Here, Queer, Don’t Know WTF I’m Doing Here

My first time going into a lesbian bar and my heart is racing.

GIFS by Angelica Cruz

One year ago, I made plans with a guy in my sociology class to go to a gay club together. We spent a good amount of our time talking about going to one, since it would be his first time and I wanted to go back to one since my first experience was months ago. I planned to offer we go after finals week to unwind after a really stressful semester.

That Sunday, I opened my phone to notification after notification about what at the time would be the worst mass shooting that happened in America. It was that day a gunman walked into a gay nightclub and killed more than 40 people in what was considered both a hate crime and a terrorist attack.

The LGBTQ+ community was shaken. My friends, some of whom worked at gay clubs, swore to not let the event change their lives and courageously went to work the next day. I was inspired, and convinced myself to be more like them and not let what had happened affect me.

But I also have anxiety. When I go out that I need constant reassurance I will not die; and when I’m in new places or around people I’m not sure how to approach it feels like my heart is beating hard against my chest and my hands start shaking. The thought of walking into a gay club already got me anxious, as a person who came from a religious background, still attended church, and was still getting comfortable with their sexuality. But the idea of me going inside and never coming out was what kept me up at night.

But as time went by, I learned to face my fears. I went to a LGBT-based anime convention with my best friend days after the Las Vegas shooting. The night before our bus left I texted my friend if they thought we would be safe, since I needed reassurance that my fears were just fears. I fell asleep that night looking up safety tips and ways I could use my pepper spray in light of an active shooter.

But I still went, and because everything went well my confidence grew. I was on a high because I slayed the monster that was my anxiety and basically gave it a big fuck you. The following week, a group of editors and myself would be going to Dallas, Texas and while groaning about things to do, the impulsive side of me decided to face my biggest fears and go to a lesbian club… alone.

From my limited knowledge of Texas I imagined Dallas would be two things: huge and conservative. But the sadistic part of myself told myself to resist the urge letting this scare me. The day we arrived I went through Yelp to find a lesbian club that would allow me inside since I’m still underage.

Yelp directed me to two clubs, The Rose and Sue Ellen’s (appropriately named after a character from the show “Dallas”). The former seemed a lot more flashy and they had really great drag shows based on the reviews. Last time I went to a gay club, I loved watching the drag show, but for me, a broke college student, the three dollar signs didn’t get me excited. Plus, for my first club, and my first club going in alone, I wasn’t looking for something big.

From the reviews Sue Ellen’s seemed like a smaller bar with not too bad prices. Not to mention, it was geared toward gay women, which was sort of what I was looking for. I checked out a promotional poster that said 18+ night was on Fridays, and since I hadn’t really planned anything to do that night, I decided why not.

I had only three rules for the night:

  1. Stay inside the club for at least three hours. Starting from 10 to 1 a.m., I was not allowed to leave.
  2. Sit at the bar at least for a little bit. Get something to drink or eat.
  3. Don’t go on your phone and look like you don’t want to talk to anyone.
  4. Again, don’t leave early.

It’s harder than it sounds.

My anxiety kept me up all night over the possibilities. What if no one talked to me? What if everyone could tell I was new? What if I got lost? What if someone came in with a gun? I think that one was the one that got to me the most.

The best way I prepare is by research. I’m an over thinker. I like to plan out my interactions with people, and if I don’t, I do everything blind, dumb, and stupidly. I opened up my phone and looked through tips to do when going to a lesbian bar for the first time and what to do going to a bar alone for the first time.

One of the suggestions was to bring a book, pretend you only came to unwind and read your book after a long day at work. The only book I had in my luggage was a science-fiction children’s chapter book. Probably not the best way to make an impression.

Another was to go up to a group of people and just talk to them. That seemed doable, I added it to the list of rules.

5. Try to talk to at least one person.

The rest of the advice just involved being yourself and that kind of bullshit. But I didn’t want to be myself that night. I wanted to be someone who survives two hours in a club without having a breakdown.

By 10:30 p.m. I was ready to embark on my journey into the vast unknown world of lesbian bars.

I called my Uber as soon as I got out of my hotel room, and my hands already started shaking. While everyone we’d met in Texas were some of the nicest people I’ve met, I was hoping my Uber driver wouldn’t be some creepy that would drop me off at a lesbian bar that would lead to too many questions that I wouldn’t be able to dodge.

Thankfully my driver was a kind woman who made me feel a little more safe. We made small talk all the way there, and my nerves were eased. The trip lasted ten minutes, but every moment my heart seemed to beat a bit faster. When we we reached the spot I felt like I just went down a huge drop on a roller coaster.

“Here we are, you have a great night!” She told me in the nicest Southern accent I’ve heard. “Have fun.”

Her words echoed in my head. I was just here to have fun. If I managed to survive the night, I would consider it a success. If I managed to follow all my rules I would consider it a successful night. If made out with someone, then I would consider it a really successful night. Either way, it wasn’t rocket science. I’d walk in and when I had enough I’d walk out.

I need constant reassurance I won’t die.

I took a deep breath and reminded myself it would be okay.

The moment I walked into Sue Ellen’s a man at the booth greeted me with the friendliest smile. He asked me for my ID, and for 15 dollars which was how much it was to get inside. The instant he saw my age, he asked me to hold my hands out and grabbed the biggest black marker I’d ever seen and drew one very large X on both hands.

“No alcohol, no drinking, no going near alcohol. If we catch you drinking, you will be kicked out. “ He reminded me. I nodded my head, I doubt anyone would be be willing to give me drink with two giant X’s on my hands.

Last time I’d gone out to the club I had at least some alcohol inside of me that my friends let me sneak from their drinks. Liquid courage made me a lot more braver, and now I was an anxious train wreck filled with too much energy and not sure how to release it.

