At the (Homo) Hop
I remember my first gay dance. I was seventeen, had just started dating AB and identifying as bisexual, and was thrilled and terrified to be entering this whole new world. A group of us got ready for the dance beforehand, helping each other dress, do hair, put on makeup – blue eyeshadow and sparkles everywhere. We giggled and shrieked over everything. Remember, I was seventeen. We walked an hour to the building where the dance was held – none of us had cars, and the gay dances were always held out of town – and when we entered I was confronted by sights I had never imagined. Women dancing with women, men dancing with men. Really feminine women and men, really masculine men and women. Some people in between who were not easily identifiable. Men who looked like they could be my friend’s dads, or police officers, or librarians. Women who looked like… no, not just looked like, there was my English teacher. I watched everything, danced my head off, and felt like the scales had fallen from my eyes.
I don’t really go to gay dances anymore, and I’m trying to figure out why. AB and I used to be pretty frequent attenders, we would go with our friends and have a ball. Lately though, when we go, we feel bored and out of touch. I used to never care what music was played, the important thing was that I could dance with my girl and not feel like a freak. I never used to care what the crowd was like, 17 year old flamers on this side, feminine lesbians over here, butch dykes on that side, bears over there. Now I only dance to the songs I like, don’t feel like I have anywhere neutral to sit, and feel constrained by the cliques. Now that I’m a twenty-something I notice more clearly that the demographics at the dance are heavily bimodal: this side is the teenagers, that side is the over-forties. If I want to go dancing, I can go to any bar, any night of the week, and dance with my wife. Sure, we get comments, but we’re never unsafe and rarely uncomfortable. I used to feel like I needed the dances, now I force myself to go once or twice a year just to support the community.
Ah, community. My old foe. I think the crux of it is there: when I was seventeen I felt like there was a gay community and I was part of it. Now I’m a little disillusioned and feel quite sure that there’s no such thing as a gay community. Neither is there a female community, or a Black/Jewish/Croatian community. Sure, there are communities, but no monolithic big-C Community that encompasses everyone within it. Why is this?
I think it’s simple: being gay is not a solid enough basis on its own to build any sort of important relationships on. Neither is being a woman, or belonging to a particular ethic/national group. Maybe it can be when you’re seventeen and isolated, but once you get out into the big world you realize that people within that group can be just as different from each other than people from different groups. Just because we are both attracted to women doesn’t mean we have anything at all in common. Just because I (as a woman) am attracted to women and you (as a man) are attracted to men, doesn’t really mean anything about us at all.
I think there may be a demographic or generational effect here. I mentioned that the dances tend to made up of a mix of teenagers and over-forties, maybe this is why: to an isolated teenager, the simple fact of being gay might be enough to form a friendship over. Adolescence sucks, and the drive to not feel alone is pretty strong. They need the dances to reassure them that gay people can be normal, and we can act however we want to. On the other hand, for those homos who are in their mid-life and up, they have all had very different experiences being gay than I have, and many of them have followed a similar life-course. Most of my lesbian friends of that age were all married to men for years or decades, they all have kids my age-ish. Gay men and women who grew up in the generation or two ahead of me all faced much higher hurdles to identifying as gay and living they way they wanted to. I think many of them are still afraid or uncomfortable to just go out to a bar and dance. Many are still in the closet to family and co-workers. They need the dances as a safe place they can go with their partners or to find a partner, a place they can let down their constant guard and be openly gay.
I’ve talked to many friends of my age about the dances and almost without exception they say something like “I used to go, but I don’t really go anymore. I don’t know, it’s just boring.” How could it be boring when just a few short years ago it was the thrill of my life? I think I belong to a very lucky cohort of gay/bi folks. Most of our parents know we are gay and have known since we were teenagers. We are comfortable being out at school, comfortable going on dates in public, comfortable with minor PDAs, and just generally nonchalant about our homoness. We can get married if we want to, we can have kids if we want to, jobs aren’t allowed to discriminate against us, some of our doctors are even gay. Being gay has been normalized for us, and we live normal lives. At least I, and most of my gay friends, do. Exceptions, of course, come from highly religious or traditional families. Acceptance of homo- and bisexuality has come quick. Really quick. So quick that the gap in life experiences between myself and a lesbian twenty-years my senior is so wide that we really have nothing in common. Nothing able to sustain a community anyways.
So there it is. people like me just don’t need the dances anymore, not the way teenagers and older homos need it. They can use the dances as a place to pretend to be “normal.” A place where they don’t have to hide their attractions, their identifications, their preference for dress and behaviour. The need for this is so great that they can put up with (happily) the half-and-half mix of brand-new techno and 80s pop-country that is played at the dance, trying to appeal to both demographics. I don’t need to put up with it, I already feel normal. Everyone knows I’m gay, and I don’t really care anyway. Rather than hang out with a bunch of people whose only commonality is their definition as sexually deviant, I don’t feel that definition, and so I can go hang out with people I actually have something in common with: other couples, other academics, other internet geeks, other novice foodies, whatever.