The News-Press celebrates LGBTQ Pride Month by publishing the following retrospective from periodic contributor Robbie Barnett.
In honor of Pride month, I share with you my very first gay club experience.
Picture it: February 2002. I’m 20 years old. I have spiky blond hair and my outfit was a topical “Free Winona” ringer tee completed with baggy jeans and black Sketchers.
I arrived alone at The Wave in Norfolk, Virginia on a chilly Friday night. There was a line outside and I could hear Cher’s “The Music’s No Good Without You” pumping inside.
I parked my car and started walking towards the entrance. I was nervous and self-conscious. Would everyone accept me?
I was meeting a fellow classmate inside. We sat next to each other in a computer class at the local community college and he was about 10 years my senior. His name was Steven and was the first out gay person I ever met. Of course I had a crush on him.
After paying the cover and getting large X’s drawn on the top of my hands to indicate I was under 21, I walked in as if I were Alice the moment she entered Wonderland.
It was dark and there were green laser lights bouncing all over the dance floor. I awkwardly walked past a crowd of regulars who were staring at me, but I could not see their faces. I stood in the corner and frantically eyed the place for Steven. I couldn’t see him, so I walked up to the bar and ordered a Coke. It came in a can with a straw. How charming.
Cell phones weren’t really a thing yet, so I could not simply text my friend. I scanned the room and was soon relieved to find Steven. He introduced me to some of his friends, including Miguel whose drag persona was “Lia.” This was my first time ever meeting someone who did drag, let alone was in drag.
Soon enough I had loosened up and was on the dance floor with Steven and Lia. A cute boy even came over and started dancing with me too. The rest of the night was a blur, but it was the most amazing night of my adult life up until that point.
I drove home feeling very accepted and happy knowing that I finally found a place where I fit in.
Within a few short months I would become a fixture at The Wave and for two years I considered that place my stomping ground. I met my first three boyfriends there, saw my first drag show, danced to the best club music of the day, and met many unforgettable characters.
Here we are almost 20 years later and while I have experienced so much in the time since, I will never forget the lonely naive boy that I was before walking through the front door of The Wave that very first time.