queer clubs were never places just to dance but sanctuaries for cultural expression and creativity. queer clubs have been spaces for escape, an environment where we could embrace our identities without fear, and before the advent of social media, queer clubs provided a physical gathering point to meet, connect, and forge lasting friendships. it was 30 years ago, in the summer of 1993, that i discovered all of the magic and importance of queer clubs.
picture it, north philadelphia in the blazing summer. i was an out and flamboyant gay 16-year-old, still my exposure to queer culture and people were limited to TV, music, and the few other queer teens in my neighborhood. david, a puerto rican teen who was not yet out to his parents, was one of the teens in my gay clique. unlike most of us in the clique, david had graduated high school, worked a full-time job, and owned a car. so it made sense that he would be our connection to life outside our hood.
one night in august 1993, david came to my house, because i didn’t have a home phone yet (can you image?), to tell me that he had just experienced heaven. “i was just at a gay club, and it was amazing,” he said. “they have teen night [18 and older] on wednesday nights, and i am taking you next week!” i remember being dizzy with excitement but knowing that i would have to convince my mother to allow me to go. she did! i just had to be back 2.30am.
the following wednesday, our clique of teens from north philly including my best friend robert, vicky, who’s birthday had just passed, denise, carmen and i are packed ourselves inside david’s tiny ass car. we made our way downtown to woody’s – the gay club that david raved about. i remember the elevation i felt waiting in line to get inside. i could her the bass of the thumping music. i wanted to dance! after paying the $3 cover and begging the doorman to let me in despite my not having ID or being 18, we entered the club and baybee, it was like arriving at oz.
i cannot completely describe the feeling, but it felt like discovering a new world that felt like home. i looked around and saw a sea of other queer young people – just being, existing, and joyfully dancing to the c+c music factory remix of taylor dayne’s “can’t get enough of your love,” blasting from the speakers. i thought, “oh wow, this remix is good!”
robert and i rushed to the dance floor and began dancing a kind of happy dance that our bodies had long been waiting to do. a dance that didn’t require us to be defensive from the snickers or whispers from onlookers. the dancefloor felt like it hovered over that bullshit. our clique danced that entire night. we created a utopia that we took back to the block. the same way david had brought it back to us.
woody’s teen night became our weekly gathering place for the following year. my 7pm curfew remained except for wednesday nights. my mother gave me $10 to pay for my and robert’s cover. this was her way of ensuring that i had access to a safer space outside of our home. she may have never walked a pride parade or attended a P-FLAG meeting, still my mother was all for me fagging out at the club – once a week.
as the 1990s ended, so did woody’s teen night and the friendships within the clique. life happened. however, 30 years after the utopia i experienced with them on that dance floor guides the safer spaces i cultivated with friends in my adulthood. i still relive that magical feeling i had that night. i still luxuriate in the memories every time i hear taylor dayne’s “i can’t get enough of your love.” a refrain that perfectly captures how i felt about that loving clique of friends and that extraordinary night in august 1993.