The Queer Guy at the Strip Club,
or, The Opposite of Sex
Recently, I celebrated two friends' bachelor parties at strip clubs in New York City - places I now consider among the queerest environments in the straight world. As a mostly gay man with no interest in paying to see naked women, I had a bit of critical distance from what was going on, and yet, as a not-completely-gay man, I got caught up in it as well. Here's what I learned.
First, strip clubs are among the most homoerotic environments I've ever been in - and I've been in many. Other than the raunchiest dance clubs and bathhouses, I can't think of any environments in which so many aroused men are in such close proximity to one another. You can smell the hormones. It doesn't stink like a locker room, because of AC is usually blasting, but it feels like a locker room. Many visitors are probably unaware of this feeling. I know it, because I find it a turn-on. Some straight men, I suppose, know it at a subconscious level, and associate it with football games (playing or watching), poker night, or the frat house. For both the oblivious and the aware, though, testosterone floats through the air, exuded from hundreds of pores, and it hangs there.
But there is an important difference between a strip club and a locker room: arousal. Having a hard-on in a locker room is grounds for getting your ass kicked in. Here, it's expected. It's what everyone's here for. It was remarkably disconcerting to imagine all the erections around me, concealed only by a couple of layers of fabric; this is something I'm used to in a gay bar, but in such an aggressively hetero environment, the fact that everyone around me had a hard-on seemed to jar. These were men I would ordinarily never see aroused, and men who would never want me to see them aroused. And yet, here we all were.
Not only were they aroused - but they were turned on in what I can only call a highly queer way, by which I mean a way in which the "normal" rules of sex (heterosexuality, gender roles, etc.) are upended or askew (a process which reveals their contingent, non-naturalistic construction, et cetera). One of the cardinal rules of strip clubs is you can't touch the dancers. Sometimes, they'll let you grab a little ass or cop a quick feel, but, especially during a lap dance, you keep your hands to yourself. As a result, the men are rendered entirely passive. During a lap dance, you sit with your hands on the arms of your chair. You keep your legs together (you need to rearrange beforehand, or it gets uncomfrortable) and are straddled by the girl. When she dances, you can't move at all - there's nowhere to go; you're pinned. Every instinct is to grab her, touch her, take her - but you can't. You are the passive party, unable to do anything at all, even touch yourself. You, a heterosexual man whose ordinary role is that of actor and aggressor, have consented to be acted-upon.
The Queer Guy at the Strip Club
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