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Photo from G-A-Y, a nightclub in London
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According to Soyouwanna.com, there are four steps for picking the perfect nightclub:


1. familiarize yourself with the city and its offerings
2. choose exactly what you’re looking for
3. get in
4. don’t make a fool of yourself inside.


Good advice, but you could just do it the easy way: find the busiest gay club in town. And then don’t make a fool of yourself. (By “gay bar”, I mean any bar that caters primarily to gay men or lesbians.)


That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with straight clubs. Some of my best friends go to them. If you’re not really interested in dancing and playing, but in mingling with stuck-up daddy’s girls or drunken frat boys, then straight clubs might be for you. Or if you like Top 40 pabulum remixed to the point where it is nothing more than a steady thump, thump, thump, then a straight club could be your bag. But if you want to go dance, party, and have a good time, trust me—a gay club is where you should be headed. Drinking is optional.


To be fair, there are straight clubs that play great music and have fun, nonjudgmental crowds, and there are gay bars that are nothing more than S and M (Stand and Model) clubs. Certain gay/lesbian clubs have their target clientele, of course—cowboys and cowgirls (The Round-up Saloon in Dallas), leather men (La Track in Montreal), punk lesbians (The Dyke Bar in Brighton, UK), and drag queens (1001 Pub Marylin in Istanbul), for instance—but what I’m talking about is your basic glitter-ball, all-welcome, humping-on-the-dance-floor disco.


Admittance to these clubs requires two things: enough money to pay the cover charge (which can be ridiculously high, I’ll grant you) and a positive attitude. You won’t have to prove to the doorperson that you are rich enough, cool enough, pretty enough, or popular enough to be there. It won’t matter if you are alone or with a group, unless the club has exceeded its allowable capacity, and most clubs don’t care what you’re wearing, so long as you are wearing something that covers the main things that need to be covered.


Years ago, I went to a straight club in Dallas with a group of friends, half of whom were refused admittance because they had on rubber-soled shoes. We wound up smuggling the same pair of leather-soled shoes out the door over and over, until each member of our group got in, but then they had to run around the club in their socks. We had been told that this particular club, now closed, was really hot, but it certainly wasn’t worth all the effort it took to get in. This wouldn’t have happened at any of the gay bars in town, and we definitely would have had a better time, as the doorman was just the first of numerous snooty employees we encountered, there.


If you’ve never been to a gay bar, there are a few things you need to understand so that you can have the right attitude. First, there are going to be homosexuals there. That may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how many people enter what is clearly a gay bar and say, “Hey, thar’s a bunch a queers in ‘ere.” And the homosexuals who are there will be dancing with one another, holding hands, hugging, and, yes, kissing. A gay bar is one of the few places where homosexuals can express their affection for one another without being subjected to someone’s narrow judgment, or, presumably, risking harm to themselves, so expect it to happen.


If you’re straight, and worried that you will be sexually accosted by someone of (gasp!) your gender, just make sure that you clearly identify yourself as “with” someone or that you don’t want to be bothered—but thank you—and you should be fine. I went with three friends—a lesbian and a straight couple—to a gay nightclub a while back, but was separated from them immediately after entering the crowded club. I hadn’t gotten 20 feet into the club when I was stopped by a man who insisted on telling me, repeatedly, how beautiful my eyes were. I tried to politely extricate myself from the situation when I felt a hand grab mine. My straight friend Ron had come to my rescue, and with a quick “Come on, honey” from Ron, I was marked as taken territory and left alone for the rest of the night. Of course, being labeled as “off limits” doesn’t mean you won’t be ogled, but whose ego couldn’t use a little ogling now and then?


Unlike what you may have seen on Queer as Folk, the overwhelming majority of gay bars don’t have backrooms and hallways where wild orgies are taking place. Sex, when it occurs, usually happens in the bathrooms and parking lots—just like it does at straight clubs.


Second, you need to understand that, unless you are a GQ or Cosmo model, you will not be the hottest person in the club. Neither will you be the most masculine or feminine person there. Even you if are a GQ model, it’s likely that some gym bunny will be better built than you, or if you are a Cosmo model, some drag queen or lipstick lesbian will be better put together than you. So not everyone will find you simply irresistible.


Third, there will be probably be some queers on drugs, and I don’t mean a bunch of stoners and cokeheads like you’ll see at many straight bars. Drug use, particularly the use of ecstasy and other designer drugs, is higher among the gay population than the straight population, and some gays and lesbians equate a night on the town with a night of high-energy, drug-induced spastic dancing. Just give them room to dance and they won’t bother you, except maybe to tell you how much they love you, just because you’re there.


