By DANIEL KLAPHEKE
Halloween night in Philadelphia. The Liberty Bell is dusting off her cobwebs and Eastern State Penitentiary is extra spooky for the festivities that come with Hallows’ Eve. There are Captain Americas, witches and a fair share of seductive felines roaming the city of brotherly love.
Then there’s me–a 20-year-old Kentuckian desperately trying to find a party venue I can legally enter without scrubbing an “X” off my hand.
All day, my fingers were fast at work on Google trying to find a place with a decent atmosphere and generally nonthreatening environment. Yik Yak was even employed at one point to find a local college party being advertised. Eventually, I settled for a club downtown called Voyeur. It wasn’t the best or the worst, but it would do.
My posse and I head out in search of a great night. Siri takes us through twists and turns down Philly alleyways, finally coming upon the hole in the wall that was Voyeur. We walk up, IDs in hand, and the bouncer voices those fateful words.
“Twenty-one and over, bud.”
What? All that data used searching for this place, wasted? I objected what I had misread on Google, but it was to no avail. I was defeated. In respectful remorse, I begin my shameful sulk away. I pull out my phone to start a desperate last minute search, but I’m stopped in my tracks by the bouncer’s voice.
“There’s this place a couple blocks over that you can maybe get in. It’s called iCandy.”
Alas, the night was not doomed! We thanked the bouncer kindly, and then took his directions to the new destination. No questions were asked about the place, we just wanted to have fun.
Another maze of buildings and we arrive at the face of iCandy. It looked bigger than our previous stop, as well as livelier. The 21-year-olds in our posse went through the front entrance, while the other 20-year-olds and I were directed to the back entrance.
Around the corner and through the door I go. A new bouncer cards me, then demands a $10 cover charge.
“A little steep, huh?” I remarked.
“Do you want in or not?” he returned coldly.
There was no point in arguing. I was at the end of the line. I hand over the cash, get my wrist stamped and head up the steps. The hum of today’s Top 40 grows stronger as I ascend, as does a thick fog from some trigger-happy smoke machine.
I reach the top of the steps and there it is, an empty dance floor. Confused, I make my way around the room to orient myself. There’s a decent sized dance floor with a bar on one side and a raised platform on the other. The platform features a stripper pole at each end and a mirrored wall. To the right are the stairs leading to downstairs, and beyond that another bar that’s actually serving drinks. I stroll over to investigate, but a strong arm bars my path.
“You got an ID?”
The frustration of being old enough to join the army but not get into a bar is rising. I turn back towards the dance floor just as some ladies are coming up the steps. I move closer, but there’s something off. Those gals aren’t gals, they’re guys. And those guys aren’t here to find gals.
The realization hits me like a kick to the groin: I’m in a gay bar.
I stumble to the nearest wall, trying to collect myself. To my left stands a scrawny man in nothing but blue tighty whities and rainbow suspenders. To my right, a man in a French maid’s outfit, complete with mustache.
This might sound like an elaborate setup for a punch line, but it’s not. I had just walked 45 minutes in an unknown city to pay $10 to get into this place. That alone was a joke.
I’m in no way anti-gay, but my intentions that night did not include dancing with a bunch of sweaty men in their underwear. I was ready to leave, but my female cohorts were eating the place up. They hopped on the dance floor, leaving me stranded at my post.
Then the people started piling in. The room filled up with one complex costume after another- costumes that obviously took weeks of preparation. Guys would occasionally show interest in me, each of which I politely declined. There weren’t just men, but the line between male and female was blurred.
My group was having the time of their lives on the dance floor, and they were begging me to join them. I wasn’t blessed with smooth moves, nor do I have the capacity to learn the art of swinging my hips rhythmically. I was reluctant, but peer pressure got the best of me and I dragged myself onto the floor.
It was hot, steamy and the fog machine created a grand, multi-colored haze. A complex laser show shined over the crowd, and the ceiling periodically spewed out bubbles or confetti. The music was fast and intensely auto-tuned. The sea of people was constantly moving to no specific form, and I joined in with the violent gestures I call dancing.
Oddly enough, the more awkwardly I flung my limbs, the more comfortable I became. I let loose and had a legitimately great time. Men were dancing with women, men with men, women with women- it didn’t matter. Everyone in that packed room was having the time of their lives.
After hours of dancing, entering a costume contest with no costume and completely losing my group, iCandy closed. Its contents trickled onto the streets and everyone scurried to their next destination. I made my way back to the hotel, marching on feet that were incredibly sore, and slinked into bed.
But I didn’t go straight to bed. I laid there for a long time pondering a simple question: why, as a straight man, did I have so much fun at a gay bar? It couldn’t have been the toxic fog machine smoke that filled my lungs, nor was it the ache that arched across my whole body. And no, it wasn’t because of some epiphany that I was attracted to men.
I, as well as everyone else in that claustrophobic nightmare, had so much fun because it was an entirely judgment free zone.
No one there cared that my dance moves resembled a fish on a dock. And no one cared whether you were a man, woman or somewhere in between. Everyone was there for themselves, not to impress others. Places like iCandy are for people to come together, forget about the world and just be human.
This isn’t a call for you to stop what you’re doing and run to the nearest gay bar, or to go hit the clubs in general. It’s not for everyone. But it wouldn’t hurt to go about your day like the people of iCandy went about their Halloween night. Why care about how others judge you or how you judge others? Live for yourself, not for the crowd.