LGBTQ + Club Culture

Club life as a self-image for young queers


Text: Jurassica Parka

Fashion Bump! at SchwuZ (2015) by Guido WollerClubcommission

Why is club culture so important to young people? And what exactly is the situation for queer young people? Isn't going out, dancing and meeting friends even more important for members of the LGBTQI community—so isn't the lockdown of our clubs even worse for them?

Popkicker at SchwuZ (2015) by Guido WollerClubcommission

I would most definitely agree with that! For most young queers, club life is an important element of their self-image, that much is clear. The club is a place of refuge, a protected space where they are able, and allowed, to enjoy a little freedom. Of course, that's true for all clubbers. That's why people go out and party all night. Music, sweating, dancing, drinking, banging, screwing. Anything is possible on nights like that and it raises the spirits. But for queers it's actually even more essential.

Popkicker at SchwuZ (2015) by Guido WollerClubcommission

Imagine you are just 18 and gay. Or lesbian, or bi, or you'd rather be a man instead of a woman, or vice versa. Perhaps you don't even quite know yet what you want. But one thing you know for sure: you feel invisible in your everyday life and you can't find anyone else who feels the same. Parents, friends, colleagues … the whole world is heteronormative.

GAGA RAH AH-AH-AH! at SchwuZ (2019) by Guido WollerClubcommission

And now just imagine that you stumble across a queer party and realize that you're not alone at all. There are so many other people like you! That's what clubs do. If I look back at the story of my own emancipation, I can remember the first time I went to a disco really clearly. I came out as a gay man when I was 17

Jurassica Parka + Destiny Drescher (2019) by Guido WollerClubcommission

At that time I often went clubbing with my hetero school friends. I was born in Berlin, so finding somewhere to go was never a problem—but finding someone to flirt with was! All the other boys only looked at girls. Of course, that seemed normal to me, I knew nothing different.

SchwuZ 2019 (2019) by Guido WollerClubcommission

But then a female friend dragged me off to SchwuZ because she suspected which way the wind was blowing and she shoved me into queer nightlife with a smirk. Certainly, I remember it as a moment of huge enlightenment. It may sound crazy, but at that moment some of the missing links in my head were joined up. Some new synapses formed and I suddenly understood.

Jurassica Parka + Friends (2015) by Guido WollerClubcommission

I finally realized what I wanted and also needed—yes, what had been so painfully missing in my life all that time: other gays. At SchwuZ, I suddenly became visible. Of course, it was really exciting to find that it was now possible to follow my own desires—just like that. Smooching, petting, flirting. Even have a quick hookup in the loo. Obviously, it's just the same for all young people. Discos and everything about them are exciting.

Ryan Stecken and Harle Quing (2019) by Guido WollerClubcommission

But let me repeat: my schoolmates had experienced petting and smooching much earlier, on school trips or at house parties, they didn't necessarily have to go to a club. I'd like to say some more about SchwuZ, to which I have felt emotionally attached for over 20 years—we're now in a fruitful partnership. Before lockdown, my monthly Popkicker party gave young queers exactly what I have just described from my own experience.

1 year of SchwuZ (am Rollberg) (2014) by Guido WollerClubcommission

But SchwuZ is much more than just a disco. I won't recite the 45-year history of the club here, that's what Google is for—it's beyond the scope of this article. What I'm concerned with here is the important infrastructure provided by that kind of institution. SchwuZ brings so many people together. There are more than 100 people who work there and keep the place going (and are now nearly all out of work). There are also freelance artists, DJs, and performers. Friendships are formed there.

Mollyhouse Partysane at SchwuZ (Mehringdamm) (2013) by Guido WollerClubcommission

People try things out there. Where do I want to go, which way is right for me, who can I turn to? The 50-year-old drag queen who works backstage is bound to have some good advice. People find role models here. Whether you want to get involved in politics, or try doing drag … or both—SchwuZ enables you to build your own queer network. That's so important!

Mz Sunday Luv Partysane at SchwuZ (Mehringdamm) (2013) by Guido WollerClubcommission

I myself began my own career in drag at SchwuZ, of course. I just used to like spending nights there tottering around in drag. Then, at some point, a SchwuZ employee approached me and I had bagged my first little job as a drag queen, working for free drinks. That was over 15 years ago. It was at SchwuZ that I tried being a DJ for the first time and at SchwuZ that I made my first attempts at being a moderator. SchwuZ has enabled me to do so much. People call it empowerment nowadays.

GAGA RAH AH-AH-AH! at SchwuZ (2019) by Guido WollerClubcommission

I probably don't need to tell anyone what a huge catastrophe the nightlife lockdown has been for club culture. Social media, Zoom, and live streaming simply can't replace physical contact. At least, not in the long term. For young queers, that must be getting really frustrating. I'm 41, I'm living the life I want to lead.

Amy Strong and Ocean (2019) by Guido WollerClubcommission

I could quite happily spend a few weeks cocooning with my partner in our apartment, without really missing anything … well obviously, family and friends, but that's not what we're talking about. For young queer people who have perhaps come to Berlin from another city to study or find work, things look really bad. And in fact even I am starting to think longingly of spending a night at SchwuZ. I want to feel the bass vibrations again. And it's only now that I'm starting to realize how many people I haven't seen for months!

Jurassica Parka portrait (2020) by Doris BelmontClubcommission

They may not be friends, but people whom I care about and whom I used to only meet every month at SchwuZ. I would never have imagined such a thing could happen, SchwuZ was always open. I miss clubs and parties and the drag culture so much! Because drag also happens largely as part of nightlife.

It's all gone. 

Now, I don't want to wallow in misery. It will come back, of course it will. And, in fact, lockdown has been a learning curve for me. I now really appreciate things that I took for granted all these years. The soul is an invisible organ that needs to be nurtured and cared for. 

Berlin's night clubs play an important role in that.

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