TAKE YOUR PROBLEMS TO THE DANCE FLOOR.
Over the past few months, I’ve had several occasions of friends approaching me about a book I needed to read. They all said, “You are Sutherland!” Andrew Sutherland is a main character of the book Dancer from the Dance, a 1978 gay novel by Andrew Holleran about gay men in New York City and Fire Island. And yes, that is the origin of the party named Sutherland at 3 Dollar Bill. I have yet to peruse its pages, so I’m not yet sure if it will turn out to be a compliment, a read, or perhaps a bit of both.
One dear friend, a Gay Horse Unnamed, said his reasons for the likeness was how I’ve compared gay parties to holy places of worship. That is not an uncommon idea, but one that has been a personal journey for me the past few years.
So before I begin reading Dancer from the Dance, I wanted to explore those ideas here, capturing my unadulterated version of this concept. I’ll come back to compare notes after I’ve completed this nelly novel.
I grew up in the rural South - raised primarily in a Southern Baptist church until I was 11, and then Episcopalian until I was 15. After that I think my mother was finally too embarrassed to try forcing religion on her little faggot since I was clearly a lost cause on the matter. I was baptized at my own request at an early age because I was entirely enamored with being put in a robe and dipped into the water in front of the entire congregation - truly a gag-worthy performance, complete with gifts! In the Episcopalian church we attended, I was an Acolyte, assisting in Holy Communion every Sunday. Again, a moment of pure pomp, circumstance, and theatre that had me in flowing red robes, serving wine, and sitting centerstage for all to see. Do you see a running theme here?
As a young teenager, it became highly evident to me that these beliefs were not my own. I didn’t really understand how anyone could go along with such odd concepts with even the simplest of scientific evidence proving otherwise. Truly, the worst torment I ever received growing up due to my entirely apparent queerness was from the Southern Baptists. Most of those kids and their families really are the fucking worst. When my mother slammed the Bible in my face at the exposure (on her part) of my sexuality, I began to resent and reject organized religion. Throughout college and the years before I came to NYC, it came to a point of complete disregard. When my family would gather before holiday meals to pray, I would stare into the distance blankly, pondering my next performance piece.
And I do regret that.
Because some time after I came to New York, I had a moment of enlightenment. After so many nights on the dance floor observing sweaty torsos writhing tightly in dark, seedy spaces, a thought began to grow. When we gays gather to cavort and caper into the wee hours week after week throughout the decades since our succession at Stonewall, we create sacred spaces of our culture; the temples of our people. We lay hands on each other and unite our minds to one single goal - to give each other and ourselves the strength to carry on and live out loud. We take our problems to the dance floor and step into the sunlight renewed with the spirit to celebrate ourselves and not be afraid of who we are - even if just for a moment.
That’s not very unlike a church service, now is it?
When people pray, they pause their individuality to join together in one united request - for peace, for prosperity, for love and thankfulness for all they have in their lives together. If you remove the opening and closing words of prayers from most religions, you have the same intention at the heart of it all. When my family says, “Our Heavenly Father,” and “Amen,” before and after a prayer, all I have to do is substitute those words with anything else that suits me, because everything else they say between is the same thing I want for them, and as they want for me. We don’t always have to make ourselves feel so different, living on the outside. We just have to find our common ground, and the love we all share.
So now when my family prays, I hold their hands tight, bow my head and join my mind, body, and soul toward the things we all want for each other and this world. I don’t say, “Amen,” at the end, but I do say, “Thank you.”
When we dance together, when we lay our hands on each other, I too ask for healing. I try my best to always share my light, to make others smile, and to put an energy into the room that make others thankful they are there to share that moment. It’s not always easy, and I don’t always do it well, but it is my intention and my greatest driving force when I step into a space.
We all face darkness time and time again in our lives, but hopefully with each other we find the strength to leave our problems on the dance floor, to step into the light, and to say, “Thank you.”