Probably the first clue that I wasn’t like other guys was that I loved to dance. There’s nothing like that feeling of freedom when you’re out on the dance floor and the deejay is playing one of your favorite songs to dance to, and you’re in a crowd of gay men, all moving to the same music but in vastly different stages of reality diminishment, from total sobriety to tipsy to buzzed to wasted to fried on a drug of some sort (you always could tell the difference between the drunks, those fried on a stimulant, and those on Ecstasy), and many of them with their shirts off and passing around bottles of poppers. Dance floors in gay bars always have a musty smell to them when they’re crowded, as though the man-musk from dozens and dozens of sweaty men has somehow seeped into the walls, the floor, the speakers.
That interesting mix of sweat, musk, cologne, cigarette smoke, and poppers that lets you know you’re in a gay bar, and pheromones are everywhere.
And of course, there’s today’s title, which was a great dance hit back in the mid-90’s; 1995, I think, to be exact?
God, how I used to love to dance.
I had no idea how to actually dance, of course. All I had was years of watching American Bandstand, Soul Train, and various teams of cheerleaders and pom-pon girls. The first time I went out onto the dance floor was when I was a junior in high school. It was a victory dance after we won a football game, and someone asked me to dance. And oh look, Greg actually can find a backbeat and knew instinctively to move to it–and that your upper body could move differently than your lower body. It was fun, I loved it, and people actually thought I was good at it, which made it even more fun. My junior and senior years of high school saw the rise of disco, and my first few years of college were during the height of the disco era. The little clubs and bars in Kansas I was able to get into, where I could drink beer till I was drunk and the music played and I could dance, weren’t Studio 54 or anything like that, but I could dance, and I would spend the whole night out there on the dance floor, sweating through my shirt and my bangs plastered to my scalp with sweat. I missed dancing, when we moved to California and I was no longer old enough to go out to bars, and when I was, I did want to go out dancing, but the 80’s weren’t a great time for dance music (in straight bars, any way), and the few times I was able to get to a gay bar, the music was much better and the dancing was way more fun…
The dance floor was, for a long time, the only place in a gay bar where I felt comfortable. This remained true even after I came out and merged my two separate lives into a single whole. Coming out was really just the first step towards accepting myself and figuring out who I was. I’d spent most of my life thinking there was something wrong with me, and that manifested itself in incredibly unhealthy ways for me emotionally and mentally. I’d always believed that coming out would solve all of my problems, but it didn’t; instead it created new problems to replace the old. I felt unattractive, overweight and unlovable. Every experience I had with another man only added to that sense of discomfort, that self-loathing that was still there in my head. I used to go to gay bars with co-workers, who would disappear as soon as we got there, out prowling for a cute boy for the night’s comfort while I just stood somewhere in a corner. I had a crush on this really hot bartender at a gay bar in Ybor City, Tracks, which is where we always used to go. He was always so friendly and polite and I naïvely thought he might be interested…which was when I learned all gay bartenders are friendly and nice because they want to get tipped (and I never made that mistake again). The only time I ever felt comfortable or at ease was on the dance floor. I also convinced myself that I was unappealing, which was why no one ever approached me–or it was rare that someone did (I am too shy to ever approach anyone). I had an extremely unpleasant experience the summer I turned thirty-three, and that motivated me to reevaluate everything in my life and start over. I essentially burned myself to the ground and started over.
I still had the same shitty job, but if people thought I was out-of-shape and unattractive, well, I couldn’t change my face but I could change my body. I radically altered my life and started eating healthy and exercising. I even stuck to it. I lost a lot of weight in a very short period of time (which probably wasn’t healthy) and figuring (hilariously) that the possibilities of finding love and a relationship were already gone because I was thirty-three and still single (just goes to show what I know, right?), but everything changed. I also began to realize over the years that followed that I wasn’t ever approached back in the day because I wasn’t attractive but because I was giving off a bad vibe–how can you help but give off a bad vibe when you’re insecure and feel uncomfortable? It’s amazing what a difference a friendly, open smile makes. But it’s hard to look friendly and inviting when you don’t feel friendly or inviting or good about yourself. The on-going struggle with my self-esteem really started in earnest during this time of my life, and while those self-esteem issues have never truly been conquered, I started enjoying my life a lot more. I no longer felt like my life was something that just happened to me. I felt like I was making things happen for myself. And as my self-esteem continued to grow, I also found myself figuring out how to make the big dream–becoming a writer–come true.
And I also managed to find my true love in the process of finding myself.
I do miss dancing, but I don’t think I am capable of staying out late at night to dance. But I remember those days of dancing till dawn fondly, trying to flag down a cab in the cold gray morning light, drenched in sweat and shivering. It would probably take me a week to recover from dancing all night…and let’s face it, dancing all night was the best way for me to get cardio.