|The 40 In 40 Days Project.|
8. The First Gay Club (1982)
The Au Pairs
nothing more boring than yet another “coming out” story, right?
Except maybe the dreaded “my coming out diary” section of gay
homepages. You know the sort of thing - where every detail of the
writer’s “fabulous” new lifestyle is breathlessly detailed:
bar again, with Bruce, Ricky, Camp Mark, Butch Mark and Miss Glitzy
(she’s a scream!!!) First chance to wear my fab new sleeveless top.
Everyone said how fab it looked. If Mario the cute new barman (swoon!)
is reading this, mine’s a double Absolut and Red Bull on the rocks,
(N.B. For a hysterically funny,
horribly accurate parody of this sort of thing, go
So don’t worry, we’re not going
there. Well OK, maybe just a quick visit then. Just long enough for me
to take you down to Whispers Club in Nottingham, the first gay venue I
Some background. For the past year,
I’d steadily been coming out to close friends at university. This
invariably involved a tense, hushed one-to-one confessional session,
usually late at night. The conversation always ended with the same
earnest request: “You won’t tell anyone, will you?” It was
important that I knew exactly who knew, you see. I even used to keep a
list: a crumpled piece of file paper, grandly headed “Those Who
My Great Plan, if you could call it
that, was that one of these friends might just know somebody, who might
just know somebody else, who might just be gay. Then some sort of
introduction could be arranged (discreetly of course), and then we’d
fall in love (obviously), and then that would be that. That way, there
would be no need to go to one of those scary gay places full of scary,
proper, gay people. Ugh, dear me, no. Anything but that. You see, I was
attracted to men, but I wasn’t like all those gay people, thank you
very much. Absolutely not. Of course, I’d never actually been to a gay
venue and I’d never met a gay person, but then I didn’t need to. I
knew just what they’d be like. Sleazy. Freaky. Weird. Ridiculous.
Obsessed with sex. Dangerous, even.
As Great Plans go, there were clearly
some massive flaws in this one. The biggest one being that I was still
single and still not meeting anybody. My friend Tim therefore decided
that I needed to visit a gay club. I resisted – he persisted. We would
go to a film on Friday night (alibi, you see – no awkward questions
asked), then we would go to Whispers (he’d bravely been doing some
reading up on my behalf).
We turn down a deserted side street,
well away from the usual city centre pubs (thank God). We find a locked
door, with a little spyhole, and ring a bell. A friendly looking man in
a frilly shirt and velvet dickie bow answers the door. Is this Whispers,
please? Yes, it is. In we go.
Another man is sitting at a cash desk.
Could we sign the vistor’s book, please? Yes, of course. Oh God, they
want my name and address. We sign, pay and go through the door into the
main bar. Just as we’re going through the door, we hear the two men
commenting on us. Just one word, and an assenting grunt.
The room is a symphony in red flock and
crushed velour. Even in 1982, it looks dated. There aren’t many in. Oh
God, these people are all gay. We go up to the bar to get a drink. There
is some queeny banter going on around us. Someone is trying to mount one
of the bar stools. “Ooh, I’m having to strain me muscles.”
“Nothing new there, dear.” Oh God, so they really are all camp then.
I knew it! I knew it! What am I doing here?
There are a few men sitting at tables
on their own, nursing drinks, staring into the middle distance. Away
from the bar, almost no-one is talking. They all look so lonely, so
miserable. Oh God, so being gay really is lonely and miserable then. I
knew it! I knew it! What am I doing here?
We go downstairs into the disco area.
They are playing chart pop: ABC, Human League, Imagination. There
aren’t many in. We sit and watch. I feel numb with the surrealism of
it all. OK, let me look round. Is there anyone here I could fall in love
with? No, nobody. They’re all ugly. Freaky. Weird. Faintly ridiculous.
Probably obsessed with sex (though I’m not so sure about that now –
it does all seem quite tame). Tim and I manage a quick dance, another
drink. Tim says he thinks it’s all quite sweet – look at those two
jiving with each other. And I suppose it is quite sweet, but what good
is this place to me? I’ll never come here again. I’ll never go to a
gay venue again. What now?
What we didn’t realise at the time
(and not for months afterwards) was that Nottingham had a second, newer,
larger gay club – La Chic Part Two – which had only just opened. It
was one of the biggest gay clubs in the country, and an immediate,
enormous success. Everyone who was anyone was going there, and no-one,
but no-one darling, was still bothering with shabby old Whispers.
Another six months of self-pitying celibacy followed. Then, everything changed.