I worry that as I describe my interactions with Ethan that he will be seen as a gay male stereotype or as the token LGBT presence in this story. But he's not. He's not my evidence that I'm not homophobic and he's not included just for comic relief or political correctness. Ethan was a true friend. He taught me new things about myself and about life. He lived nearby to me and he took me dancing.
On the night of our first clubbing experience, I could hardly contain my excitement. I was going clubbing. Like they do in every movie and TV show ever made about twenty-somethings. Yes, it was a Wednesday (we obviously couldn't go on Friday or Saturday) and yes, it was a gay bar, but I didn't care.
At 10pm (yes, 10pm. Apparently people don't party before then. It was torture waiting that long.) I drove to Ethan's house to pick him up and was met at the front door by three large dogs. They stared at me through the glass until Ethan appeared, shoving them aside with his legs and opening the door. He was no where near ready, which further exacerbated my impatience about getting to the club.
I followed Ethan into his room to lay on his bed and wait for him to choose the perfect look for our outing. Before he would let me enter, however, he put some items in a mysterious box and shoved it under his bed with a maniacal little giggle.
Finally, he was ready. And, admittedly, he did look good. He had just purchased red high-top sneakers and had built his outfit around them. He had diamond studs in his hears and his hair perfectly coiffed. We loaded up in my car and headed to Riverside.
The club was a dark building in a part of town I had never been to before. The parking lot was fenced in and the only defining feature was a neon sign that said "In Cahoots" with a neon Pride flag below.
When we entered, I showed my ID (so exciting!) and got stamped on the back of my hand. I tried to mimic Ethan's cool calm as we entered and took our seat at the bar, but I was so fascinated by our surroundings I'm sure I looked like Aladdin entering the cave of wonders.
The bar was in the center of the room, large and circular, surrounded on all sides by tall stools. Outside of the stools, there were small cafe-style tables and chairs that took up the rest of the floor. At the far back of the room was the dance floor. It was one single step up from the rest of the floor and was surrounded on three sides by wall-covering mirrors, similar to a ballet studio. Draped in front of the mirrors was electric blue, plastic, floor-to-ceiling fringe that would sway around with blasts of the AC. Hanging from the ceiling were several seizure-inducing lighting fixtures that would pulse and change color based on what the music was doing.
As previously mentioned, this was a Wednesday night so the club wasn't very full, but had enough life in it to keep Ethan's interest. It could have been empty for all I care. I was, as they say, "just happy to be here."
Ethan ordered his usual tequila drink and bought me a ginger ale and a bottle of water. Ethan knew many of the employees and it became clear that he was somewhat of a regular. I sipped my soda and looked around.
Suddenly, the lights went out on the dance floor. The few patrons who had been dancing took a seat at a table. A door I hadn't noticed before opened on the stage and a tall, sparkly figure emerged. She was dressed in a gorgeous evening gown and walked with the grace of a ballerina. Her makeup was big and dramatic.
She was the first drag queen I had ever seen (while I'm not certain which pronoun this particular performer preferred, I have learned that many of them like to be referred to by the gender they are outwardly presenting). Music to Whitney Houston's "Dance with Somebody" began and she began to lip-sync with great bravado and presence.
My jaw dropped. I looked at Ethan and he smiled back at me. I couldn't take my eyes off of her as a spotlight followed her around the club. She "sang" to everyone she passed and even danced a little with a few. She took her place back up on the stage as the song ended. She bowed as we applauded, then disappeared back behind the door in the mirrors.
"Have you ever seen a drag queen before?" Ethan asked.
"No." I replied.
"Well, they perform here all the time. Like every 90 minutes or something. It can get annoying if you want to dance."
I smiled and nodded, soaking in the experience.
Speaking of dancing, I pulled Ethan to the dance floor when a David Guetta song we both knew came on. It was amazing. With no mob of a crowd to push through, we were able to really dance, uninhibited by limited space. A few people got up to join us and before I knew it, we was dancing with a group of fellow Wednesday-night club patrons. As I jumped and turned and moved around, I imagined what a photo of this would look like. It wouldn't look too remarkable. It would just look like a group of people clubbing. I couldn't have been happier.
As the night went on, Ethan drank more tequila and at closing time (about 2:30am), he had to be escorted out by some of his friends who worked there. I walked him to my car and drove him home.
As the months went on, the Wednesday night routine of In Cahoots became familiar to me, as did the faces inside. Ethan and I talked more and more about our lives and what we wanted. When Ethan got drunk, he became very philosophical and found me quite profound. I told him that I thought Jay was cute and received a quick "No. Not Jay. He's not good enough for you. We need to find you a prince."
I wasn't sure Jacksonville had any princes for me. I had left go-cart boy in Provo and still struggled with letting him go. Sitting on a curb with my gay friend certainly wasn't going to get me any closer to finding love, but it seemed easier than opening my heart again.