Where Are All the Cool Gays Hanging Out?

LONG LIVE QUEER NIGHTLIFE: How the Closing of Gay Bars Sparked a Revolution, by Amin Ghaziani

The sociologist Amin Ghaziani wants to turn a funeral into a party.

The dearly departed? The gay bar, a longstanding pillar of queer history that has, in recent years, faced a closure epidemic. Though the trend predates shelter-in-place orders in 2020, the financial strain of the Covid-19 lockdowns was seen as a nail in the glittery coffin of a flagging institution.

But in “Long Live Queer Nightlife,” Ghaziani makes the case that, though the shuttering of gay bars is sad, it prompted a renaissance for club nights, alternative dance spaces championed by people of color and gender-nonconforming people. Unlike the stationary gay bar that caters to the white gay man, these ticketed events are nomadic and inclusive, often popping up in warehouses on the industrial outskirts of sleepless cities. Save your tears, because queer nightlife is alive and well. In fact, it’s even better than ever, having evolved into a more progressive, sophisticated form.

Ghaziani alternates between data analysis and firsthand accounts of club nights, mostly in London. Parties like Buttmitzvah, a cheeky queer Jewish event, and Femmetopia, which bills itself as a “utopian lesbian party,” are episodic and specific, often focusing on some aspect of identity that, it’s either implied or directly stated, goes uncelebrated in gay bars. (By sheer, queer coincidence, I was at Buttmitzvah the very same night as Ghaziani, and can confirm it had some unique aspects, though a good portion of it was business as usual — business as usual being sweaty men shuffling about a crowded dance floor in harnesses.)

In the drier, more data-forward chapters, Ghaziani synthesizes social phenomena into clear and approachable conclusions. Most interesting was his prognosis for why these closures were happening; under modern capitalism, even a profitable gay bar is not safe, because it is not as maximally profitable as, say, a chain restaurant. Cities like Berlin, Ghaziani points out, have begun to mitigate this problem by protecting nightlife venues from redevelopment, offering them tax breaks and declaring them cultural institutions.

When at last we got to the club, I found myself missing the classroom. Where Ghaziani shines as an academic, he’s less convincing as a party chronicler. Though he assembles an eclectic mix of D.J.s and organizers to interview, his approach is stilted and, well, not very fun. The club nights are grimy, raw and underground, but put in necessary contrast with the gay bar, the descriptions of their virtues read more like hectoring treatises.

Ghaziani is also distractingly worshipful of his subjects. Anyone familiar with queer nightlife in major cities has likely heard a D.J. compare the dance floor to church, but here these parties are depicted as heaven on earth and attended by angels who elicit “goose bumps.” “Drops of feminine magic showered us all night,” he writes of the atmospheric sweat at Femmetopia. “As the moisture dripped onto my body, I closed my eyes and imagined being cleansed of patriarchal stains and scars.”

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