Part two of a series on the role of the dancefloor in gay culture!
The dancefloor—whether in clubs, ballrooms, or even just public sidewalks—has long been associated with a place to shine for queer men. Beyond the gay stereotypes of good dance moves, dancing can provide a place of safety and support for many people living on the margins of mainstream society. However, not everything is as joyous as it seems.
That safe space for queer people on the dancefloor has often evaporated in recent years as some people took the opportunity to act as predators amidst the vulnerability expressed while dancing and partying the night away. It can be a way for gay men to judge each other and seek sexual partners (with or without their consent). Additionally, it has been a center for homophobic attacks for decades.
Unfortunately, the dancefloor is not simply utopic for queer people but can function as a location of danger, as well. Not all dancefloors are alike in their support of LGBTQ+ identities, so one must be fearful of assault from straight people for dancing in a way that is openly queer, openly femme, and openly you. Straight people can misinterpret queer dancing’s hedonism as a desperate cry for attention or alleged allies may strand you on the dancefloor alone, opening you up to violence if you show your skills honestly.
Straight people are not the only source of concern for queer safety on dancefloors. People begin to think that if you dance provocatively that they can touch you without consent. These people can range from women who view you as pivoting toys to other gay men depicting you as a sex object. Many view it as an open invitation to contact others physically or sexually rather than mere self-expression. Furthermore, the centerpiece of the dancefloor and partying in gay culture can lead to the growth of widespread drug and alcohol abuse to maximize the high of the moment before returning to the real world in the morning.
Since gay dance spaces are seen as havens for queer expression, violence can also be frequent in these spaces. Police regularly raided gay bars like the Stonewall Inn in New York City in the mid-20th century. This brutality at the hands of the state resulted in the formative Stonewall protests that erupted on June 22, 1969, a collision which is credited for launching the queer rights movement. Thankfully, no one died in the fight over Stonewall’s right to exist as a queer space.
Unfortunately, not all violence in gay dance halls end with something as powerful and positive as at Stonewall. In 1973, the Metropolitan Community Church—the first gay church in the United States—held a service in the UpStairs Lounge on the final night of Pride Weekend in New Orleans. Later that evening, a fire would erupt on the stairs entering the building, ending the lives of 32 people and injuring 15 others. The community failed to react to the tragedy, the largest arson incident in the city’s history.
That attack would remain the largest singular event attack against the queer community until the 2016 shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. In that assault, 49 people lost their lives in then the worst mass shooting in American history within the famous gay club on its Latin night.
The dancefloor may often appear as a source of joy and camaraderie for queer people, but that experience as a safe space can be violated by discrimination, sexual harassment and drug abuse, and extreme violence.