Hello there! Rob here again! It’s been a few months since I posted about our highly successful panel discussion at the Southbank Centre and I’ve had some time to do some thinking about an issue quite close to my heart – alternative clubbing in London.
Something has been bothering me the last few times I have ventured out into the London gay clubs. Recently, when I have been out on the town, I have often been left feeling a little saddened at what the gay scene in this city is becoming. It seems to me that many of the so-called ‘mainstream’ gay clubs have become hunting grounds for heterosexual men who come looking for ‘fag-hags’ and ‘gal-pals’ (two truly awful phrases in my opinion).
The result is that the clubs that were once ‘safe spaces’ for the queer community have been overtaken by heterosexual couples who, far from respecting the space as somewhere for the LGBT community to be themselves, seem to go out of their way to make queers feel uncomfortable. They do this either by acting threateningly towards anybody of the same sex who enters a metre radius of them or, more commonly in my experience, treating them as exhibits or animals in a zoo to be leered and pointed at.
I have been in a gay club before where a stranger has come up and subjected me to personal asinine questions about my sexuality only for her to laugh about it with her equally vacuous friends. It was not how I wanted to feel in a space that “claims” to allow queers the freedom to be comfortable.
What’s worse is the clubs seem to be pandering to it. My last two nights out in London have seen me leave early with a bitter taste in my mouth. Straight male strippers gyrating on the bar, trashy drag queens whose bitching is as unfunny as it is incessant, and tragic “competitions” (I use that word very loosely) where the token gay in the audience is made to give an on-stage lap-dance to one of the straight male strippers while the (predominantly hetero) members of the audience hoot, cheer and bray like donkeys. It felt more like a gay-themed evening where every stereotype that has ever been thought of had been trooped out for the enjoyment of the crowd. To put it bluntly, I felt like a clown!
Please pardon the rant – I assure you it is going somewhere and leads me onto the main reason for my post. While I do feel like there is a major structural problem with the gay-scene in London at the moment, I don’t think the answer is to bar heterosexual people. I have a lot of straight friends who often come out with me to gay clubs and they love them! I mean, why wouldn’t they?! Gay clubs rock…or at least they do when done right.
Rather than discriminating against a person based on their sexuality (something the LGBT community should know better than to do) we should aim for a space where everyone is allowed to do what they like without fear of feeling persecuted and this goes for straights and gays alike.
While I think the ideal, all-sexuality-encompassing club is a way off yet, I did frequent a place not so long ago which, I felt, was striking a better balance than some of the places I’ve described to you above. The place was Club Kali. For those of you who don’t know it then allow me to fill you in.
Kali is a South-Asian queer night that takes place once a month at The Dome in Tufnell Park. I was not expecting to find such a level of acceptance for all types that I did at Kali. Literally the whole spectrum of LGBT people were there and everyone was having a great time. It was colourful, loud, with great music and everybody was just letting go and dancing. I spied a few straight people there too. There weren’t loads but enough to have a presence and they were extremely respectful of those around them regardless of sexual orientation. I guess that would be the word I used to describe the attitude in that club – respectful – and it was so refreshing to see.
Yet at no point did I doubt that Kali was a queer night. There was a drag queen, the stunning Asifa Lahore who performed a couple of numbers; some fabulous gay anthems played that night; and even a couple of sneaky make-out sessions in the loos (not that I’d know anything about that!). So while I lament the growing trend within the London gay scene to market queerness as a brand that can be packaged and sold, Kali continues to do what it has always done – to provide a space for people to be themselves and to do whatever feels natural to them. Ok so it isn’t perfect. It’s been running for nearly 20 years and is a little tired around the edges. Plus, even in the most accepting of places, it seems there is always room for a bit of a drunken brawl and I did have to pull apart a couple who had clearly had a bit too much to drink.
Yet overall I was incredibly impressed with the work that Club Kali is doing, not just for the South Asian LGBT community, although that alone is highly commendable, but for the queer community in general who, I feel, have lost their identity a bit recently. I think as a community we need to be reminded that acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean integration. If straight people want to come and party with us then that’s great because, let’s face it we’re awesome, but we should remain true to ourselves at the same time. Let’s not sell our integrity to entertain the masses – in the clubs or anywhere for that matter.
Robert Beck is a returning guest-blogger for Safar. When he’s not writing, he’s busy chasing his dream of becoming a theatre director on the West End. However, this seems to involve drinking a lot of wine and not doing much work… He also writes for the urbanLIFECLASS blog and is training to be a re-birthing trainer. Follow him on Twitter @robertjamesbeck where he occasionally makes profound-ish comments.