I came out in clubs. Age 20, I didn’t know any gay people. I didn’t know where to start. With my shaved head and ripped 501s, I was unsure how to find acceptance, let alone love. I picked up a copy of City Limits, and volunteered at the Lesbian and Gay Centre. Trembling, I worked on the lesbian disco, moving back the chairs. I was picked up that night and my confidence skyrocketed. After that, clubs became my playground. I went to Heds, The Bell, The Ace of Clubs. I studied by day and by night entered another world. Sometimes working; sometimes playing. Finally, finding song. Over the years, I progressed from clearing chairs to working the door at Duckie and Bird Club.
Dressed in a suit and tie, I’ve taken money and stamped the hands of hundreds of punters. I’ve answered questions; soothed nerves; shared stories. Last Thursday, I don’t work, I go to Butch, Please! I pay as a punter and cross the threshold. The line up includes - Dykes on Bikes, Hank Bobbit, AJ Tear and Manley Stanley. Amy Lame and DJ Sangster spin the tunes. At 28, I went to the RVT – to Duckie’s opening with rubber ducks strewn all over the club. I know the space. I know the bogs; I know the bar; I know backstage. But tonight, it feels different. Like a club at the end of the world.
Three days prior, I was at the vigil in Soho for another club venue, Pulse. Standing off Old Compton Street, honouring the 49 LGBTQIAs and LatinXrs that were killed in the biggest mass shooting in Modern American history. Amongst the dead was KJ Morris. KJ worked the door. She also had a stage act as the drag king, Daddy K. She’d recently moved to Orlando from Hawaii, to be close to her mum and grandmother. At Butch, Please! as I pay Camille Darling and Phoebe Coulton, and hold my hand out for my stamp, my head goes to KJ. Did she let Omar Mateen, the shooter, into the club? Was she alone working the door? Was she smiling? Cracking a joke? It’s all possible. Mateen was known in Pulse. And KJ was always welcoming – being the club’s first interface, you have to be. Some people are shy coming in. Others are wary. Some want to pull, to play, to chat, to dance. Everyone wants to feel home.
On Thursday, friends and strangers fill the RVT. Light descends. On stage, Tabs holds a minute silence. For the rest of the night, I stay near the door. I can’t seem to budge. It just feels right. I watch others dancing. Drinking. Filling the space. When the acts complete, I leave. Go back into the world. Order an Uber, get home, make tea. For days afterwards, I wear the hand-drawn ink stamp on my skin. I leave it there. It shines like a talisman. I leave it there. For all those stand-out queers across the Atlantic. And the butches on bikes, in Vauxhall.