Our Dance Clubs, Our Churches

I don’t know how we ever forgot that we are graced with every breath of freedom we draw, with every step we take out on the street with our backs upright and our faces unashamed, with every kiss and every caress we steal while strolling proudly through our “safe” spaces, and with every late night of dancing (and grinding and goofing) in the places we have long claimed as our sanctuaries.

I mean the bars. The clubs. The dives and disco palaces that always used to be on the seedier fringe of town but that now often claim pride of place on respectable blocks. Clubs that often used to be owned and run by the mob, i.e., the kind of management that knows how to manage things with the cops.

When I was young and looked really good in 501s I would spend more late Saturday/early Sunday hours than I care to remember dancing my butt off in rooms where the drinks might be watered but where the music was always hot and no one gave a damn. The Eagle in Exile, across from the old library in DC. The Clubhouse up on 16th Street. Paradise Garage in New York City, Todd’s Sway Lounge (yes, that was its name) on Seven Mile in Detroit.

These places represented the ultimate in safety: everyone was having a good time and there was no judgment, no hate, everyone just bumping and pumping to the sound of Sylvester on refrigerator-sized speakers.

I mean no disrespect to anyone else’s idea of “church” to say that the gay dance club was a kind of church for me and for thousands, millions, like me. The club was a place of grace. And there was no real disconnect when some of the younger and grander queens who ruled the dance floor would trip out, eyes blinking, into sabbath sunlight at 9 or 10 a.m. and head straight off to their real church.

Praise and yet more praise for all of God’s blessings.

So yes, this thing in Orlando is difficult to take, and it feels personal. There were goosebumps when I woke to the news, and there were unbidden tears when I discovered that a young friend’s college classmate was in that club when the slaughter began.

I’m not ready for the reflexive liberal things that we do: the sign-on statements, the interfaith vigils, the finger pointing and the placing of blame.

I did just one thing yesterday, which is that at noon I walked down to Santa Monica Boulevard to march for a bit (it’s Gay Pride Weekend in Los Angeles, and I live in West Hollywood). It’s been years since I actually marched at a Pride event, given my loathing for the way Pride celebrations have been commercialized everywhere. But today I needed to find my marching boots. Later I took a couple of wordless drinks with old friends as police and military helicopters rumbled overhead.

Helicopters and armed patrols won’t restore the thing that was broken, the thing that was taken, by the shooter in Florida. Rivers of blood have been running where the rainbow lights are meant to bathe the dancing feet of God’s beloved and beautiful children. What was a place of grace is now a charnel house of utter horror.

We in the LGBTQ community have been thinking this was finally “our time.” We were wrong. We need to feel our vulnerability again. And we need to join hands and hearts with all of the other vulnerable ones against a culture that seems to think it’s normal for lethal thoughts to find lethal weapons and proceed to do their worst.

We won’t “solve” it anytime soon. We need to start by feeling it. Feeling it all the way down.