Opinion

I found strength, joy, resilience and community on the dance floor of queer clubs

Following the release of season two of his podcast Memories from the Dance Floor, Damian Kerlin reflects on queer spaces and what they mean to the LGBTQ+ community

Image: Mark Angelo Sampan

There’s a special kind of magic in the air when Pride hits. It’s the same kind of magic you feel when you walk into a packed club on a Friday night, only amplified. 

You know that feeling of anticipation building up all week? The grind of work and the monotony of routine slowly chipping away at your spirit. By the time Friday rolls around, you’re more than ready for a change of pace. And that’s where nightlife comes in. It’s not just about blowing off steam; it’s a ritual, a vital part of your mental and emotional reset.

When you step into a club, you leave your worries at the door. The music, the lights, the people  – it all creates this euphoric blend that allows you to escape. But during Pride, this experience is heightened. It’s not just a night out; it’s a celebration of identity, a reclamation of space, and a declaration of freedom. You’re not just another face in the crowd; you’re part of a vibrant, living legacy of shared experiences and histories.

We’re not in Kansas anymore

In many ways these spaces are heterotopias, a concept elaborated by philosopher Michel Foucault to describe certain cultural, institutional and discursive spaces that are somehow ‘other’: disturbing, intense, incompatible, contradictory or transforming. Heterotopias are worlds within worlds, mirroring and yet upsetting what is outside.

They’re not utopias, because let’s face it, life is messy and complicated. But for those few hours, these spaces offer a reprieve from the constraints of everyday life. They’re pockets of the world where the rules are different, where you can breathe easier and be more authentically yourself.

I’ve always found gay nightlife to be more than just a good time. It’s a lifeline. For many of us, these clubs and bars are where we first felt a sense of belonging. They’re where we met friends who became family, where we danced with abandon, and where we found love. These spaces are our sanctuaries, and Pride is our pilgrimage.

Straight people often marvel at the freedom and joy they witness in gay clubs, longing to capture some of that magic for themselves. And who can blame them? But for us, it’s not just about fun. It’s about survival. It’s about finding those fleeting moments where the world feels right, where the noise in your head quiets down, and you can just exist.

During Pride, the dance floors are packed, the music is louder, and the energy is palpable. You can feel the history in the air, the struggles and triumphs of those who came before us. It’s a powerful reminder of how far we’ve come and how much further we still have to go. These moments are our way of honouring that legacy, of saying, “We’re here, and we’re not going anywhere.”

This Pride month

I remember my first Pride. I remember stepping out of CastleCourt Shopping Centre, Belfast, and it hit me. The colour, the music, the celebration… the kink. You could not escape it. It was all encompassing. Northern Ireland’s capital was absolutely bumping and it was fantastic. The sheer ecstasy of the rainbow wonderland was contagious.

I had never been surrounded by so many queer people. It was magical. I had never felt so validated, and so deliriously happy. It was an awakening. For so long I had normalised queer culture to be something strictly “underground’, but Belfast Pride reminded those who wanted us to live in the shadows that we existed and we were not going anywhere.

The excitement, the nerves, the overwhelming sense of community it was everything I had hoped for and more. There was a moment, standing in the middle of a packed street, surrounded by strangers who felt like family, that I felt a profound sense of belonging. It was like the world had shifted, and for once, everything was in its right place.

And that’s what these nights are about. They’re about finding those moments of connection, of joy, of liberation. They’re about reclaiming our spaces and celebrating our identities. They’re about dancing through the pain and the joy, the past and the future, and everything in between.

A night to remember

You see, nightlife isn’t just a backdrop for our stories  – it’s a vital part of them. It’s where we come alive, where we find our voices, and where we carve out spaces for ourselves in a world that often tries to push us to the margins. It’s where we find our strength and our joy, our resilience and our community.

As the night wears on and the sun begins to rise, there’s a bittersweet feeling in the air. The magic of the night is fading, but the memories remain. And those memories, those moments of pure, unfiltered joy, are what keep us going. They’re what fuel us for the fights ahead and what remind us of why we keep pushing forward.

So next time you step onto a dance floor, remember the history that brought you there. Remember the struggles and the triumphs, the pain and the joy. And most importantly, remember that your part of something bigger  a community, a movement, a family. Dance like no one’s watching, love like you’ve never been hurt, and celebrate every moment like it’s your last.

Because in those moments, you’re not just dancing  – you’re reclaiming your space, your identity, and your freedom. You’re writing your story, one beat at a time. And that, my friends, is the true magic of queer nightlife.

Season two of Damian Kerlin’s podcast Memories from the Dance Floor is out now and is available from wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? Get in touch and tell us more. Big Issue exists to give homeless and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy of the magazine or get the app from the App Store or Google Play.

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