Gimme some space, gimme some place to play

1.0.08

Getting lost and found in maze of dark rooms, clubs, bars, parties, discos, cruising venues
and all the wonderful gay facilities

I hate it therefore I love it

Western gay subculture, where LGBT movement arose as a response to the particular historical events and underwent an evolution, a story, tends to embrace queer nation attributes (as once pondered by e.g. Harry Hay) – queer language, queer spaces (that include community centers, bars, clubs, saunas, cruising venues, sex clubs and porn cinemas, STD check spots, bookstores, fetish events, spiritual sanctuaries and others), and overall notion of togetherness – something connecting us – also known as queer community.

Eastern-European and other queer folks of the world often just adopted outcomes of the complex process – i.e. self-designation, terminology, folklore as Pride events and culture festivals, eventually the partnership-marriage-adoption agenda. Large part of the community however dislikes or openly them. For many, "internalized homophobia" is a second nature, their life’s questing is finding a "discreet" partner who’s main attribute is "normal" (same quality is self-assigned of course), "masculine" and strikingly often "does not go to gay clubs" and not seldom "does not know any gay people" or even "has never had gay dating website or mobile app profile". These are status terms that distinguish "good"/"modest"/"classy" queer folk (regardless of their education, upbringing, rural or urban origins) from the "scum", "sluts" and "queens". These are top filters for searching and discarding potential dates. Open sex life, sex dates, casual sex, kinky sex, sex discussions are generally frowned upon with small time morality – based on 19th century romantic national ideology – unlike the

The fact is that queer spaces, institutions and sense of "common cause" exists on both sides of undying iron curtain ghost. On both sides, the institutions are more or less lovingly criticized, the worth of association just on the basis of the gender of chosen partner is questioned, the proportion between more conformist (normal, relationship-oriented, traditional value adopting) and more radical (queer, in-between-er, sex-positive, progressive) queer folk exists. The difference lies in mutual acceptance, apprehension, the reference point of "correct" behavior. What you do and what you can be proud of. Paradoxically, in East, one can go to Gay Pride, but should rather not be proud of it. It affects the score points for partners as much as wider circles of friends. People who have sex outside with (excessively) romantic partnership, who meet gay people, go to gay facilities, are effeminate, are literally queer, display non-straight dress patterns, "do fetish", or show off naked dancing on floats – are "bringing shame on our community" – the only connotation where the community spirit is actually claimed.

What do you want others to do?

Within the wide range of positions towards queer spaces, they continue being convergence points for those mindlessly indulging in them, those opportunistically and indifferently using them when urge strikes and those theatrically visiting them just to confirm their apprehension. The same applies to the physical facilities as much as virtual utilities. If taken from perspective, they are nothing more than tools. They serve a function and evolutionary they exist thanks to collective recognition of some needs. The stances and evaluation arise from discrepancy between this matter-of-fact purpose and personal expectation, experience and emotion that arises. When, where and how these disappointments happen?

Generalization: Let’s start with human nature – a single awful experience and we are ready to say "all the gay people are awful". The same about gay saunas, parties, or community. No luck in seeking a single attractive mate this time? An ignorance or goddess forbid vocal "no" from someone you have fancied tonight? A difficult interaction with someone you did not want to meet? What was the fault of the place, what of all the gay people in town, what of a particular person and what was your involvement? We can be sure that most of us were not taught how to accept rejection without spite.

Romantic ideas: The fact we identify as queer means that at some moment of life we have escaped the vicious trap of "what everyone does" – and facing our genuine need, attraction, feelings we could not follow "normal" or "common" or "usual" pattern of dating and mating with the other sex. For majority of queer folk it ends there. While we choose lover of the sex that feels right for us, everything else is just a copy of traditional folklore, cultural habits, norms of relationship. Our taste in appearance, little rites of being together (first date, first kiss, first sex, introduction to parents, buying furniture) and even emotions (how should we feel: what is happiness, when to be jealous, how to force the relationship to last) are all created in movies, series, magazines, peer talk, shared awareness. The drama in gay spaces often exists only thanks to artificial expectations, habitual responses, programmed cravings.

