There is no way to talk of dance music and not in some way reference the immeasurable effect LGBT people have had on the creation, crafting and proliferation of the scene as we see and experience it today. Born of marginalised communities, more often than not at the intersections of those communities pioneering DJ’s like David Mancuso, Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levan, Andy Butler, Kim Ann Foxmann and Honey Dijon have shaped the sounds and spaces we throw ourselves into once the sun goes down.
February is LGBT history month- a celebration of the battles won, those still to fight and all that the queer community have brought into the world.
Since the dawn of time, queer people have known how to put on an absolute stonker of a party - looking at you Dionysus. On this, the last weekend of the month, go back to where it all started and venture out into the queer scene. But, before you grab your angel wings, glitter and poppers (we’ll get to that soon), here’s a handy guide to the dos and don'ts of the London queer scene.
There are gay venues in most cities and towns. From Margate’s Sundowners overlooking the harbour to Central Bar in Strabane (the u.k.’s most remote gay bar) you could probably find one place to wet your whistle. Pun intended.
It’s in big cities like London though that you’ll find the full width and breadth of the queer clubbing scene. From plaid clad butches to leathered up daddies suspended from a ceiling and every possible iteration of queerness outside of and in between, we have it all - you just need to know where to look for it.
Chances are, your first tentative steps out onto the London queer scene were made in or around Old Compton Street, the shining of London’s mainstream gay culture. Think pastel v necks. Think Britney. Think basic. Think Soho. A few miles southwest of Soho sits Clapham. It’s basically moneyed Soho for retired twinks.
Out in the east, lives Dalston, Haggerston, Bethnal Green and assorted hangers on. Established venues like Dalston Superstore and the Glory are hope to queer entertainment every night of the week, whilst pop ups, like Chapter 10 at Bloc in Hackney Wick will see you trancing your way into the next morning. Expect mess.
In the north sits the glowing jewel of the Camden scene in the shape of Her Upstairs/ Them Downstairs. Someone will probably staple something to themselves. Someone will probably rap about potatoes. There’ll probably be a surprise strap on reveal and my mate Meth will almost certainly do her rendition of Katy Perry’s Roar interspersed with rousing speeches from Gladiator and Lord of the Rings.
The iconic Royal Vauxhall Tavern is one of the oldest gay venues in the city and sits, as you may have guessed, in Vauxhall. Nights like Duckie see cabaret mixed with campness, before you fall across the road into one of the warehouse spaces that rumble on until lunchtime the next day. You will see things you will never un-see.
Picture the scene;
You’re in a queer bar or club. You walk to the bar. It’s busy. You and another guy lock into an unspoken alliance. You work together to fight your way to the front. Finally, you each manage to place one hand on the sticky, moist metal of the bar, swinging your shoulders round to make a little space. You turn to him, smiling -
“Yeah! I’m straight by the way. Just, y’know. In case. Yeah. Like, I’m totally fine with *gesturing* this. And thanks. But yeah. Straight.”
Here’s the thing straight men:
Being sick on yourself is never a good look. Doing it alone, having lost a shoe, your phone, 3 of your nails and your card is even worse. Taking picture of your mate Russell having pissed himself in the corner of Propaganda because he drank too many Jägerbombs may have been cute in 2011 when you were in 2nd year, but the joke gets old real quick. Remember to look after each other.
There is a level of basic heterosexuality that the queer community are very happy to partake in (see Soho/Clapham above), and then there are hen parties and stag dos. Going to a queer club on a hen or stag night is the equivalent to having an Ed Sheeran song as your first dance at your wedding. We can’t dictate to you what you do behind closed doors, that’s your choice, but please don’t rub it in our faces.
You may think you’ve tried them all every which way possible but believe me, there’s a whole world of narcotic drenched fun out there that you’ve not even begun to think about (or so I’m told).
Some of these drugs are safer than others. Some delivery methods are more advisable than others. Some, particularly the ones you may not be so familiar with, come with very stringent safety instructions. If you don’t know what it is, or how to take it, probs best to leave it alone. Lying in a pool of your own vomit isn’t cute.
Also, say it with me now- don’t mix g and alcohol. or ketamine. or anything really. basically don’t do g.
Also, Also - don’t store previously opened bottles of poppers in your boxer shorts. You will get chemical burns in places you don’t want chemical burns. Or so I’m told.
