Ifan Llewelyn on an unpleasant issue that still pervades the scene
There’s a pressing issue that us advocates of queer nightlife need to do more to tackle, one that has stormed mainstream culture without really entering the conversation within queer spaces. When entering a gay club or bar, there is often an understanding that getting the odd butt-grab or unwelcome thrust is par for the course. This needs to change.
For those of us who are old pros at going into these gay spaces, it’s not always easy to see them objectively. They’re the places where we discovered ourselves and were given an arena in which to explore our sexuality, and interact with similar minded people, all while gyrating to some god-awful Madonna mix. But take a pair of fresh eyes in with you, a straight man for example, and they’re sure to tell you how strange the brazen grabbing is. Take a straight man to a gay club and they soon understand why women aren’t up for being harassed on a night out.
Speaking from personal experience, I’m consistently being grabbed and rubbed up against in the club by men who haven’t shown me the decency of a simple nod. Not only have they grabbed, they’ve persisted when asked to stop. I often stop and think “if I were a woman in a straight club in the same exact situation, would I stand for this?” Of course, I wouldn’t and would feel confident in approaching a member of security to get the groper thrown out. This isn’t to say this is the experience for all women in all nightclubs; they have their own slew of problems, but it’s a far more common course of action. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always flattered to be approached, but there’s a wide open space between being approached and being grabbed and groped. The gap between eye contact, a nudge or a “hey how’s it going?” and having two hands placed on either side of you at the bar and being thrusted against.
With the advent of dating apps, in-person interaction is becoming a rare thing, with an entire generation of queer people emerging on the scene who have never been approached in the flesh, much less have approached people themselves. The chat-up line has died a swift and merciless death, with the risk of rejection leaving men not willing to bet on an uncertain thing. If you’re on an app the risk of rejection is minimal and an ignored message stings far less than being turned down in public. As #MeToo sweeps through the straight world, men are starting to think twice before grabbing an ass cheek or wolf whistling a stranger. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have dented attitudes within the queer scene, with unsolicited grabs still going unchallenged within many of these spaces. Sure, it’s easy to laugh it off with a “ain’t you gonna buy me dinner first?” and you’re often encouraged to deal with it with an affecting ‘get over it’ attitude.
When it comes to saunas and sex clubs there’s more of an understanding of consent, since sexual etiquette is integral to the fabric of those venues. They understand it because it plays a part in the place’s dynamic as a whole. If you’re a patron then there’s a general understanding as to why you’re there, but you also know that you need some mutual understanding, be it verbal or non-verbal, before you try something. These places sprung into being because queer people couldn’t approach people for some sexy time unashamedly and out in public. They are now a playground for the more sexually liberal among us, who know how to approach it. There’s a lot that your conventional gay bar or club could learn from these sex-positive spaces.
Now that we’re living in a world where there’s no problem with approaching men in public to ask if they’d be open to grabbing a coffee, there’s still a problem with groping in gay clubs. But how do we change this without running the risk of completely sanitising these spaces, and spitting on the sexually liberated legacy they represent? Well, it’s damn simple. Be it sustained eye-contact, a reciprocated smile or wink or even a throwback “How you doin’?”, as long as there’s consent, it’s fine. As long as there’s some expressed mutual understanding there, GO FOR IT.