Rich Morel, of Blow Off fame, brought Hot Sauce to Grand Central in Baltimore last night, and I had one of my best nights on the dance floor in a very long while, with swollen knees to attest to that fact this morning. Morel played a high-energy set of electro-inflected dance music that included some great sing-along opportunities with remixes of tracks like Oasis' "Wonder Wall" and Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus," along with plenty of the typical four-on-the-floor tracks you'd hear at any good dance party. At one point I found myself thinking back to my first gay clubbing experiences in the mid-80s at places like the now-defunct Traxx in DC, where synth pop met Hi-NRG and there were always plenty of hands in the air. That was the case at Hot Sauce as well, by 11.30 the dancefloor was jumpin' and jivin,' and when I left a little after 1AM there was still enough of a crowd to ensure it would keep going until last call.
Given that the logo for the Hot Sauce party is a cowboy riding a bucking bear, you might have some idea of what to expect from the crowd, and sure enough, it was predominately older, large of size, and ample of body and facial hair. By midnight there was some greater diversity to the crowd, and I even ran into a lesbian of my acquaintance, Pam, who, like me, was looking more for an opportunity to dance on a Saturday night than anything else. Still, as a guy who would have been considered a twink until I started going gray and blind, and remains pretty small and possessed of about the same amount of body hair as I had when I was 16, I had a hard time figuring out how to relate to this scene. I certainly enjoyed Morel's set, but for all the other considerations of why I might go out to a gay dance night, I might as well have been invisible. I even had a slight moment of hesitation when I took off my shirt on the dancefloor; plenty of other guys had already done it, and there was a lot of tactile admiration of Buddha bellies and pelts going on as a result, but I actually had a moment of wondering "Is this okay?" I have, in the past, heard some rather unkind remarks about twinks issuing from the muzzles of bears, and I wondered whether taking my shirt off in this club, with this crowd, would be taken as provocation, or, even worse, would mark me out as a target for scorn because I don't fit into this particular scene's image of masculinity. I thought about this for a second and then decided well, if anybody has a problem with it, fuck them, I came to dance, and I would hope that my obvious enthusiasm for the music and the energy of the party would be of greater importance than the accidents of genetics that made me the way I am.
I admit that I continue to struggle with the whole idea of a "bear movement" and with bears as a separate subculture of the gay scene. I understand where that subculture comes from, and I'm generally sympathetic to attempts to create alternatives to hegemonic mainstream culture of any type, gay or straight. I also cannot fault anyone for their attractions, and if bears aren't attracted to me, that's okay, because I'm not particularly attracted to them (though I have noticed that it has become increasingly "incorrect" in larger gay culture to admit that you're attracted to twinks, or nelly guys, or anything that isn't in keeping with a fairly conservative notion of masculinity). But it does bug me that, like so much of mainsteam straight culture, gay culture forms itself around body types, and those body types are taken to be the signifiers of a shared set of values. This, in the end, can make the most revolutionary movement just another exercise in conformity, and enforces separatism at the level of phenotype when the real shared values exist at a much deeper level. I have always believed that the dance scene has the ability to bring people together through a shared physical and emotional experience, and that a good DJ, like Rich Morel, knows how to create that experience. I was happy last night to share the dancefloor with big guys bumpin' bellies, two geeky Asian boys dancing together, a very drunk Latino exotic dancer, at least one drag queen, and my lesbian friend Pam. I can only wish that that the intention had been to create that shared experience for the diversity of people I saw there, rather than one exclusive group.