I’ll never forget the first time I entered a gay club. I was in Barcelona, hot in pursuit of a beautiful Brazilian I had met the week before. She had invited me to meet her inside the club along with her flamboyant gay friend and his boyfriend – but the problem was, this particular establishment had 4 stories and was packed.
I spent a nervous twenty minutes wandering through the sweaty mass of humanity within, skirting the edge of the mysterious ‘Dark Room’ in the basement, (from which telltale sounds emanated) trying not to make eye contact with anybody, and turning down the bold advances of many a young Spaniard. When I finally found my friend, I latched on to her with both arms and pleaded with her to promise not to let me out of her safe grip.
Never before in my life had I been on the romantic defensive. I have always been the aggressive party, pushing forward blindly and perpetually worried about rejection. Now I was the one doing the rejection. The hunter had become the hunted.
And this was no easygoing neighborhood bar. This was a gay nightclub in the heart of a gay neighborhood, and the majority of the clientile were rightly unleashing their libidos in one of the few places they can freely do so. I have no problem with that – the only issue here was that all of it seemed aimed at me. Many of the pairs of eyes I saw carried unspoken invitations. The dancefloor had minefields on it – brush too close and your neighbor sees it as a flirtatious move. Men would come up to me unrequited, ask me where I’m from, and grab my hands and tell me how beautiful I was. Safe to say I was entirely out of my element.
And yet this is the scenario that most women confront within almost any nightlife location. Mispercieved dance moves, perilous eye contact, unwanted physical attention – these are standard features for female nights out. The aggressors are me and my ilk – I certainly spend my time at straight clubs trying to make a connection of some kind with the ladies, be it visual, conversational, or physical. Though I have never ever physically accosted a stranger, the men in this club were only a step further along the same action sequence I had often fantasized of – only aimed at the opposite sex. I understood their thought process.
This is why I contend that all straight men should go to a gay club at least once in their life. Only there can a straight man come close to understanding what it is like to be a woman in a straight club. And this is advantageous for both parties – with a knowledge of the other side, a straight man will approach women more effectively, yet with greater respect. The closer he gets to understanding how she feels, the better off both will be.
And he’ll never get it otherwise. There are aggressive women out there, but they only come along once in a while, and never will you have multiple individuals come up to you unbidden in one night. No, you need to be on the receiving end of male libido, and while you will not get that in every gay club you enter, you will certainly get closer to it there than anywhere else. Most of the surroundings are the same (dim lighting, expensive drinks, prohibitively loud music), with the only difference being the sexual preference of the clientile.
A man who does this will discover (as I did, and as all women know) how vulnerable you feel without a girlfriend by your side in a room full of hungry males. They will discover what it feels like to have stranger’s eyes boring into you with no invitation. And they will ceratinly understand why women go to the bathroom in pairs. Any man who remembers those feelings when he next descends onto a dancefloor in search of a partner will do so more respectfully, effectively, and thankfully.
Yes, I know that not every gay club is a raging mass of unselective homosexuality; results may vary. But entering the tamest of gay establishments will illuminate the paradigm shift that I’m talking about, even if nobody makes a move on you. My predatory experience in Barcelona was an extreme of that environment, yes, but it is certainly not singular. You’ll just get more looks and fewer gropes depending on where you go.
To treat someone as an equal, you have to understand them. And I doubt I speak for myself when I say that I do not understand women. But thanks to the above experience along with the several dozen gay nightlife excursions that have followed over the years, I have some insight into the enigma. I would encourage all of my heterosexual male friends to do the same. Push aside the mild discomfort and learn a little more about those different from you, be it in gender or orientation.
Plus, it’s a lot of fun! I’ve found the gay community to be generally friendlier, the drinks cheaper, and the music better. (Remember, gay Detroit men invented the forebears of house music which is currently the global young soundtrack) Bring along some female friends if need be – women love it because they don’t have have to be on the defensive the whole time. Just don’t pitifully clutch their arms for protection the whole night like I did…
(This piece originally appeared on Thought Catalog)