Average of taste: I keep wondering too, if the boring music, stern minimalist interiors mixed with kitsch beyond reason, or no-imagination-involved sort of drinks and snacks on menu - is actually some sort of contemporary state-of-the-art that I’m not refined enough to appreciate. Almost everyone I know in wide scope of personalities and backgrounds complains – and it is a challenge to understand who is the outcome supposed to please. Unless this is the intersection of various preferences, the minimum that the crowd can agree on. Or is it "no one dared to make better – why at all – they’ll come anyways" combined with "we are full, we don’t miss those who do not come"?

The hate fallout: how on Earth could "fun" or "love" happen is spaces communally hated by everyone? How could those places serve their function, even better – serve us, if we do not invest in them, if we get minimally involved just to grab our sex-trophy or love-trophy and "never come back"? How can we possibly loose barriers and step out of our anxious cocoons, feel safe and embraced to approach someone, surrounded by vicious individuals ready to be amused on behalf of someone else?

Shared unconsciousness: let’s be honest, how many people realize and carry all this awareness (for some a theory) when they are going to enjoy some after-work fun? Instead, we are coming with all our heart, anxiety, hopes ... we think love, we think sex, we think of our personal success story, we compete to pamper our glittery group status, we imagine how the night could be. And then all these dreams collide – with similar ones, with those dreamt from the opposing positions, with completely incompatible ones. Do we realize why are we really coming?

Seeking what?

Don’t get fooled, clubs and parties and "functional venues" are not modern invention. They existed, in their raw purpose, in all societies in all times. What changes is the music, the illumination, the drinks, the dresses, the rites.

If our ancestors danced around the tribal fires, where stories of "life, universe and everything" worth remembering by all members of community were enacted in remember-able ceremonies involving masks, costumes, sounds and songs, body movement – nowadays the same stories of importance are retold in theaters and cinemas and on private screens. The creators and narrators of those stories – the directors, actors, writers and other artists have celebrity status as much as shamans in the past.

If baroque nobility balls seem to us as an apex of artificial costumes, dance patterns, socializing rituals – current habits of discos do not lag. Behind the disguise of expected appearance and behavior, they are still just "places to meet the others", for many with hope to meet The One (or more, nowadays). Pueblo fiesta is nothing else than your regular Saturday night out, where you hope to meet someone special/matching, while dance or fights were tools to impress, to pretend sex/love is not really the reason we have come, to give it some sense of activity instead of awkward silence. The eventual feast was to satisfy other senses (good food, boozed brains, exiting fireworks, skills activities, artist performances) for those not interested or those not lucky in mating.

It helped those actively seeking to relax, (connecting through activity, quite like team building or TV show dating entertainment), not focusing on horrendous task of talking to a stranger. It gave the shy some sense of action that pulled them in, allowed them to interact and start that awful first conversation. About something. About something that was happening right there. For those skilled in dance, it allowed to enjoy a bit of privacy to check their mate of choice closer, without being heard by peers and elders. The ball, the feast, the party – are the same complex web of fashion, ritual and practical purposes. As the fashion of the day, they are "cool" "enjoyable" "not stupid looking" thing to do while seeking for something else.

What happens when you come with this filter?

You come to a party, probably in your best dress. Whether you come for the thing, or "just to" (... dance ... meet friends ... be in your favorite bar ... not to be home alone ... release steam ... ), there’s still this hope you carry in the background - that you might possibly eventually if a bit lucky meet "someone interesting". Even if you convince yourself, that you do not come for that, if it happens, it is an extra benefit that you will not refuse. You enter the space...

