And as with any first time experience, all I could feel was a mix of fear, excitement, nervousness, and anticipation. Layer upon layer of emotion kept building up, as time progressed from the afternoon until the evening.
The drive to the bar was somewhat nerve-wracking – I didn’t know what I’d see (or if someone I knew might see me there), if I’d get a boy and how he might look, and what could be done inside.
But Mary assured me: “Kahit walang pansinan o paki-alamanan. Wala ring lalabas kung ano mangyayari sa loob. (We won’t mind what each of us would do. Whatever would happen inside the bar would stay there).”
Arriving at “Home Base” around 10PM, we parked right in front of the bar, and it took some time before we left our cars. Checking out the mirror if the hair was all neat. Fixing up the creases on the clothes. Last minute spray of perfume. We all had superficial reasons not to leave our cars yet, but I guess all of us just didn’t want to enter the gay bar’s doors alone.
I remember my heart racing as we slowly walked to the well-lit lobby, looked for the gay manager assigned to us, and waited for a few minutes before being led through the lone wooden door that separated the bright wholesomeness of the outside world and the dark mystery inside the gay bar. After a week of waiting, and years of curiosity for me, we finally stepped in.
It took time before I got settled in my seat. I wanted to ensure that where our group sat was in a dim inconspicuous area but had a good view of the stage. I had to constantly look around, to see if anyone in the audience was a face I recognized. I wanted to project a cool, collected front of an experienced gay bar aficionado, but my actions revealed how I was an all naïve but curious virginal Maria Clara. The only time I started to relax was when the gay manager left us after explaining the rates and the rules, at the same time when I sipped the first of my obligatory two drinks and finished my first cigarette.
“So this is what it looks like,” I thought, after consecutive sets of macho dancers in their underwear finished their dances on-stage.
It didn’t look too seedy. The sight of shirtless men in their underwear and boots wasn’t as “bastos” or as “obscene” as I envisioned. “Ganito lang pala ito (It’s just this),” was the phrase I used when Mary asked me for my first impressions.
But then came the harder part – whether to “table” a macho dancer or not, and who among the 30 boys there would be my lucky partner. I’ve really been anticipating this part since the previous week, as I knew part of the full experience of gay bar going was getting a guy to sit with us.
“Kukuha ka ba? (Will you get anyone?)” Mary asked me.
“Hindi ko pa alam. Paano ba? (I don’t know yet. How?)” I answered.
“Pwede ka pumili doon (You can choose from there)” she said, as she pointed to the show room. But I quickly declined with “Nahihiya ako (I’m too shy).”
“Antayin na lang natin maya-mayang 1230 AM, yung lahat sila nasa stage. (Let’s just wait for 1230 AM when all of them will be onstage).”
While that idea excited me further, it proved to be more difficult to choose as I had spotted already a few of the previous dancers. When all of the boys went onstage during modeling time, I saw that there were more (and better) options, so I just made a mental note of the faces and the names of the guys I liked. Eto, cute. Yung isa, hindi masyado. Ayan, pwede. Ano pangalan niya? Eek, pangit yung itsura nung isa. Next.
After making my selection, affirming with my friends if my selection was “approved” by them, and telling the manager who that boy is, I felt my heart starting to pump faster again. All I could think of in that 15 minutes of waiting was “did I make the right choice?”
Then “Thomas” came.
As he sat down with me, I felt assured I made the right choice, at least for that moment. “Thomas” was 20, mestizo, short at 5 foot 6, with a southern provincial accent. I got relieved when he was like me, also new in the gay bar, about 2-weeks into the job.
But I could sense his shyness, with only one-line replies to my questions. So I had to step up and be more aggressive talking to him. Two hours into the discussion, I became more and more drawn to his smile and boyish looks. I knew our group would be leaving soon, but I wanted to pursue him further after we leave.
An idea lingered that entire night. I wanted to act on it, but maybe not on that night.
“Pwede ko ba makuha number mo? (Can I get your number?) I asked him, with all my confidence, and with the help of two bottles of light beer.
He gave his.
And that small bold action led to a brief series of events between him and me, which I am unsure if I am regretting now. And those particular experiences eventually led to future fearless experiences inside the gay bar, which led to my spiraling down into the darkness of the
Manila nightlife, into the lives of the macho dancers, into the industry of the paid-boy entertainment – in short, the previously unknown world of the macho dancing gay bar.
It was March 6, 2010 that started it all.
Learn more: Lessons from Gay Bars in Manila