Monday, 23 November 2015

Thoughts from a Drag King night...

Trigger warning: sexual assault

I'm at a Drag King night in Dalston. There's still an hour for the show to start, the music is already blasting, and there's another queue of people being turned away at the door. We're eagerly awaiting 10 Drag King performances for what is the final of Man Up, a satirically named new competition. In the first round alone a group called Twigs in Wigs takes the piss out of the Backstreet Boys with some very on point dancing... and we witness a slightly hysterical act called Shesus and the Nuns. At a (very brief) moment of quiet between acts, I say to my friend that I am so proud to be queer. For all its weirdness, this random pub in Dalston feels like home.

After last week's very intense anxious spell, I'm happy to be feeling a lot better this week. I think it's safe to say that I am loving spending time back amongst the LGBTQ+ community.  I've been all over the place attending queer nights, from inspiring awards ceremonies to gay bars in Soho. I bought a funky-looking bow tie, and I've been wearing it with pride... and now that I'm comfortably on the scene again, I don't ever want to be off of it.

It hasn't always been like this - for a long time I was scared to go to gay bars for many reasons. I don't drink alcohol, and I can't dance, and I'm not very good at coping in loud dark crowded spaces, and I also simply don't have many queer friends in London to go with.

My first gay bar experience was a spontaneous trip with my "experienced" friend to the RVT. We were the only lesbians, amongst a sea of gay men, and I didn't dance. But it was still one of my favourite nights ever.

A few months later, and I've braved many many more bars. I've been to all sorts of places, and as someone who travels around the country a lot, I've dipped into a fair few gay bars outside of London too. I did three in one night in Brighton once and it was awesome. I am loving the queer scene.

Unfortunately though, there is no such thing as a safe space, and after being giddy on excitement at all the queerness, in July I was sexually assaulted by a much older gay man in a bar in Edinburgh. He mistook me for a teen boy, and he didn't understand no, and after it all happened I remember thinking to myself: not here. I was so used to things like that happening outside, somewhere else. It was worse because I wasn't expecting it. I just kept thinking: not here not here not here.

I was disappointed more than anything. I decided to try something different.

There's this women's bar in Soho - it's called Titania. The last two times I've been there, I've ended up hanging out with random women from a website called fetlife. Notice I say women's not women's only. And women's not gay women's. It's always felt perfect for me - gender-fluid, queer and feminist, but welcoming of all genders and sexualities - all those feeling overwhelmed in queer spaces that are predominantly cis and heteronormative.

I'm not into fetish, but the first night I was in Titania, I hung out with a group of older women from fetlife at a gathering called "Tits and Tats." And I took the bus home with a woman who sells sex toys for a living and DJs in her spare time. Not because I'm into fetish - or because I'm particularly brave or experimental sexually at all (I'm pretty terrified to be fair)... but because I could. 

A women's bar in Soho made me feel safer than a lot of places. And that's not because I identify as a woman, or because I was in a queer space, or because I followed the conversation... but because I felt like I could chat to anyone, and it didn't matter that we didn't have everything in common. Because it's different to everywhere else.

And that's exactly how I felt, on that night in Dalston, amongst a load of queer people, screaming over an Usher tribute, Gusher, on the stage. We watched a drag king shave their chest as they sung along in slow motion to Madonna's like a girl, and we celebrated this. And we thought about it. And when they won the competition, we cheered. Because it's okay to be creative and confused and expressive in the queer community. And no where is ever a hundred percent safe, but some spaces are safer than others. And in some spaces it's so easy to be proud.

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