How Not to Behave at a Queer Clubnight

Three active queer performers, clubnight organisers and DJs describe some troubling cishet behaviour they've noticed at queer nights

Feature by Gene Rib | 01 Oct 2015

Whether it’s that cisgender heterosexual guy permitting himself to explore the staff and performers’ areas of the Free Pride venue, or the person who thinks it’s their privilege to jump on stage during the gigs of trans people, it remains clear that there’s an unusual and disrespectful presumption persisting in the minds of cishet people. The presumption of a liberal, all-access pass to the spaces and bodies of queer nights. 

Confirmation came in conversation with three other (anonymised here) queers, who are variously performers, organisers and attendees of queer nights. What follows is not only intended as advisory for the cishet, but also useful to the non-het cis, the non-cis het, and anyone entering a queer space.

First off, “Don’t remind me you’re fucking straight,” as musician and clubnight organiser Fez puts it.

Waltz, a successful DJ, also remembers “a guy that was requesting songs and kept saying ‘I’m not gay.’ Which, really is like saying, ‘I don’t want you to think I’m gay because that would be awful for you to think I’m gay at this gay night.’ If someone hits on you in any club or night, you just have to take it with grace and say, 'No, I’m not interested.' You don’t have to say you’re straight.”

For Waltz, it wasn’t just the gay nay-saying that was problematic in that situation. Too often, she experiences cishet men unhelpfully offering DJing tips. “A guy came up at the end of one night saying, 'Play Jersey Club, it’ll go down really well.' No, it won’t go down well. And I know because I’ve been DJing this night for a year. If Jersey Club was what people wanted to hear right now, I’d be fucking playing it.”

An assertion of certain gender privilege is also evident in Rio’s experience as a female-presenting trans performer. 'You’re not like a woman, you’re so androgynous,' Rio is frequently told, often as a misfired compliment. “Actually, when I’m onstage I just want to be feminine, but when you’re saying I‘m part-man part-woman, you’re saying I’ve not sufficiently communicated my femininity.”

Then there are the cis women ‘fixing’ Rio’s make-up. “I don’t wanna hear it. Don’t presume you know what I’m going for and that I’m failing.” Thinking also of Waltz’s experience as a female DJ, “They’re both kind of gendered skills. DJing is meant to be what cis guys do. Make-up is what cis women do. A totally random person will assume what you’re going for and not achieving. But maybe you just don’t know.”

Reflect on whether you’re qualified to make 'top tips'. Chances are, you’re not.

“Just stand over there,” Waltz advises.

”Why do you need to know what someone’s gender is?” 

As well as unsolicited offers of expertise, the naïvety and enthusiasm of some first-time cishet attendees can cause a fair amount of offence too. “A girl came up to me in the toilets,” Waltz describes. “She said, 'This is the first time I’ve been to an LGT…F?... night? What is it?' She proceeded to tell me she’d just asked someone if they were a ‘he or she’.”

Waltz emphasises that, “For a lot of people, a queer night means coming out as their true gender identity for the very first time. And then someone comes up to them and asks, 'What are you?' Why do you need to know what someone’s gender is?"

Waltz faces a similarly troubling curiosity when she’s with her girlfriend: “'How do you have sex? What do you do?' It’s a creepy man thing...Maybe people don’t say it to gay male-presenting couples, but it’s not just me that’s had this.” For Fez, “It’s almost like they’re trying to figure out whether I’m able to have normal sex. Are you trying to see if I’m having a good time? It’s something you’d just never ask straight couples.”

And finally, there’s the self-indulgent and exploitative ‘experimentation’. “I’ve only ever been hit on by straight men in gay clubs,” Waltz recalls from when she was more feminine-presenting.

More recently, she’s experienced straight cis girls hanging around her all night, exclaiming the likes of 'I think I fancy you, so maybe i’m gay?' and dancing in a sexually aggressive way. “I just want to stand and drink my beer,” she says. It’s a similar case for Rio – “When I’m feminine-presenting, I become like a weird gateway drug to being gay. People are not testing grounds for your sexuality.”

Continually self-monitoring your speech, your use of space and your behaviour may appear a dull prospect. If so, then maybe remember that often the kindest relationship you can have with a queer space is to let it be – without you.