Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Scent of a (Macho) Man

Studies have shown that there's a link between memory and scent. A certain smell can remind us of a particular memory or specific feeling. That can also be true when you go to gay bars.

This past week, I visited "Kingdom Come"* alone, and got "Russell". He's 23, 5'10, with a shaved head and the face of a baby in a body of a veteran macho dancer. Apparently, he was, as he started four years ago in the same bar, but stopped to search for work in Dubai. Less than a year there, fate cost him almost the P300K from his earnings in the gay bar, with an expiring visa, and without a job. So he returned to Manila last year, and started again in this bar just this past December.

In the middle of our conversation that night, he excused himself as he was next in line to dance on stage. After his routine, he came back, slightly perspiring but now with a scent that I commended as "smelling good." I told him I'd guess what his scent was. It was too familiar. It was Clinique Happy for Men. I was right.

His choice is so different from the typical perfumes or colognes used by macho dancers or hostos in the industry. Of course, smelling good is important in their work, as they wouldn't want to be smelling of perspiration or body odor while seated beside a customer. So the use of fragrances is in order, also as an agent of strong but subtle attraction. The most commonly-used perfumes in almost all gay bars are the cheap ones which fit the daily allowance of a macho dancer, namely Afficionado, Bench, Penshoppe, Axe. These have a common sugary-sweet, slightly musky smell that one can easily recognize, not only in the gay bar, but also while seated inside public transportation, lining up in the grocery, or eating in a fastfood outlet. 

Then, there are the name-brand ones. Banana Republic. Bulgari. CK. Giorgio Armani. These are usually given as gifts by their guests. As the boys know how expensive these perfumes are, most would scrimp on using these, as they never know if they'd still ever receive such a pricey gift. Of course, their friends in the bar would always borrow their fragrances, and the branded bottle of perfume ends up half-empty by the following month. Because of this, macho dancers always say, "hindi ko na iiwan yung pabango sa locker ko. Nauubos lang kasi maraming humihingi. (I won't leave the perfume in my locker anymore. It gets consumed quickly because of too many borrowing it)."  But they never do, as they would never know when they'd be tabled with another customer. 

Russell of course was using a branded cologne. It's his favorite, and has about 8 to 10 empty orange-colored bottles lined up at a table in his room.  

However, what's so unusual for me about Russell's Clinique Happy for Men was that I never remembered anyone else in the bar using the same brand I use. I have around five perfumes, but the one I keep inside my car is that same fresh citrusy-scented orange-bottled brand Russell is using. It's kept there in case I go to a gimmick after a long day's work. But usually that gimmick turns out to be a skemper-going night out to a gay bar.

So I smell of Clinique Happy every time I am in Home Base, Neighborhood, or Kingdom Come. (That doesnt mean if you see a gay guy in his mid-20s in a gay bar smelling of this specific citrus scent, that the guy's me).

And now I might connect that light, fresh citrusy smell to Russell.

According to Russell, he remembered that his first bottle was given to him by a former gay customer years ago. That same customer made him one of the top macho dancers in Kingdom Come for months, before Russell left and went to Dubai. He also fondly recalled his memories on being at the top -- how he had a title from an event in Kingdom Come, how he earned his 1st runner-up trophy in an inter-gay-bar competition, how earning P3,500 a night was so easy. Then he proceeded to share how cheap the real branded fragrances are in Dubai, because of the low tax. But then he couldn't afford to spend too much, as he was quite desperate to look for work because of the global recession. He came back to the Philippines after some time, without any work, any phone (as he lost his phone and all his contacts in Dubai), any cash. He returned to the gay bar, back to zero customers, back to square one. And I assumed the half-empty Clinique Happy in his locker right now is one of his remaining hopes for a better life this year. 

With our brains linking scents with memories, I am now afraid to think that I will forever link Clinique Happy as my "official gay bar scent." Ten years from now, I may be in the duty-free shop in an international airport in a far away land, and sample the classic Clinique Happy on the shelves. Smelling the scent may bring me back to 2010 with all the memories of my night outs, my endless spendings, my highs and lows, my kilig moments and my heartaches in the gay bars of Manila. I may even be reminded of that specific night of Feb 2011 when I tabled a guy whose name I might not recall anymore but whose favorite scent I might remember as the same one I was using back then.  

I still have an unfinished bottle of Clinique Happy in my car. Maybe I'll just give it to Russell as a gift. Or to another gay bar macho dancer I will really fancy in the future.

GB Goer
Learn more: Lessons from Gay Bars in Manila
email:; Follow at twitter: @gbgoer


1 comment:

  1. may alam po ba kyo na nagtuturo ng hosto dance?


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