A Straight Girl, A Gay Club and God.

I love to dance.

I know. I am deceptively introverted, so I understand how much of a shock this news may come as to some of you.

While you try to recover from having your whole perception of me shaken keep reading.

 

As a younger person I was shy-ish. I say shy-ish because a lot of people assumed I was shy, but the truth was that I was more cautious than shy. I stepped out into the world with circumspection and moved through it doing a lot more watching than acting. There was something hidden deep inside, however, that longed for wild abandon.

 

It wasn’t the same as a desire to rebel– I didn’t feel the need to fight against an invisible cage placed around me by other people or circumstances. I wanted to break out of the prison cell of self. There was someone inside of me somewhere who wasn’t concerned with her reputation or how she measured up to everyone else. Buried under layers of worry about whether or not I exceeded people’s expectations and the constant drive towards perfection was a girl who was fun, who loved who she was, loved how she was made and I wanted to find her.

 

It was heartbreaking to admit over and over again that I had no clue how to unearth a less severe side of myself. I’m naturally a competitive and determined person, so my approach to personal change or growth has always been to white knuckle it into submission. After one inevitable failed attempt after another I learned that this tactic was paradoxical to finding freedom.

 

Eventually resigning myself to the belief that the carefree person I had hoped was hidden in my soul just did not exist, I finally met her in the most unlikeliest of places– A gay bar.

 

I was twenty-seven at the time and had come to the end of many ropes. Relationships had failed miserably, my desperate need for control was crushing me,  and all of the ways I had tried so hard to live up to the standard that I believed God and everyone else had laid out before me were leaving me feeling dead inside. I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the person looking back at me. I’d had enough.

 

Literally and figuratively throwing caution to the wind I started going out with friends. I learned that a little liquid courage went a long way towards making me feel brave enough to face the dark side of the moon. If I couldn’t find a sense of freedom, I had decided I would settle for a sense of carelessness instead.

 

One fateful evening, weary of dodging the ceaseless advances of stumbling drunk members of the opposite sex, but anxious for something to do, my friend suggested we go to a gay club and dance. Up to this point dancing hadn’t ever occurred to me, the places my friends and I normally hung out were “grown up” bars where you sat around, looked pretty and drank fancy cocktails while pretending to maintain conversations. I had heard that gay clubs were a safe haven for the single straight lady looking for a place to have fun because there was little to no risk of getting hit on or propositioned in any sort of way.

 

Considering the way I was raised and my parents ministry I felt a tiny twinge of guilt and the hint of a sense of betrayal (which now seems ridiculous to me), but the appeal was too great and I agreed to go.

 

What I found there I will never forget. We stepped inside and the dance floor was crowded, the music was loud and the atmosphere was… brace yourself… joyful. It hit me like a wrecking ball– the air was light and easy to breathe with lack of judgement. People were jumping up and down and moving to the music, not only because they wanted to but because they couldn’t help themselves. Whether you were a skilled dancer or completely uncoordinated didn’t matter, everyone was welcome to cast off their labels, their insecurities, their pride and feel alive.

 

It was contagious. As Cher sang the words “Do you believe in life after love” to a roaring house mix I found myself, completely sober, in the middle of the dance floor flailing for all I was worth. The camaraderie between my fellow movers and shakers and I was unlike anything I had ever experienced anywhere else. These people didn’t know me, they didn’t care what I tried to live up to or how I failed, they just welcomed me in.

 

It felt like I was experiencing pure and unadulterated joy for the very first time in my life. Something cracked deep inside of my heart and God spoke– “This thing that you feel filling you up with a sense of wonder that is unrestrained is me. There’s nothing hidden from me, there’s no judgement in me, there are no wrong dance moves, but you can’t dance at all if you’re carrying all of your stuff, so come to me the way that you came to this dance floor.”

 

I love to dance.

It’s how I learned about surrender and joy.

I’m not perfect… Every day I have to remember to put my stuff down so that I can dance, but now I know that I can if I just will.

 

Will you have the same experience in the same kind of place? I don’t know, I can’t give you an answer for that. What I do know is that God isn’t limited in the ways he can and will speak. He is creative and he knows that sometimes what we need most is to see him in the unlikely places, not where we’re used to looking for him.

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4 thoughts on “A Straight Girl, A Gay Club and God.

  1. I’m going to go ahead and anticipate a reaction you’re likely to get to this and address it preemptively.

    “Of course you felt wild abandon in a place like that and no one was judging each other! In a place like that, anything goes! When you’re willing to accept that being gay is not only OK, but ‘fun’, why on earth would you have a problem with bad dancing?”

    The response is short and simple:

    Hogwash.

    If you think “anything goes” in a gay club, you’ve never been inside one.

    While it may be true that the mores and norms of that environment are not only foreign to many of us, but in many ways distasteful (or even offensive), it is certainly not true that there are in any sense “no rules” for behavior.

    Let’s take the “gay” trigger out of the equation for the sake of discussion. A gay club is basically just a sub-culture, and there are many sub-cultures around all kinds of points of interest: goth music, country music, sports… I’ve even seen a sub-culture bar for lawyers. Seriously.

    What makes sub-cultures work, despite tending to be not only well off the radar of “the authorities” in a lot of cases, is the concept of “self policing”. The rules of the road may be different, but there are still rules. And those rules may not get enforced by police, by bouncers or by management, but they do get enforced.

    If you walk into a sports bar on the 3600 block of N Clark St in Chicago and start loudly cheering for the St. Louis Cardinals… you’re going to find yourself back outside long before anyone “in authority” knows you’re even there. You may not be in one piece, either.

    If a group goes to a goth club and begins to gawk, point, giggle and mock… you’re going to find yourselves facing an entire army of visual freaks with sharp nails, sharp boots, and a lot of pent up frustration.

    The gay culture may brutally over-use the word “fierce” but at the end of the day, that culture is, if nothing else, fierce. Fiercely loyal. Fiercely communal. The bonds are deep — even across rivalries, feuds, broken relationships and friendships, the members of these communities stick to their own, defend their own, and welcome their own.

    You can go to a gay club and dance like a maniac _not_ because there are no rules, but because there _are_ rules and they are enforced by a collection of people you _don’t_ want to cross. That non-judgmental, free, joyous atmosphere exists because there are _boundaries_ around that space which are protected. In a culture that spends so much of its time defending itself against the criticism and judgment of the outside world, the desire to dispel judgment from their safe spaces is massive.

    Even hedonists have rules. After all “it’s all fun and games until someone…”

    So sub-cultures work hard to make sure no one ever “…”

    Isn’t it a shame that more mainstream “public” spaces can’t be similarly free, open and safe despite often having more security? The lack of cultural cohesion prevents us from protecting each other — and thus freeing each other — to simply be.

  2. Rachel says:

    Great article. I had a very similar experience. Until recently when a lesbian ‘sub-culture’ with a tendency towards intimidation and violence developed at the best dance club in town. Sad.
    I had found that in it’s beginnings the rave culture tried to maintain the same sort of accepting atmosphere, but often failed as well. I am sure the accompanying drug culture doesn’t help there.

    • The rave culture back in ’91 – ’94 certainly was a very open, tribal environment. The ubiquitous drugs came later and, along with the transition to legitimate venues, really spoiled the self selecting, self policing nature of the scene.

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