I remember it like it was yesterday, although it was more moons ago than I dare to count. I had my one good “going out” shirt and my hair was in the just-gone-out-of-fashion curtains. Remember those? No? Damn I am that old.
My first trip to a gay bar was as nerve wracking as you would have expected it to be. That night I kissed my first boy, cried for the first time publically and was comforted by what I can only describe was the most warm and understanding group I have ever found. They were there to watch me take all those awkward first steps from the almost obligatory bleaching of the hair, to the squawking limp wristed wails of the camp defence system right down to the inevitable second teenage-hood and eventually to the quiet and more centred adulthood.
THE PALACE gay bar and nightclub. Those privileged enough to remember it will always have that warm glint in the eye. I know I am in dangerous turf here of slipping into the whole, “it was all better back in the day!” rant and perhaps I am, but its my diary and I’ll write what I want to. So there. Some communities are born out of expression, a coming together with a need to let loose and some communities are born out of a necessity, strength in numbers. The palace seemed a perfect mix of the two. While the gay culture is right now in its “token” phase ( one in every sitcom/soap opera and movie for the sole purpose of being poshitically correct ) back then you would have to knock on the door to be let in. Vetted. Told it was a gay bar before you set foot in the door. And if you overlooked the occasional drugs raid, dirty floor, lesbian brawls and gay slap matches it was mostly fun. People seemed to look after each other more. People weren’t out of the closet as much then so keeping someone’s secret gave most people there a level of respect for each other. Even now if I see some of the old palace crowd the old rules still apply, getting each other a drink and making sure everyone gets home safe. It was my first ever experience of a community.
Sadly, a lot, if not all of this is missing from the gay community at present. We seem to be stuck in a place in between narcissism and forced acceptance. Caricature and indifference. Maybe in all the work finding our place in society we haven’t nurtured the idea of what we mean to ourselves? I’ve only been out for the last 15 years and things have changed so radically and there is no time to readjust, take stock of who and what we are. We have to keep moving forward toward equality but in doing so we can’t lose sight of what we are. A minority. A small section of society that is still fighting for equality, that still needs to look after it’s own. Whenever I am out in a gay bar or come across the occasional “wayward soul” I do my best to help because I remember. I remember the solitude, the overwhelming feeling of awkwardness in your own body and I also remember the relief when this small club, this small space took me under it’s wing and helped me to grow. Amidst the tears, tantrums and tiaras I became the man I am today.
I learned to respect myself, to love myself, and to honour myself and I owe a major part of that to the community I had. I sometimes pity the younger gay crowd these days. There may no longer be a need to protect each other as venomously as we used to but that shouldn’t mean we should stop caring and respecting each other like we used to. I’m not here to preach, or to wave a burning rainbow flag but I am here to gently remind myself of what I had. Of what WE had. And how we find a way of bringing that to the surface again.
In Loving memory of a dance floor drowned in the stench of CK1 and Joop,
In loving memory of a women’s toilet being the only safe place to take a leek,
In loving memory of that bit of curtain by the stage where you could go for a sneaky kiss,
In loving memory of the random arm chair,
In loving memory of that guy who would come out every week and dance like a lunatic,
In loving memory of all the wonderful souls I have met and loved in that one small house of queens,
I bid you love and farewell!