There are some queer venues that put on shows throughout the evening. Depending on your choice of establishment, these could take one of many glorious forms. From cabaret to burlesque, gogo dancers to drag queens and kings - expect a world of fabulous and fun coming right at your eyeballs, but remember to follow some simple rules.
Don’t touch the performers. They are there to entertain you, not to have your sweaty, sticky hands all over them no matter how beautiful you think they are or sexually confused they make you. The same applies for bar, door and cleaning staff.
Before heckling, think very carefully about where you want your night to go. On one hand, you could shout that at best mediocre retort/aside from the audience and then watch the queen on stage find you, expose you to the room, shine a light on your deepest, darkest flaws, eviscerate your character and provide the basis for a solid 10 week course of therapy with about 3 words and a look. Alternatively, you could just not.
And finally, if someone’s on stage, at least pretend to pay attention. Clap, cheer, woop and scream when someone is sweating through five layers of foundation to deliver a flawless lipsync to Nicki Minaj’s "Monster" verse. That text to your mum can wait.
Speaking of mums - I’m not sure about your mum’s house, but i’m yet to see someone exchanging sexual favours for mkat in the corner of my mum’s front room. That being said, treat queer venues as if you would a party at your mums house.
They’re precious, and are disappearing from across the capital, partly because of sky rocketing real estate prices. Causing a venue to call out an expensive plummer because you and your pals thought it’d be a great plan to smash up the toilet after your first hit of gay grade gak isn’t exactly the pinnacle of allyship.
Pretension is boring. Standing up against a wall, holding a pint, swaying every now and again or tweeting about the great time you’re having is dull. Queer clubs are a place to let yourself go. To have fun. To belt out the lyrics to songs at the top of your voice, squashed together in a sweaty basement, beaming from ear to ear.
You will get disgusting and hot and sweaty. You will have fun, if you allow yourself to. Arrive looking fabulous, and leave looking like you had a fabulous time. If the glitter you vaselined round your eyes isn’t dripping down your chest by the time you leave, you’ve not done it right.
If you aren’t familiar with the concept of a dark room - it’s simple. It is a room. It is dark. It is located within the club somewhere. It is a place where people go to perform sexual acts upon one another and take drugs. It can be fun. It can be weird. It can be hot. It can be many things, but what it is most certainly not, is a sideshow.
If you want to find a quiet corner to get deep throated by a guy name steve who lost his gag reflex some time around the turn of the century, then by all means, crack on. If you’re simply there to (non-consensually) watch, or take pictures, maybe just take yourself home and load up PornHub.
A dark room is a place of business (where that business is pleasure), not an entertainment experience . You wouldn’t (and definitely shouldn’t) get your dick out whilst watching your local am dram performance of Pirates of Penzance, and as such, you probably shouldn’t crack out crisps and a programme whilst two blokes lick out each other's arseholes.
Ok, this one is quite simple, but I’m going to take it slowly. If you want to touch someone, don’t do it unless you have their consent to.
If I want your hands in my boxer shorts, or up my shirt, believe you me - you will know about it. If I want your tongue down my throat, on my neck, in my ear etc. i’ll be quite sure to let you know. The pretty basic rules of consent do not fall away because you’re in a queer venue.
This works across all genders and sexualities. Gay men do not have any more right to touch a woman’s breasts than a straight man without consent. Women do not have a right to touch a man’s arse. Queer people don’t get to touch up straight dudes arms, no matter how dreamy they are.
So, once again with feeling, If you want to touch someone, don’t do it unless you have their consent to.
As a side note- if you can’t pull someone without first non-consensually touching them, you probably need to have a little rethink of your game.
It’s been 50 years since homosexuality was decriminalised in this country. A mere 30 years later, section 28 was passed - making it an offence to promote (talk about) homosexuality in schools and only 5 years ago same sex marriages were not legal.
In that time, and far before it, the queer community have crafted out our own little corners of the city. Spaces where we can be ourselves, without the same fear of persecution, abuse and assault we face on the street.
If you’re visiting that space as a guest, don’t be a dick. Remember it doesn’t belong to you, that you’re welcome to come and experience it, and have fun, and spend your money, but that this place isn’t explicitly for you.
If you want to be a knobhead, there’s probably a Walkabout nearby.
If this has inspired you to explore the world of LGBTQ clubbing check out He.She.They this Saturday.