south beach clubs

the discourse around queer nightlife since orlando, around nightclubs as safe spaces, around the radical, revolutionary, liberatory potential of queer love and sex has me feeling…. failing

ironically, in the same way the it gets better project left me feeling lost and confused when my own experiences didn’t match up to the narratives that were being sold as queer happiness. of marriage, of partnership, of children, of suburban life and upward mobility and class ascension. and in the same ways these narratives are and were about thinness, and able-bodied ness, and documented status, and all these invisibilized privileges that get lost when we reduce us all to… queer, i have found the discussion of the haven of queer clubs erasing the painful differences in our experiences that develop a complicated relationship to queer night clubs, even if we may, in some sense, still consider it a (relative) haven

i can’t remember the first gay bar i went to. i can imagine that it was the club south beach in houston. i don’t remember the potential and excitement and nerves that other people are recalling from their experiences, but i imagine it must have been there. my relationship to the queer community has always been one of confusion, of discomfort, of pain and rejection, of sadness when i realized that the narratives i had been sold still weren’t applicable to me, that there were still hierarchies in these spaces and i was still near the bottom.

i’ve been participating in queer nightlife spaces for about ten years now– frequently with the hope that maybe this night will be the night someone finally deems me worthy enough to take me home, or maybe i will finally be flirted with, or– at the very least– spoken to. i have gone with the hope to participate in these queer rituals so canonized through mythology and practice and history, that i have seen offered to countless (thin) friends, or at least heard about. i have never been taken home from a bar. i have never been flirted with. i had to learn young to be aggressive at the bar because if not the bartender will pass over me to go the skinny boys surrounding me. and while i have enough experience and confidence now to know that there likely are men who attracted to me or people like me in the bar, i also have little faith any of them would do so publicly. to admit attraction to fatness would be to be guilt by admission, and too many otherwise-privileged queer men are too unwilling to let that go. this is evident in the notorious hostile treatment that is delivered to trans women, femmes, fat, Black and Asian men, the disabled, and so on, in queer spaces– including queer bars.

there are talks about queer bars as havens for people who are afraid to hold their lovers hand in public, which is certainly a legitimate concern for safety. but reading these accounts brought to mind a realization i would have never otherwise questioned. that my hesitation to show affection to my lovers in public is not for fear of an admission of queerness– for i am visibly queer no matter who i am with. i do not need to be put in relation to another body for anyone to see my queerness, my femmeness, my faggotry. i am not only unsafe when i am with queer men, i am unsafe no matter where i am and who i am with, and i am aware of that. but i have developed a hesitation to grace a lover’s arm or hold their hand, or treat them in any way that might allude to our intimacy, not for fear of their exposure as queer but for fear of their embarrassment when others see they let me touch them… a fear that dissipates for both of us behind closed doors. and it did not escape my attention that my date last night made sure no one was around before kissing me goodnight, and i can’t help but wonder his intention– given that we were at the castro muni station, a place not where violence doesn’t exist but is arguably the heart of one of the largest gay populations in the world, a place, if anywhere, two men kissing might go unnoticed. but how many of them are fat? these are the extra things that we hold in addition to being queer.

i understand and respect what these clubs and bars do for other queers. i understand that these spaces give to others what they don’t and won’t (but not can’t) give to me. i understand that i willingly and enthusiastically go back to these spaces because they are still the best alternative. they are not safe but they are safer. i do not wish to undermine what these spaces give to others. i just wonder experiences of fat folks, trans femmes, people of color and especially Black and Indigenous folks, the disabled, the anxious and depressed, the sober, are being erased by heralding these spaces as uniformly fun, liberating, or even safe.

what’s so hard and complicated about these narratives is that for me this has become about this for me is recognizing the replication of hierarchies within queer communities, the myths and failures of community, the dreams i were sold that i can never cash in on in so many ways.

it has been over a week since orlando now. it has been a few days since i started writing this post. in this time i have lived my life as usual. i’ve danced. i’ve fucked. i’ve dated. all the queer rites of passage being invoked as a resistive, as our ultimate tributes to memory with none of the complications attached. they have been fun, sure, but they don’t feel particularly resistive or liberatory to me as a fat queer. i have a feeling those won’t come until i can go to queer spaces and feel welcomed or even wanted, until the days my outfits that show off my fattest parts are greeted with praise instead of sneers, until my lovers won’t be ridiculed for wanting me, even by other queers. make no mistake that i will continue to dance and fuck and look great, but until then–my acts of resistance are not only against heteronormativity, but against a homonormativity that continues to fail and exclude so many of us.