Us Boys Together Clinging: One Night in a Gay Club 
by Richard Smith (from Seduced and Abandoned)
It’s 1991 or 1992. Which seems like a hundred years ago now. Half eleven on Sunday morning and I’m in church with the rest of the sinners. I’ve been here for eight hours now and I’m beginning to lose it. I haven’t danced since they played Zero B’s ‘The Lock Up’. Everybody danced then. It’s one of our favourite records right now. We all go mad for it. Pummel dancing like big, tough men for the fast and furious bits. Then going all gooey, throwing our heads back and tickling the air when the girlie synth lines come in. I’m going to sit down for a bit. The music got really heavy a while back. I’m not too keen on this stuff. It’s too brutal, too stark.
Right now I want to rest so I can dance at the end. They always turn the lights on for the last record. It’ll be another of those songs we go mad for. Maybe Mombassa’s ‘Cry Freedom’ like last week. Then we’ll clap the DJs and clap each other and start screaming for just one more record. All of us looking completely fucked and none of us giving a fuck.
The whole club is one big dance-floor so walking through it takes ages. On I go. Past the serious muscle boys in their corner, all so pumped up all they can do is twitch their hands. Past the bar selling bottles of Spa and soft drinks for £2. Past the heavier dealers, all looking slightly more scary than they did a few hours ago. Make a hopeless attempt to look sexy as I walk past this spoony boy I fancy. When he winks at me I’m so completely thrown I have to keep on walking. Past some friends on the stairs. We kiss and talk in this sign language we’ve developed. It’s not the noise that makes us use it, it’s just that sometimes it’s difficult for us to put a sentence together. One of them’s been really caning it. He’s rushing on his fourth E and can’t stop his jaw chattering and it’s doing my head in. They’re still up. I’m a bit knackered.
Into the room upstairs where people go to chat or when they feel monged. I sit down on the floor. Take my cigarettes out of the back pocket of my jeans. They’re crushed flat and soggy with sweat. Take my bottle of Spa out of the other pocket. Right now there’s more water coming off the ceiling. I’ll have to go and refill the bottle in the ladies in a bit. They’re still turning the cold tap off in the gents. This girl comes in and sits down next to me. A few hours I could have talked to anyone but the E’s wearing off and now all I feel is fuzzy.
‘Alright?’ she says with a big grin. I can only manage, ‘Mmmm’. ‘Good ’ere, innit?’ I nod back trying to signal my disinterest. She asks my name and tells me hers. ‘I’ve never been to a gay club before.’ I kind of knew she was going to say that. I smile.
‘You with your boyfriend?’ I say I haven’t got one. ‘Oh...you on the pull then?’ Not really. There’s a big pause. She’s staring into my face, just inches away, grinning like a mad thing. She thinks and then she says to me – dead serious question – ‘Why are gay people so nice?’ I just smile and say ‘practice’.
Rewind twenty-four hours. You’re all hyper wishing you could be there right now. You pray for Saturdaytime to whizz by, so it does. You might go somewhere first but you’re only killing time. In the car on the way here someone’s playing a tape of Smokin’ Jo’s set fro a few weeks back. You pull up outside just after three but it still takes ages to get in. Queuing for an hour, then another half an hour for the cloakroom. You only get to show off your new John Richmond top while you’re waiting. Most people strip down soon after they get in. It gets too hot to wear anything on top so we all make sure what’s on show looks good. Hairless chests, nice tits, great (short) hair. Tattoos, some piercings, a few goatees. The waistband of your Calvins visible above your coloured jeans. Necklaces and pendants, GI dog tags, loads of rings, the right boots.
Get an E down your neck the minute you’ve got down those stairs. Can’t relax till you come up and know you haven’t been sold any shit. That stuff you had last time was really snidey. Another one, whenever. Maybe more. Some speed or acid to keep you going. The trip will make things more amusing. The speed will make the sex nice and dirty if you cop off. There’s a few optional extras. Some girl’s handing out Sudafed like sweets. An air steward friend hands you a miniature bottle of Jack Daniels he nicked from work and laughs. Everyone’s told you ketamine’s disgusting but you’re still dying to try it. You’ll have some puff later. It’ll just get passed to you. Same as the poppers. When you’re on E a good snort can send you spinning right out of it and even if it’s a bit too much it’ll all be over in a minute. Some boys just do whizz (‘you know where you are with speed’) and some boys just do acid (‘well it’s cheap and cheerful isn’t it?’). And some boys you know got into smack, but you don’t see them anymore. This boy who’s HIV has been put on Temazepam by his doctor but he doesn’t like them so he passes them on – ‘Tell the doctor they’re not working,’ his friend tells him. ‘Ask for the ten mil...the eggs.’ And every month there’s some new thing some kid swears will make you rush again or bring your E back up. Nurofen, Diet Pepsi, tequila slammers, Olbas Oil, Vicks Vaporub.