The space is dark. The illumination is deceitful – adds unnatural colors, points out insignificant spots, flickers in crazy rate. How on Earth are you supposed to choose anyone here? You can of course – since everyone looks better in the darkness, in haze, under flashing madness – but you can bet you won’t be so happy with the prize next day. Even if ancient feasts happened in the evening – after the work obviously, under the celestial magnificence, with artificial sweetener "magic" of flames – who invented the modern idea of nightlife? We are diurnal animals, 11 till 3 is the most nourishing and regenerating sleep period, blue and composite-white light in the night damages human sleeping cycle as much as the frequent irregularities in sleeping patterns. Why are we coming "alive" after midnight and not at 6 or 8 in the evening? How are we supposed to have "fun" or enjoy company, chat, music, dance or even sex – yawning, irritated, exhausted? Where does the concept of "wasting" oneself come from?

There’s smoke, bad air, too hot, too cold, smell of chemicals, drugs, booze, sweat. Not like in the kinky raunchy fantasies though. Staying "in" (in all meanings) is challenging health. Wasn’t "fun" supposed to cheer us up, to make us feel better about life, add a bit of joy at the end of hard labor of the day? Most of the people are drunk – relaxed, one would say – though just few individuals per tens of thousands can really manage drinking. Majority becomes a bother, embarrassment, sneering, insensitive, arrogant or even aggressive. Wasn’t the party that event of the week, when we wanted to escape these qualities of Big Bad World? People are generally a bit unbearable, icy at first approach – so "breaking the ice" means they self-present even more annoying? Showing the worst of one’s potential is doubtlessly a way to filter out...

Call me old fashioned: although I like many styles of music, from classic through pop to very experimental alternative, the contemporary numbness of "just beat, no melody, no words, no shit" feels beyond pleasant to hear. The whole concept might have been radical or daring or progressive in 80s or 90s, but why do we call it so even 20 years later? Radicals have become establishment, but –as a good old establishment – refuse to see themselves as such. Is it blasphemous to ask if the progressive is just "the simple enough" for simple minds that like to see themselves as classy, sophisticated and at the forefront? Their unconsumable music is consumerist, practical, functional – just a rhythm for movement – no ornaments, not (in "out-fashioned" terminology) aesthetic, pleasant, beautiful. Nothing against peculiar taste, though the self-imposing dominance of this primitive minimalism "that everyone understands" over other more complex styles, suggest weird paradox of minority taste ruling over majority ... that just drags the limbs along. How many gays do actually like or prefer house? Did anyone bother to ask?

The DJ culture may be perceived as bloated cult of sophisticated high-tech boredom. Replacing a cult of ceremony leaders – shamans, priests, divas – from ancient times. Oxymoron of night-life is even surpassed by intellectual purr over sounds that qualify as unpleasant, screeching, hurting. And the volume beats another purpose of going out – talking to people.

We subdue our self-expression through dance to this weird mash of periodic beeps. No wonder that many find this unnatural for their body-movement and become anxious and frustrated and perceive themselves as hopeless misfits. So, just not to look stupid, we join in and wave and whirl the same way as the others. Monkey business, literally. Looking at the screens with latest videos, one just wonders: Why this movement of the hand, why that swing of the hips, why this "cool" pose, why that "funny" grimace? Of course, the trick is to do exactly the opposite – not to ask questions, just tune in and follow and (pretend to) enjoy it. It’s just a matter of habit, history, artificiality of culture, fashion, flock psychology. Some would find it awkward, but absurdly they are the ones supposed to feel being awkward.

Wrap it up – inhumanely late hours, poor light to find someone veritably nice, rhythmicized industrial noise in the category of "warning, danger", too loud to talk to anyone, suffocating air, people drank beyond communication capability – how far did we stray from original ball/feast/tribal dance content? The fundamental, even if sub-textual, purpose of socializing, having opportunity to meet friends, lovers, partners – is beaten down. How can we create something with a purpose (fun, enjoyment, mating) that completely denies that purpose? A miracle of modern age.

Why?

So you walk in and feel unpleasant. You resist calling it "cool" just to feel sophisticated, progressive, intellectual. Why do you pay for it? Why did you wait in queue for hours? Why did you hang the tail low in front of that macho door beast? Why did you bother to dress in your best gear if the first thing that happens is that you get soaked in smell, spilled drinks and perhaps get it burned with cigarette? Why do you have to pass the test of being interesting enough for the club that is not interesting enough to be in just a minute, where no one will see you anyways?

