It was a sticky summer evening. I was seventeen, I’d borrowed an ID and I was standing on the steps of a Vodka Revolution, trying to fake the confidence that I’d done this before, waiting for the bouncers to step aside. I felt like I’d arrived.
Culturally, we make a lot of fuss about the moment we cross into the adult world. We have sweet sixteens, twenty-first birthdays, and religious ceremonies where boys and girls are told to leave childhood behind. For me, that moment was when I scammed the bouncers and stepped through that door. It was in a club where I first realised I wasn’t straight. It was in a club where I bonded with some of my closest friends, creating a support network for myself that’s been vital. When nightlife closed in March last year, the only comfort I could take was that I’d seized each night to the fullest. Clubs and going out had helped me to discover who I was.
This week, as clubs reopen for the first time in sixteen months, many of us on nights out will emerge from our Ubers, buses, tubes, and minicabs into a different world, and not just because we’re leaving lockdown. In a recent Ipsos Mori poll, 26% of respondents said they thought clubs should be permanently closed and 19% favoured a nighttime curfew, even after Covid restrictions are lifted. Clash magazine recently reported that 21% of clubs in the UK had already shut their doors by 2018; and queer venues face closure at an even higher rate, with over half closing between 2006 and 2017 – the Take Me To The Club project provides an oral history of some of the spaces lost.
“There’s talk of sending undercover cops into clubs under the guise of safety, and it’s been widely reported that LGBTQ+ hate crimes have risen in the last year. Speaking to Fae, a trans friend, she pointed out “most of the notable trans-inclusive spaces are not reopening yet, or possibly [never will again] due to lockdown’s impact”. Safety on a night out is a privilege, not a right – as Abbey, a 26-year-old cis woman said, “[this] break from creepy men has been very refreshing”
Before the world stopped last year, venue rents were already being hiked, council licensing muscles were being flexed, and nighttime spaces were being replaced with flats. Covid lockdowns have hit clubs hard – they were among the first venues to close and the very last to open, with little relief provided along the way. During lockdown, which clubs received government help from the Cultural Recovery Fund appeared totally arbitrary – Fabric in London received £1.5m, while Printworks failed to receive any help for their London or Manchester sites. Given the context we’re heading out into, there’s more incentive than ever to stay inside. As women, we know we’re more likely to face harassment from men at a bar or on a dance floor. A YouGov poll back in 2017 found that 79% of women expected inappropriate touching, behaviour, and comments on a night out, and little has changed since then. There’s talk of sending undercover cops into clubs under the guise of safety, and it’s been widely reported that LGBTQ+ hate crimes have risen in the last year. Speaking to Fae, a trans friend, she pointed out “most of the notable trans-inclusive spaces are not reopening yet, or possibly [never will again] due to lockdown’s impact”. Safety on a night out is a privilege, not a right – as Abbey, a 26-year-old cis woman said, “[this] break from creepy men has been very refreshing”. In spite of all this, clubs offer us, more than any other cultural setting, a place to experiment – with our gender expression, with our sexuality, and with our appearance. It’s not just about [us] going out and getting twatted.
“Binary boundaries blur on the dance floor, and it’s a space that we can reclaim as our own.”
Nightclubs and nightlife have had a long, long history of being home to counterculture and as places of resistance. There’s been Stonewall, Studio 54 – even the first-ever club, Webster Hall, is steeped in a history of hedonism, with masquerade balls allowing attendees to be whoever they wanted to be. Boundaries blur on the dance floor, and it’s a space that we can reclaim as our own.
“I love going out and being able to have casual sex, I really miss that. It’s hard to meet people if you stay away from apps […] clubs provide freedom.” was how one woman, *Lisa, I chatted to described it. Another said they’re somewhere “where people can be free of their normal life”. When venues close we all lose out – clubs offer us a space where the usual societal rules governing women’s behaviour don’t apply.
This week, a new generation will finally get the chance to experience their first night out, crossing the threshold into clubs for the first time ever. Speaking to Melissa, 19, who became a legal adult in lockdown, she said “[she’d] missed her big coming of age moment… when clubs reopen hell yes I’m going to go, and I’m going to go harder”.
Clubs are still an important space to young women, and are still as culturally significant as ever – even if they’re considered an afterthought by the government and 26% of the population. We’re in no rush to go back to clubs until COVID is under control, but we do hope that they’re still around when we do.
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