Strobing lights and colorful personalities conquer places where the LGBTQ+ community can be most uninhibited by societal norms. Queer spaces offer a carefree atmosphere for anyone who steps inside—enveloping them with love and acceptance.
Beyond being a place to escape from society’s prejudiced gazes, much more can be discovered within the halls of these spaces. For those who frequent these areas like Mar Cruz, queer spaces serve far more than a logistical function, becoming “a place where the marginalized will find inclusivity, familiarity, and some would call home.”
Unity in diversity
Although queer spaces have long been a part of city nightlife in Metro Manila—with their history going as far back as 1972 when one of the first queer spaces, The One 690 Entertainment Bar, was established in Quezon City—surprisingly only a small portion of the general population is aware of their existence. Often these places grow popular by word-of-mouth among peers as they seek the best places to proudly be whoever they want to be.
“[Friends] play a very important role in spreading the [information] on what’s in and new and fun,” says Mar, a 32-year-old sales representative, who found out about queer spaces through his friends’ personal recommendations.
These spaces encourage patrons to live life to the fullest; where they meet people along their journey. As someone who was once a closeted gay, Bailey Antonio*, a 32-year-old marketing professional in a startup company, could share in such sentiment. He recalls that he had once come across a blog post about the now-closed gay club in Makati called Government, which was the first time he felt inexplicably intrigued about queer spaces.
Other times, queer spaces just speak for themselves, leaving their doors open to anyone who considers the upbeat environment a welcoming space for self-expression. Dave Cruz* reminisces when he first happened upon the Taguig City nightclub Nectar, “I was always drawn to the drag queens who went in and out or how you could hear Lady Gaga (songs) blasting from outside [of the club].”
For Justin Dizon, a 22-year-old recent graduate of Angeles University Foundation and social media personality, his curiosities sparked in Today x Future (T x F) allowed him to meet two of his eventual closest friends. “A friend of mine, whom I just met there, was sad—relationship heartbreak. He asked me to go to T x F the same night [and] another friend of his came over so there were three of us,” he explains.
Meanwhile, Mar describes his most memorable experiences, saying, “the normal me would not dare to do wild acts in public spaces but then, the sense of comfort might have influenced me to loosen up.”
Home is where the heart is
In a deeper sense, queer spaces have gone above and beyond being just a regular nightclub or bar; to some of the LGBTQ+ community, these places are already like a second home. “Defining a home is subjective. Calling a queer space a home matters a lot to someone who’s not able to live freely on a daily basis, but is able to do so, once in a while, [in] a very familiar [and] comforting place,” Mar explains.
At a time where even the slightest diversion from accepted gender norms is still frequently frowned upon, queer spaces especially mean more to those who have long been oppressed by sexual orientation discrimination. Citing “verbal insults” and “physical attacks”, Justin points out, “There are people who are already out but remain vulnerable to oppression.” These injustices and derogatory treatment, he furthers, are likely what drives many members of the community to seek refuge in queer spaces.
“Us in the community struggle to [engage in even the simplest of activities] in fear of being caught, of being called out, of being stared at,” Bailey laments. But once he steps into the doors of queer spaces like Nectar and O Bar, Bailey, like other members of the community, is able to find a sense of liberation. “More than it being a place for us to be gay, flamboyant, and loud, it helps us to love ourselves more and find more reasons to be proud of the community we belong to.”
Truly, there is comfort in finding relief from the burden of having to suppress the true expression of one’s identity. As Bailey proclaims, “Nothing says home better than having a sense of pride and security toward the place you go to.”
That’s the tea
The presence of queer spaces is a welcome addition to the local scene. However, as Bailey pointed out, “Nothing is perfect.” As much as these places try to create a space where everyone could revel in the celebration of love and belongingness, there are still some things that the community would wish to see less of.
Dave sees that queer spaces are not wholly impervious to the issues created by—as he puts it—the “divisions” that exist within the LGBTQ+ community. Bailey could also attest to this, feeling that the safety in queer spaces is still challenged by the pervasive “discrimination from within the community”.
As much as queer spaces were designed to celebrate differences, they’re not completely unlike any other bar in the city or any other large, heterogeneous group, where “there are some cliques who are not welcoming and [can be] hostile at times,” as Justin points out.
Much could also be said about the hook up and drinking culture in some of these places. Mar, Justin, Bailey, and Dave all propose that organizations and support groups should take the initiative of designing inclusive and more suitable spaces for the youth who identify with being queer or who are beginning to explore their gender identity and sexuality.
Out of the shadows
Members of the LGBTQ+ community continue to fight for a reality where they would no longer have to live in fear of being publicly—or privately—degraded just for being who they are and for being with who they love. Until then, queer spaces will live on, creating a safe environment for all who simply wish to feel that they belong.
Queer spaces standing today still serve a greater purpose, and many members of the community will continue to acknowledge what it represents for them. “You live in a world where you’re a circular block, yet it’s full of square openings,” Dave expresses, “It’s important for us to have this own little world where who we are is something we don’t have to be ashamed of.”
For him and many other individuals, calling these spaces home is just an understatement. New families form and shower each other with support as they go through life together. “Until the LGBTQ+ community is treated equally, these spaces need to stay open for us. Until society no longer perceives us as abnormal and disgusting, we need these spaces,” concludes Justin.
*Names with asterisks (*) are pseudonyms.