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The elephants in the room
Disabilities and the gay club

by D’Arcee Charington . Special to Q-Notes
Turning the lock on my bedroom door, I happily collapsed against my bed relishing the idea that I didn’t have to look at another chart, report or interview again for three whole days as the seemingly endless weekend lay stretched before me. On my commute home, I bumped into, stared at and swerved my way around hundreds of people who, unlike me, looked forward to gossiping, dancing and flirting the hours away as they hurried home to ponder for hours over that same shirt, with those pants, to be accented with these earrings, to show off this new tattoo. It was these ramblings of my female roommates next door that made me crave more solitude and dig deeper into my covers as I struggled to drown out the ever-increasing argument over whose blouse was cut lower than whose. And by now I knew, it had begun.

The girls across from me, like so many others on a similar Friday night, had started the inevitable ritual which would lead them to the dreaded palace of Sin, otherwise known as “the club.” As I lay there staring at the ceiling, marveling at how it took eight girls forty minutes to choose one blouse, I began to think to myself.

Now it’s no secret that within the gay community, or anywhere for that matter, people always want the youngest, hottest and most beautiful bodies imaginable. While this state of mind is generally true for the majority of people ages 16 to 40, it tends to be much more of an issue inside the gay male community. Perhaps you can see why — as a fully grown, gay male born with Cerebral Palsy and without the ability to walk — I was a little hesitant to just show up at a gay club decked in my wheelchair and all.

But after a full week at work, what did I have to show for myself? As I pondered the possibility of spending another darkened evening with the latest movie rental and the biggest bowl of ice cream I could find, I realized I was bored. So I decided to get up and go through my own closet, as I made preparations to head downtown and find myself a trendy new waterhole. All the while, I just couldn’t shake the idea of the rather large odds against me as I rolled out of my apartment looking for a cab headed to Dupont Circle.

Standing — actually sitting — outside, it took me a little while to convince a taxi driver to pull over and allow me to ride in his car. Many other drivers had previously informed me that helping someone in a wheel chair was considered a waste of good money. Although it only took me a few more seconds than the average person to get in a car, apparently this was enough to make a cabbie zoom right past me on his way to another patron desperately flagging him down at the other end of the street. Deciding to purposefully position myself in front of a moving vehicle, I was finally able to convince a cab driver to stop.

I asked the driver if he could take me to a club I had heard about. The driver eyed me suspiciously, though I could not immediately discern the reason for his sudden distaste at my choice of words. When I asked what brought about the repulsive expression now adorning his face, he responded, “Why would you want to go there?”

I simply replied, “Because I’m gay, and it’s a gay club. Isn’t that enough?”
Apparently, it wasn’t.

“But you’re a cripple!” he exclaimed, showing me exactly why disabled people weren’t welcome in a gay world.

Our society says we can change anything we don’t like about ourselves through money, surgery, dieting and exercise. In essence, this is the American ideological concept that we have created. The golden rule says that if you put in a little more work, you’ll reap the rewards of your labor. Personally, I don’t see it this way. These types of generalized statements are directed toward people who have the ability to actually do something to change the way they live, but what if that decision was made for you? If all I had to do was work a little harder, how do I sow with a broken plow? More importantly, could I actually fit in with the other farmers checking out the beautifully muscular crops of men?

With four floors, seven bars, a video karaoke lounge, penthouse suite, rooftop café and rotating dance floors stretching three levels, Club Apex could hardly be considered a barn. Finally arriving there after paying the driver an unbelievable (and demanded) tip of $15, I was dismayed to discover my harvest had no intention of yielding, The club didn’t even have an entrance that allowed me to get on the sidewalk!

Since the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the federal government had mandated that all public places were required by law to provide access and accommodations to patrons with physical disabilities. If a business failed to follow the law, they could be hit with fines or foreclosure. For a book-toting paraplegic lawyer, this could be a guaranteed ticket to the best rooms in any club on any night of the week.

I certainly don’t need documented evidence to prove that few clubs and establishments actually heed the law. Don’t believe me? Take a look on any street walkway crowded with shops and clubs and you’ll see my point. To the average club-goer, what does this mean? Nothing, except an extra step or two up the corner of a concrete walkway barricading the front entrance of a dance hall.

In a night filled with steps, this is but a minor inconvenience to anyone but me. In my particular situation, making my way into this club meant looking like a complete idiot in a three-piece black pin-stripe suit complete with Dolce and Gabana sunglasses trying to maneuver my way over a two-inch curb in the middle of a crowded street.

Why this obvious injustice to the neglected freedoms of those wheelchair-bound party people? The answer is a fairly obvious and painful one. In terms of what is convenient and what isn’t, many bar owners don’t feel the need to take the time to recreate and redecorate their bars for their less able-bodied customers. Because of the obvious ignorance to this simple problem, many people with disabilities often do not feel up to the challenge of dealing with the hardships associated with the club and all that it represents.

While to some, the club is a symbol for partying, drinking and a good time, for others it is nothing but a continuously amplified reminder of just how different you really are. In the gay club, that problem is magnified a thousand times over. Confronted with my disabled reality is hard enough from the pressures asserted through all forms of visible media on a daily basis in the regular world, but the gay club seems to come with a reverberated harshness.

How can we raise awareness of this blatant discrimination to the rest of the society? To me, the answer lies with the beginning of acceptance. This in itself comes off as extremely ironic. Gays, a group of people already heavily discriminated against, further discriminating against their own? It’s a circular sense of irony in the most mundane way.

In my opinion, clubs were created to be havens of hormones, designed to allow the average person to escape themselves, becoming new social creatures, if only for a few hours. If ever entered under less than perfect circumstances, however, the club becomes a freakish house of mirrors that surrounds its victims presenting every flaw in high definition, and 5.1 surround sound.

I pushed and wheeled my way past the crowds oblivious to my presence, begging the question as to why I would put myself in that position in the first place. People commonly ask me, “Well, didn’t you know you were going to be made fun of and ignored in a place like that?” Of course I did, but the reason I go is the same reason the 60-year-old man goes only to sit in the corner, sipping his Mimosa and oogling the flames of passion from years before. He knows the hotties on the dance floor will never approach him.

It is an understanding shared by the middle-aged business accountant who can’t bring himself to unbutton his shirt one more inch for fear of losing his comfort level. He, too, knows his job is as boring as his life and that he would never entice the imagination of some young teenage heartthrob waiting to live the fast and dangerous life of the go-go boy twirling around the sparkling graphite pole under the disco ball.

In this way, it is the same feeling we all share. I come because even if I’m ignored by taxi drivers, stared down by passing on-lookers searching for a quickie and laughed at by well-oiled and muscular bartenders who send me drinks out of pity, there is still an inbred feeling of comfort to know that you’re allowed to gaze and admire the nude male form. Even in the darkness of writhing bodies moving to the pulsing rhythm of the techno beat, we are all still family.

When you get right down to it, we have nowhere else to go. The club was, and remains, the only escape for some gays in a world filled with hatred, bigotry and sexual discrimination. It was, and remains, the solace for many people persecuted for what they looked at in the privacy of their homes, and for those who wanted to freely express the love they had for one another, regardless of gender. It is an act of desperation that has brought us all together. It is that same desperation that will keep us together until the last club closes down.

info: D’Arcee Charington is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. This perspective is one component of an advanced composition course in which he is now enrolled.

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