The ultimate catch of the club-life comes with social interaction. All those piercing judgmental ridiculing eyes. Joking on behalf of the others. Vicious expectation of the others’ faux-pas. A struggle to be the one laughing and not the one laughed at. That is nothing just a struggle for momentary dominance. Even in queer spaces, there’s the air of competition, aggressive potential of old-fashioned "maleness". All this does not help shy to feel welcome, worthy, equal. Reminder – this is not the office, this is a place where we come voluntarily to feel good.

Entering, feeling timid, anxious, out-of-water – we realize that there’s nothing "to do" actually. These spaces are eventless. At best, we may shuttle between toilets and the opposite side of the floor. Hide at the wall that will not suck us in mercifully. The only thing to occupy our still hands is holding a bottle, cigarette, a phone. Buying drink, carrying it, drinking it – is the only action of the evening. Here comes the paradox of bars and clubs: The more unpleasant they are, the worse one feels in them, more he will buy. Until a point he stops caring. The economic competition is not in making a place better than the others – but making them more discomforting. There’s a capital of hopelessness being monetized.

But these are still places that we have created for ourselves. A spaces according to our taste. Enclaves, sanctuaries, shops where we come to buy what we want.

Even disapproving of alcohol overconsumption and scorning alcoholism prevalence in society – this is a place you surprise yourself. Absurdly, people think free (liberated) to choose drugs, not being dictated by society, state or police. Being dependent on money-making jobs to afford it, chain of warlord producers, cartels of most ruthless gangsters, mafia of distributors and at the end on pharmaceutic industry for final treatment – is the idea of independence, liberty for humans-loving Avaaz-clicking contemporary liberal man. Consuming his rights.

Documentaries on epidemic of chemsex, drug abuse and related STD negligence reveal (even if in between lines) the real reasons for this baffling self-destructive behavior. Real people say: "I missed a community." A community spirit is absent in community spaces and events. Drug vice, the secret, gives them an illusion of connection, akin "modeling club" "yoga class" "geek peer group". "I was too shy to be in clubs just on my own." Yes, there was nothing to do, no easy ways to interact, not really friendly atmosphere. The queer facilities are often absurdly designed to inhibit what they aim to facilitate. Substances loosen barriers – perhaps too much. With consequences. And at the end – we are not enjoying our "amusement parks" – and so drugs are taken "to have fun". Which serves as a proof to state that we are not having fun without them!

How to create something that I actually like?

There’s one aspect of addictive behavior that is rarely discussed, although with strongest drive. Confirmation rituals. Believe it or not, modern societies built upon individual quest for happiness do not teach its members what to do, once we are happy. How to deal with beauty, joy, warm fuzzy feeling? Naturally, pleasant moments are experienced together with surfacing need to do something about it. To confirm the moment: to realize it is happening with whole being, to share it, to add something to it, to extend or to expand it. Painters used to draw it (in detail or in abstraction of emotions), writers wrote about it (in precise prose or in more poetic ways), musicians compose or play music. Whether it was sunset, stunning landscape, new love, birthday, convivial feast, spiritual awakening or capturing transient beauty of a moment. Nowadays we grab a phone camera (to capture it, to make it last), a bottle ("to celebrate" it) or a cigarette in our private instant fast-life confirmation ritual. The less we are aware of this dynamics, the more awkwardly it controls us. Since the ritual is empty, we try to satisfy by getting more, repeating, addiction. How else can we reach towards ephemeral "I was there, I experienced that."?