These little secret rituals bond us together. Giving boys Olbas Oil blowbacks or smearing Vicks on their tits. Gently blowing on someone’s face or spitting a fountain of water over them to cool them down. Kissing boys’ lips or twisting their nipples as you bounce past. Trying to freak out your friends when they’re tripping. Trekking off to the toilet and looking in the mirror. You’re captivated by your own reflection. You think you look so beautiful with your big eyes and glowing skin. You wait here for ages. Boys come out of the cubicles two by two. Others pour out in gangs, Keystone Kops style. Some have been snorting speed. Others having sex.
We’ve got more words to describe how we feel than Eskimos have for snow. We can explain the difference between Phase Fours and Snowballs, or New Yorkers and Rhubarb and Custards, ‘til you beg for mercy. You get asked, ‘Are you alright?’ a hundred times tonight. You could go into detail but usually just give the answer, ‘Fab...I’m off my tits.’ Or, if you’re really cunted, just ‘Fuck’. If you feel bad – which is often – some stranger will always see you through (‘You been sick? Ahh, baby...’). In so many gay clubs people only talk to their friends or people they fancy. But here we talk to everyone. Maybe because tonight we’re everybody’s friend and we fancy everyone.
‘Have you come up yet?’ ‘No? Ha! Just you wait’. Here we go. The rush sneaks up on you. You feel like you’re going to fall over, like you might puke at any moment, but it’s still glorious. You have to sit down or lean against a wall. ‘Are you alright?’ You raise your eyes, breathe out really loudly and give a twisted, conspiratorial smile. Then you pull your friend to you and cuddle for a bit. So glad you’re here.
There’s nowhere else anything like this place. The club itself is our star. And like any star it has some great rumours. Someone will always assure you that some boy collapsed here last week or some dealer had his face shot off outside. Or that the police are going to raid it tonight or that this is the last week ’cause the council’s withdrawn its licence. There’s a constant turnover of people. You can’t do this regularly for long. Other people spend the weekend recovering from the week. We spend the week recovering from the weekend. Some keep going until Monday morning, only popping back for a shower and a change of clothes. What will you do when it closes at noon? Up the stairs and out blinking into the real world. You put your sunglasses on and ignore the shouts from the mini-cab drivers lying in wait. Drive out to the Vauxhall Tavern and scare all the clones. Then on to one of those places where – thanks to the buffet meal included in the ticket price (which no one touches) – you can carry on dancing until the next club opens in the evening. Some are going mad after being stuck behind a desk all week. But a lot of us don’t have the kind of jobs you have to be up for in the morning. We’re waiters or barmen or air stewards. Or we sign on or deal or do rent. And some people, well you just don’t ask what they do. It’s always more fun when a gang of us pile back to someone’s house. Coming down, chain smoking, skinning up, drinking tea and chattering. Noticing who’s missing and trying to figure out which boy he slinked off with This mate who deals gives us all another half. It helps put off that dreadful moment of loss when you realize you feel normal again.
But right now you feel like you’ve just melted. You’re over your rush. You can’t really describe what it feels like. The same as you can’t describe what it feels like being in love. You stop yourself from dancing. Total joy. Euphoria and empathy. Ecstasy. All the shit disappears and nothing matters but the beauty of being right here, right now. E makes us confident without being arrogant, and it made that scourge of the gay scene, ‘attitude’, a stranger to this club. Here there’s a real sense of belonging, of community. Coming here did me at least as much good as coming out. For a few hours you could glimpse the future – see a different way of doing things – a sort of communism of the emotions. And sometimes you wondered, ‘why can’t it be like this all the time?’ You liked people more – yourself included. Of course we didn’t really ‘love everybody’. There were some people that, no matter how many drugs we or they had taken, would always be ‘vile’, ‘naff’ or ‘sad’. But even they couldn’t phase us.
