Out dancing: then and now

Then: June, 2011

I can’t believe how liberating Seattle has felt so far. My life back in north Idaho feels a million miles away, a million years ago. My careful Mormon professional existence there, the one I had been living for so long, where everyone saw me but no one knew me, now feels like a distant memory.

I’ve been to Seattle before, but never like this, never as an out gay man. I suddenly have friends and feelings and I’m creating memories and it feels wonderful. Yesterday, I marched in a gay Pride parade, something I had grown up believing was immoral and disgusting. A few months ago, I connected with a group online called the Utah Gay Fathers, and I’ve made several friends through the group, though it hasn’t been until this weekend that I have met any of them in person. The group joined up with the Seattle Gay Fathers and we marched in the middle of a giant parade with banners. Some of the men had their children with them. Some were same-sex couples with kids while many, like me, had been heterosexually married before coming out and had children that way. We had marched a long distance for over an hour while throngs of people on every side of the street cheered for us, bellowing out their support for us as gay dads. Every person we passed cheered, every single one, by the thousands. Tears had streamed down my cheeks. After so long hiding who I am, suddenly I was being celebrated by tens of thousands of strangers.

Tonight, after a nice day in the city at street festivals and pot lucks with new friends right and left, I met up with a few of the other dads from Utah to go out to a gay club. I’m scared to death of this. I have images of debauchery and sin, alcohol and sex, associated with clubs, and all of these are Mormon gateways to Hell. But I trust these men that I’m with. My friend Ben tells me to wear something nice.

I show up to dinner in a pair of denim shorts and an untucked plaid shirt, long-sleeved and collared, that is about four sizes too large for me. I lost a lot of weight (about 80 pounds) last year, and most of the clothing I own is still too big for me. These look nice enough as I glance in the mirror, but when I arrive, Ben and the others give me a look that seems to say ‘oh honey, you can’t dress like that.’ Ben looks me over for a minute, then leaves, saying he’ll be back in a while.

In 30 minutes, Ben returns with a bag of clothing he picked up at a secondhand shop down the road. A pair of jeans that fits me perfectly and a few T-shirts. I try one on, a dark blue shirt with an anime character on the front, and it is tight against my shoulders, back, and chest. I walk out saying I can’t possibly wear this, and everyone in the room disagrees. You look great, they say. Trust us, they say. You’ll get lots of attention.

After dinner and drinks (none for me, I don’t drink), we make our way over to the Cuff, a gay club in Seattle that has been around for years. Within an hour, the club is packed full of people, men of every age and color and shape and size. At first, I stick close to my friends, a comfortable security blanket, then I explore a bit, walking around the perimeter of the club and observing the people. Gay men used to be so frightening to me, so foreign to my own upbringing. Now I realize they are just like anyone else. They are teachers, mechanics, social workers, lawyers, nurses. I watch the men flirt with each other, laugh together, cuddle up to their partners or boyfriends. The whole experience, this whole weekend, it’s almost spiritual as I realize how much joy there is in a world that I formerly thought was only full of pain.

It isn’t long before I start realizing different men noticing me. Not every man by any means, but many, and most of them very attractive. A wandering eye, a gentle assessment, a sly smile, a wink. A very handsome Samoan man grabs my arm as I walk by. I look over, surprised, as he says ‘You should know, you are very cute.” I stammer out a clumsy thank you. Another guy asks for my phone number and I tell him I’m from out of town. Women have told me I’m attractive before, but I’ve never believed it. To hear it from handsome men, men I am wired for… I feel 13 years old and my face keeps turning red.

Just a short time later, I find myself out on the dance floor, hand in hand with a tall, dark, and handsome man from British Columbia, a college professor who could be on a magazine cover. He tells me I’m the hottest guy in the club, and my mind is blown. The next two hours are a whirlwind, but I dance and I dance and I dance, and suddenly the crowd is thinning and the music has stopped and the club is ready to close. The professor kisses my cheek and tells me to look him up if I’m ever in BC.

I find Ben and my other friends. Ben slaps my back and comments how I seemed to have a good time tonight. I’m glowing. “I’m… handsome. I had no idea I was handsome.” The other guys laugh, and I feel so naive and young, but I feel alive, like Cinderella at the ball, and its the most wonderful feeling in the world.

Now: August, 2015

“Come down to Club Jam with me tonight, pretty please?” my best friend, Cole, says. “It’s swimsuit night. They are gonna have a foam machine! It will be a blast.” I can never say no to Cole. He’s persistent and fun and gets so excited about events like this. “Absolutely,” I agree. I put on my blue speedo under a pair of shorts and a tanktop and figure we will just see how the night goes.

After an initial drink, a delicious whiskey and Coke, at my house, Cole and I walk over to the club, making sure to get there before 10:30 so we can get in free; they will charge an entry fee after that. The club is nearly empty and won’t get busy for an hour, maybe two. Cole and I walk in in our speedos and tennis shoes, leaving our clothes in the car. Some of the bartenders are also in their swimwear, and one of them thanks us excitedly for participating.

Right from the start, the men in the bar are checking us out. And of course they are. They are clothed, and Cole and I are in swimwear. I briefly think about how a few years ago I would never have had the body confidence to do something like this. I’m not a bodybuilder by any means, but I’m muscular and getting leaner and I’m comfortable in my own skin, and it feels nice. Cole points out a few of the guys that seem to be checking me out, but I don’t even turn to look. I’m not interested in meeting a guy in a club, I just come to be with friends and dance.

As the club starts to get busier, Cole and I have one more drink from the bar then make our way out to the dance floor. I’ve danced on this floor a hundred times now, and I like the music here a lot, but I’m not usually wearing so little. I dance without a care, aware of the people around me and lost in my own world at the same time. It’s wonderful to let loose like this from time to time.

By 11:30, I realize there are about 100 people in the room, and I suddenly realize… no one else is in swimwear. And there is no foam. I walk around, getting stared at right and left, and literally no one else is in swimwear. I check the sign, and sure enough, it’s “Foam Party Saturday–wear your swimwear!” I find a bartender and he quietly informs me the foam machine is broken. I tell Cole but he just shrugs and we keep dancing.

Sometimes I can’t shut down my empathic brain. I get caught up in the feeling of the crowd and lose myself in it and it sucks my energy dry. This guy looking at that guy, those two over there so in love, that one there feeling lonely, the other lurking in the corner. I think back to how magical clubs felt a few years ago, and the vast number of changes I have gone through as a person, as a man, in that time. I think of how much more fun a club would be with one person to go with, a boyfriend to celebrate life with. Then I think back to my disastrous dating life and sigh, exhausted with it all.

Even in the noise and heat of the dance floor, Cole notices and looks at me with concern. “Are you okay?” he mouths. “I’m ready to go home,” I mutter.

As I walk out of the club, someone shouts across the parking lot. “You’re hot!” he yells. “Thanks,” I say, without turning to look. I’m ready for something more substantial than a compliment. And I’m ready for a long night’s sleep.2

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