I walked into the club, flashy lights illuminated the room and remixes of tracks I heard back in middle school played on the screen. It was unusually quiet for a Friday night, but I assumed it was because it was barely 10 p.m. I had no idea about club culture, and I assumed most clubs didn’t get busy until around 12.

One of the tips had said, the best way to make friends is to dance with people. Dancing grabs attention, and since I was looking to make friends putting some attention on myself wasn’t too bad. But no one was on the dance floor so I decided to explore the place instead by going upstairs to the “Lipstick Lounge,” which was also empty, then to the back to a game area where a skeeball machine and dart and arrows board were.

A few girls smiled at me, and I felt my chest get tight. Maybe this wouldn’t too bad of a night.

By 11:30 more people had come in, including three small parties. I’d spent most of the time up in the empty Lipstick Lounge texting friends I actually “did the thing” and decided to go downstairs and try to make friends. Everyone seemed to be in their own cliques, and suddenly I felt like I was in high school again. How do I approach these people? I didn’t know.

Eventually I felt so awkward I ended up breaking one of my rules and opened my phone. It’s really easy to tell if I’m bored, because the instant I open BuzzFeed quizzes you know it’s a downward spiral. In twenty minutes, I ended up figuring out Guy Fieri wasn’t the Food Network man of my dreams and BuzzFeed still can’t figure my height based on the fast foods I like to eat while the three parties got drinks and took turns dancing. I avoided their eyes.

Angry at myself, I decided to try something else. It was a night of firsts, might as well experiment, right? The skeeball machine was calling my name, and while I usually avoided arcade games, I was hoping playing the arcade game would grab someone’s attention and be a silent invite for someone to talk to me. I’d look like a cool person rather than someone who didn’t know what the fuck she was doing.

I played about two rounds of the game when I realized no one was really paying attention to me. Two guys stopped to watch me play for a split second, but I knew my plan had failed. I decided it was time for phase 2. Time to get a drink.

I moved my way to the bar after my failed attempt to hit up someone with skeeball and decided to sit at the corner where the television was. If anything, I could use that as an excuse to why I was sitting there and tell people I was watching the game and use the little knowledge of baseball I had to impress someone.

One of the bartenders smiled at me and offered to get me a drink before I shoved my hands on the counter as she looked down at the two glaring X’s on my hands.

“Coke or Sprite?” She quickly offered. I chose Coke, by then I’d noticed I was the only person who had the X’s. Everyone around me was drinking some kind of beer or mixed drink and I didn’t even know if I had to pay for my drink, or even how to pay for my drink (do I give it to the bartender? Do I pay at the register? I only had twenties, do they only accept cards?) I felt embarrassed being an underage newbie with no one to ask about this and my anxiety was rising.

I ran to the bathroom and hid inside the the stall farthest from the door. I pushed myself into a corner and tried to take a deep breath, my mind racing. I’d read an article where someone talked about being in the bathroom when the shooting happened, and the shooter walked into the bathroom and thankfully just walked out. It just made my heart race more.

I took in another breath. I need constant reassurance I won’t die. I will not die tonight. I would survive the night.

Walking out of the bathroom, I saw my glass had disappeared and decided to avoid the bar since the television stopped working. No more excuses, I had to talk to people. I had to dance. The clock was ticking.

It was a busier now since it was later in the day and the three parties somehow merged together to make one giant party. I took a seat near the dance floor and watched, waiting and calculating when I’d walk in. I didn’t want to be the only person dancing, I was alone and I was a bad dancer. It wouldn’t end pretty. But everyone seemed to have a lot of fun, everyone just wanted to have a good time. Why wasn’t I one of those people?

The calculations kept coming. I told myself I’d go up if one of my favorite songs came up, each time something did I still just watched. One of the girls across the bar kept smiling and looking at me, and all I could do is weakly smile back before avoiding her eyes. I was overthinking things, and trying to find a right moment to make my move until I realized: Fuck it.

I stood up and walked onto the dance floor. I felt like a gladiator walking the Colosseum, ready to face my darkest fears. I nestled myself in an empty space where the two parties were dancing when someone pointed at me. I froze.

“Your turn,” the person told me and I realized I’d walked in the middle of a dance circle. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. I just watched them dance like they walked out of a “Step Up” movie and the best thing I could do was flail my arms around.

But they looked inviting and happy that I’d finally gotten out of my seat and joined the party. I closed my eyes and attempted a dance, preparing for the worst. Instead I was welcomed by applause and the dancer who’d invited me to the circle offering me a high five.

The rest of night was easier. I danced most of my night alone, sometimes with others, sometimes in dance circles. I was content loudly singing to songs I weren’t too sure the lyrics were and dancing as badly as I did during my first middle school dance. I had checked my phone to see if my roommates texted me when I realized I’d gone past the two hours. A rush of relief went through me, and I ran out instantly.

The rules were:

  1. Stay inside the club for at least three hours. Starting from 10 to 1 a.m., I was not allowed to leave. I left at around 1:30 in the morning.
  2. Sit at the bar at least for a little bit. Get something to drink or eat. I had a soda, which I’m still not sure how I would’ve paid for or if I had to pay for it (I’ll gladly send a check to Sue Ellen’s if needed).
  3. Don’t go on your phone and look like you don’t want to talk to anyone. I broke this rule, but it could’ve been must worst.
  4. Try to talk to at least one person. Sort of? I danced, which is like talking to people with your body.

While I didn’t get to make out with anyone, I decided the night was a success. I’d faced demons, and took them on head’s on even if it was for a moment. Like the friends who inspired me, I learned to be brave. I learned this was going to be a process, but I’d become braver each time.

I need constant reassurance I’m not going to die, but now I remind myself I need to to learn to live a little too.