Whether we are hunting for a quickie encounter in sex-spaces or perform our most-decorated self on more refined parties, we participate in competition. That’s one of the most imprinted patterns we inherit from the straight world – with all the inadequacy of means, intensity and self-importance. Social competition of asocial individuals – or fight to life and death for best mate – often prevents us feeling safe enough to suspend our defense systems and allow the others to approach us. Which is what we actually want. Fully armed, ready to shoot, armored against piercing gazes, crammed in small dark space struggling to get to the toilet, to the bar, to recognize our friends, deafened by the music ... How can we imagine a space that is more allowing than inhibiting the miracle of meeting someone to happen?

In the real life we like movies, windsurfing, camping, climbing, bondage, gardening, swimming – being in the environments with particular taste, surrounded by like-minded friends. Doing our thing, being caught in our life-story, we can be perceived as interesting, or even sexy. Going to club, we usually interrupt our course of life – where we do what we like to do, where we are fully and peculiarly who we are – and become "me searching for someone". Among hundreds of others doing the same "activity". Fishes taken out of water, trying to impress with their swimming abilities. How could possibly anyone attract anyone in such space? There’s nobody unique or distinct, everyone is in the searching mode. Then the usual dilemma appears: How to address anyone, what to talk about, what topics to bring – in an uninspiring topic-less space? Can we make our regular spaces more safe for flirting and approaching potential lovers? Or can we make the hunting-grounds more welcoming for individualities?

Maybe we should ask with honesty: Despite the burning desire to meet someone – and this being an illusion of the only space where it is possible ... What is the place where would you really like to be, rather than here? At what time of the day? With what sounds and smells and audiovisual inputs? Surrounded by what kind of people? We may be desperate, but we do not have to convince ourselves that we like it here just because we need something from it. We do not have to replicate the only existing pattern, because it is proven successful money-wise (guess why). Can we create space where people do not earn out of our despair? Our spaces? Where we pay for added value and not for the roof, water, music - things we can have at home, in more comfort?

Just a bit of love

Naturally, we won’t be able to succeed all the time. How ready are we to face the fact, really? If we take it for granted than not everyone feels attractive to us (too old, too young, too fat, too macho, too effeminate, to dull, too dumb, too shy, too aggressive). How come we have such a hard time allowing (gently, without offense, without revengefulness) the others the same "luxury"? Why he or she immediately becomes "bitch", "moron", "ass", "arrogant", "priggish"? What if he does not like us, according to his standards? Maybe it was the way he declined? Are we, in general, capable and artful in politely, kindly, tenderly sending people away? Do you remember a single item of our bloated culture production that would offer these examples? Rejecting with love and especially accepting the rejection are sacrilegiously ignored skills that should be developed before all the fighting and intriguing proficiencies.

Without being ready to be rejected, we can never be ready to be accepted. Without attributing the others the same rights we claim ourselves, we cannot "Play along with the other kids". Can we allow them the same anxious pampered ego, as we hold dear our own self-image? Can we allow them to be as honest, as we need for our own free self-expression?

A word "love" we often keep reserved for our closest friends, family, or particularly chosen partners. In order to get them, we have to fish them out from space full of rage, hate, anxiousness, viciousness and judgment. Can we really recognize lover – by the attribute of love – in this environment? The shape of transformation of our spaces becomes quite obvious. Can we approach the crowd of strangers – mutually – with love? Not that infatuation, desire, perfection that we seek. The love that can be present while seeking, seeking (rejecting and accepting) with love. A little bit of default, unearned, human love towards another being with similar fears, phobias, anxieties, cravings, needs.

In the end - and in the beginning – we need to find love those spaces, that we are going to use. Because it’s where we spend a few moments (or days) of our life and where the story of our searching and finding will take places – and be part of the story of our love – which often counts at least as much as the thing we get itself. It’s part of our culture, identity, community – because they are as good as their creators and users – us.

Honey, it's where you spend your money.

Voluntarily. With expectations. Where you spend your little bits of precious free time. Where you come to feel good ... Say genuinely how you feel. Be honest towards yourself. Who else has it at his best interest?

This text was bubbling in my head for a long time, though I got inspired to write a queer response by this inspiring article that inquires into our absurd submission to the policies and taste of club scene from similarly "cheeky" perspective.