsed my “I’m sorry, I’m just so tired, I had fun though!” speech, a group of drag queens appeared on the floor in front of me. A crowd gathered around them and they started their routine, complete with trash talking and lip syncing. I had never seen anything like it. They walked around the room and paired bystanders up with each other and started to give them dance lessons. As each couple took center stage, it was clear they were all awful, but no one cared. People laughed and cheered, and I totally forgot that I was in a room of people that I didn’t know.
One of the bartenders, a young man in leather pants and an unbuttoned purple shirt, came up to me and my friends and insisted we go dance with everyone else. Even though I felt much better in that moment than I had all night, I still hesitated. I told him I couldn’t dance, that it would be better for everyone if I just stayed put. He rolled his eyes and took my hand, dragging me onto the dance floor, telling me to follow his lead. I did what he told me to do and surprisingly, I started to have fun.
I got the courage to dance with my friends, and even with some other strangers. I wasn’t afraid that anyone would give me weird looks for being cuddly with my girlfriends, or that kissing a girl would lead to a crowd of guys circling around us, cheering and videotaping it. I wasn’t afraid that any guy I danced with would have ulterior motives and I felt free enough to talk to strangers without worrying that they wanted to hurt me. I wasn’t afraid to be myself, and that was something I hadn’t felt in a long time, nightclub or not.
Not all gay clubs are like this first one I went to. In fact, since then, I’ve been to many that are just as cliquey and anxiety inducing as non-gay clubs are. Still, LGBTQIA bars and clubs are some of the only places to find members of the queer community, being unabashedly and completely themselves.
When the Orlando shooting happened, I was in mourning for a very long time. I still am. But I’m not just mourning for the lives of the LGBTQIA and latinx victims of the shooting, though I think about them everyday.
I’m in mourning for all of the queer kids who won’t go to gay bars or clubs anymore because they’re afraid. I’m mourning for those who found solace in these places, just like I did at 19, who may never go there again because it’s not so safe anymore.
Losing clubs as a safe space as a queer person isn’t just about your wild nights out or your weekends. Losing one safe space makes all other places ten times as scary. If I can’t feel comfortable in a room full of people from my community, where can I feel safe?
My first experience at a gay club is still one of the most pivotal moments in my life. It taught me that if I put myself out there and don’t care about what others think, I might just receive more love and acceptance than I ever expected. Moving forward after Orlando, all I can hope for is that other queer kids get the opportunity to have the same experience I did – to be themselves, to have fun, and to do it without fear.