I started crying here one time. It was nearly noon and I’m dancing and tripping and looking round at everybody smiling and looking so beautiful and it suddenly hits me that no one in the history of the world could have felt as good as we did right then or could have had this much fun. Or maybe I just knew that my life couldn’t get any better.
And we’re such drug pigs. All of us running around with more chemicals inside us that your average Boots. Restraint? Repression? The real world? No thank you. Release? Yes please. We’re gonna have as much fun with our bodies as we want. And we always want more. Have you got enough for another E? A trip’s only three quid. But all you can find are Smileys and they’re just so pissy. Ask a friend for a line of speed? Some rich queen’s bound to start flashing her coke about. You could get something on tick or try and convince your dealer that, even though you’ve got pupils like saucers, you never came up on that E he sold you.
The place is heaving now. Behind me is a wall of muscle. Sweat dripping off those beautiful bodies, half hidden by the haze of steam and lights. All swaying in time like some gorgeous nelly army marching to trance. So many men, so little urge. There’s all these cute boys here but you don’t feel much like pulling. We’re all so touchy with each other, so kind – some boy you’ve never met before will just come up and start massaging your neck muscles and offering you his drink; you’re never sure if he means anything more. When you’re at other clubs you can always tell the boys who come here by the way they dance. The dances used to slowly evolve over time. These boys dance with their forearms slicing the air, each hand keeping a different beat, or with that sexy shudder that starts in their arse and then grabs their shoulders and head. Others just throw themselves all over the place. It’s not all queens, though. Some complain it’s getting too straight, but pretty much anyone’s welcome just so long as they’ve come to have a good time. There’s a fortysomething acid casualty spastic dancing between this heavy dyke and a beautiful skinny black boy who’s gracefully spinning round and round. And behind them there’s some sweet boy who you’ll next see breaking young girls’ hearts on Top of the Pops.
All of us ensnared in the rhythm. The night starts off with bright and breezy Garage and House. Kym Sims’ ‘Too Blind To See It’ and Degrees of Motion’s ‘Shine On’. But it’s the surging, joyous Techno that comes a little later that we really love. Records like Hyper-go-go’s ‘High’, TC 1991’s ‘Berry’, E-Trax’s ‘Let’s Rock’, NRG’s ‘He Never Lost His Hardcore’, Bump’s ‘I’m Rushing’, Gat Decor’s ‘Passion’, Glam’s ‘Hell’s Party’ and the Age of Love’s ‘Age Of Love’. They all go ‘Bam bam bam BAM!’ for a bit, getting harder and faster until ‘Whoosh!’ A bit like sex really. Gay disco had been sentimental. Ours is just mental. These are songs that speak straight to our bodies. Some, like Felix’s ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ let us mouth our desires across the dance-floor. But usually if they’ve got words they’re no more than a repeated line telling us what a fab time we’re having or how great we are. There’s one record, though, that’s got lots of words and we all know every one of them. The record right now is the big ‘fuck you, we’re fabulous’ of Clivilles and Cole’s ‘ A Deeper Love’. This is our theme tune.
The DJ teases us by mixing Deborah singing ‘deeper love, a deeper love, got a deeper love, a deeper love’ into the record he’s playing. Real quiet as first, then louder and louder and louder ’til we all know what’s coming next. Then there’s that ‘Whoomph!’ like a needle dragged right across the record and we’re there. Here we go again...
‘Well I got love in my heart, it gives me the strength to make it through the day, pride is love, PRIDE is respect for yourself and that’s why I’m not looking for...’ BAM! The thing explodes. We all explode. ‘Now it ain’t easy, but I don’t need no help. I’ve got a string will to survive and I call it pride, pride, PRI-I-DE...’ And by this time everybody’s going ‘Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!’ Lost in one big orgasmic epiphany. You live for moments like this. Only when I’m dancing can I feel this free...
All us boys together clinging. Somehow managing to have a good time in these terrible times. We know the world outside us is shit and that all there really is is us. Drugs are just part of the glue that joins us together. What we’re really rushing off is each other.
© Richard Smith, originally published in Gay Times, Sept 1994