Finally, unless you are really looking to get picked up - and probably by someone of your own gender—don’t stick around till closing time. Once you see the crowd starting to thin out, it’s time to leave. Those who are still hanging out in a half-empty bar at last call are looking for something more than a last dance - just like at straight bars.


Having said all that, why should you go to a gay nightclub? Well, there are several reasons:


The music is better for dancing, unless you are looking to go two-stepping, hip-hopping, or ballroom dancing. I am a bit of a homebody now, but when I frequented the clubs, which was often three-to-four times per week, it was to dance. In my quest for the perfect dance club, I tried, or was dragged to, discos of all varieties, so I know from experience that the best dance music is in a gay bar. The DJs there stay away from remixes of radio hits and focus on music designed for hi-energy dancing. And numerous dance masters and producers market their goods to gay clubs specifically. Sylvester, the late disco diva of the ‘80s, was one of the first to target gay audiences, and he established a proud tradition of producing multi-layered tracks to which even the most rhythmically-challenged could dance.


You can dance with anyone—or no one. Try going on to the dance floor by yourself in a straight bar and see how many curious looks you get. Not so in a gay club. And while it’s OK for two women to dance together anywhere, you won’t see two men dancing with one another in a straight club. Even though he was straight and had a girlfriend, Ron and I went dancing together often; we both loved to dance, and if no one wanted to go out with us, we knew we could dance in a gay bar without being hassled. Additionally, you can gather a whole herd of friends on the floor to dance. As long as you’re not crowding out others who want to dance, no one will care.


Except for the specialty bars which clearly indicate, oh, hardcore leather boys only—much like a biker bar is evident from well down the block—everyone is welcome. From gym gods to nerds to fag hags (the latter being the straight women who hang with their gay male friends) to straight couples who want to try some place new—it doesn’t matter. As long as you aren’t there to cause trouble, you can stay. Although, to be honest, the more you look like a deer caught in the headlights, the more the regulars will look at you oddly, so try not to freak out when you see your first drag queen or gay/lesbian couple making out.


It’s a good place to meet people. Naturally, like any club, you’ll run into a few pretentious and haughty regulars who look down on you, and you will encounter bartenders whose friendliness is directly proportionate to your tipping generosity, understandably, but by and large, most of the folks you encounter will be friendly, provided you are. My friend Lisa, a dainty but adventurous sort, used to drag me into some of the toughest bars in Dallas. When we entered a truly scary lesbian bar, the initial looks we got convinced me we would die that night, but by evening’s end, the women were asking us to dance and upon our departure, gave us rib-crushing hugs. At a men’s leather bar, we came to know half the patrons by name, and when we returned two weeks later, we were greeted with cheers of “Lisa! Michael! You’re back!”


Still, there are a few things to keep in mind before venturing into your first gay bar. Many clubs have theme nights, such as Amateur Drag Shows or Leather Night, usually mid-week, so check the club’s schedule if possible. And often, gay clubs in smaller towns or rural areas are entrance-by-membership-only, to keep out the rednecks and others who want stir up trouble. Usually, the price of a membership is equivalent to the price of the cover charge, but you will have to fill out a membership form. When I attended college in the homophobic town of Waco, Texas, getting into the one gay bar in town reminded me of entering a speak-easy during Prohibition, but once inside, the patrons were all nice and easy-going.


Having said all that, now a word of warning. Depending on the city, the parts of town where gay bars are located are often rough, and crime rates are high. Even when located in “nicer” parts of town, gay bars tend to attract con artists, pick pockets, and gay bashers looking to prey on the weak or drunk. Be sure to practice the common sense rules for a night-out on the town: don’t park anywhere dark or secluded, be aware of your surroundings, and appoint a designated driver. Having one sober person in your group will not only help insure you get home safely, it could also help scare off those who want to take advantage of any intoxicated state you might be in.


Ultimately, where you go out for a night’s entertainment should be decided by where you feel comfortable. If you would prefer to have bamboo shoved under your nails to being around homosexuals, then best to stay out of gay clubs. However, if you have no problem with gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered people in general, they in turn will have no problem with you, so you ought to give the local gay bar a try. It’ll be fun.

Michael has been writing for PopMatters since 2000. His primary focus, aside from queer culture, is television reviews and commentary, and his article Male Bashing on TV has been reprinted in two college textbooks. He currently lives in Louisville, KY, and is a Lecturer of Communication Studies at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, IN. As a teacher, he has an interest in the study of contemporary political rhetoric and argumentation. He and his partner Jim have been living in un-wedded bliss since 1995.


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