I had my first kiss in a nightclub. Subtle brushes between our fingers turned into a delicate embrace, the sounds around me melting away as I stared into his gentle eyes and admired his wispy blonde hair. When our lips touched, ripples ran across my tense muscles: years of repressed emotions, moments of desperation, heart-wrenching thoughts of unattainable relations all bubbled to the surface only to be enveloped in his warm caresses. That night, I had done the unthinkable. That night, everything was possible.
The amour lasted but for a night. I had my heart broken, my notions of a love that lasts forever shattered by the harsh reality that pierced every inch of my body like the strobe lights we danced to. I left his bed the next morning only to wander around the streets alone, crying – it was Paris, after all, a city more suited for heartbreaks than for love. Yet I knew that I had come out (pun intended) of that nightclub stronger, proud – for the first time – of my sexuality.
My experience was certainly not unique: within the history of the LGBT+ movement, gay nightclubs have occupied a special place as the safe zones for the expression and celebration of queer identity. Which is why, when news streamed in of the gruesome attack on Pulse in Orlando, queer people across the world mourned the violent resurgence of what they knew to be the cause of the attack – not, as the mainstream media would like you to believe, “radical Islamist terror” but plain and simple homophobia. That the sight of two men kissing each other could trigger such a heinous reaction in a human being reminded us of the threats to our expression of identity and the continued importance of protecting and cherishing spaces that allow us to be ourselves.
As Paul Flynn eloquently describes in this Guardian article, the gay disco enshrines within itself a “minority rite of passage”. For those of us who have constantly felt left out at predominantly straight gatherings, for those of us who have cringed to even hold our partner’s hand when in unfamiliar public environments, for those of us who have to think about saying goodbye with a kiss when getting out of a car because we are too scared of how those around us will react, gay nightclubs provide spaces where we are no longer “abnormal”, where we are no longer “different”. Three shots of tequila later, we are dancing to Justin Bieber and letting our hands touch every inch of bodies that society forbids us from touching.
This toxic combination of alcohol, drugs, and promiscuity is undoubtedly a remnant of repressed sexualities and hides within its glamour the dark undertones. Yet, the contribution of gay nightclubs – from Voodoo in Bombay to Queen in Paris – in building communities and allowing for the creation of solidarity is ultimately a part of the chequered history of the LGBT+ movement globally. And therefore the attack on Pulse in Orlando, one that harks us back to the attack on Stonewall over forty years ago, requires us to respond with renewed resistance and pride to protect the inheritors of the legacy of queer spaces sheltering those of us who veer away from the trodden path.
On Saturday night, I was at a gay nightclub. Back in Paris, but not alone: I had taken my brother and sister along, and as we knocked down Jagerbombs together, I was overwhelmed by how far I had come in reclaiming my pride in less than a year. The next morning, I woke up to the news of the shooting in Orlando. Anger, fear, shame, distrust, and ultimately frustration coursed through my mind as I spent my morning reading article after article on the tragedy, subjecting myself to sharp barbs of stinging pain that left me quivering and in tears.
That evening I was in the gay quarter of Paris again, with the boy I had given my heart to on that hot summer night in August. Memories of that first kiss numbed by the vagaries of time and distance, subsumed under a bond of friendship that cloaked a moment of intimacy that meant so much more to me than to him. The atmosphere was sombre, with the morning having taken its toll on all those around us and with threats of violence to queer establishments emanating a peculiar discomfort in spaces that were meant to provide comfort in times of distress. Yet we celebrated in defiance. We celebrated, with love and with joy, and mourned the black and brown bodies who had come to escape from homophobia and racism at the LatinX night at Pulse.
I celebrated, and mourned, those who shared their first and last kiss that night.