Prejudice is the child of ignorance.
– William Hazlitt
If someone were to suddenly go back in time and tell our high school selves that we’d someday go to a gay bar for a school field-trip, we’d probably laugh him out of the school building. Back then, we could hardly comprehend what being gay meant, much less be aware of what goes on in a bar that caters specifically to their needs. This reaction could of course be explained away by the excuse of youthful innocence – we couldn’t know about things we didn’t want to know about! Little did we know, something as deceitfully simple as willful ignorance could lead to something as destructive as prejudice.
We all acknowledge that a person’s social environment greatly influences the kinds of ideals and attitudes that he eventually adopts as his own. We are no different. Being raised in conservative Catholic Chinese families, we were often explicitly or implicitly told to think and behave in a certain manner. We had our doors shut to views which contradicted that of our own; we were blinded by the beliefs that built the foundations of how we view life, among other things. That is, until we entered college – a place where we began to understand and learn what it means to be a decent member of society, once we step out to the real world. During our Sociology and Anthropology class, one of the first articles we came across was Horace Miner’s The Body Ritual Among the Nacirema. When we read this particular piece, we couldn’t stop ourselves from reacting negatively towards the culture of the Nacirema just because it was different from our own. However, as we discovered the real intention of the article, we realized that we we’re wrong to have closed our minds so easily and quickly; we realized that our ignorance led us to form prejudices. As a result, we learned that to be able to appreciate the beauty of the world around us, we have to open ourselves to the different cultures and behaviors that make up what we call our home.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines homosexual as a tendency to direct sexual desire towards another of the same sex. As such, homosexuality becomes a very controversial issue; one that has been debated upon by many especially in the light of religion. And so, to better comprehend this growing sub-culture in our society, we chose to have our ethnographic field trip in an area that homosexual men are known to frequent.
As what was previously pointed out, before college, we admit that we would have had stereotypical judgements about places such as bars and clubs. We usually associated them to malicious acts and a lot of illegal deals. Thus, the mere idea of going to such places would be enough to create discomfort and unease among us. But now, after taking the course, we went to a bar aware that as ethnographers for a night, we must learn to put aside all our biased thinking; we became more open-minded and willing to observe a very different culture as we entered Adonis.
Located at Timog Avenue, Quezon City, Adonis is a well-established gay bar in Metro Manila. However, unlike most bars around the area, Adonis is quite hidden from the loud and bright nightlife. Only the nameplate of the place with two pillars on its left and right can be seen from the streets of Timog Avenue. Walking down the stairs leading to the gay bar itself, one will be welcomed by posters of shirtless men with toned and muscular bodies. The lobby or receiving area consists of only a table and some chairs; to its left is a double door entrance to the main performance area.
Upon entering, the first sensations that greeted us was the pleasantly cool air and the almost complete darkness inside the bar. The seating area was sparsely lit with the main lights focused on the rather large and wide, elevated stage and the door from which the performers enter from the back. Flashlights were used to guide the customers around the bar. Several Metal and wooden tables and chairs were placed along the back wall of the gay bar while couches and coffee tables were positioned very near the front of the stage. Another noticeable difference from other bars would be the aura of the place – music was not unpleasantly loud, there was also the marked absence of common dance floors that customers can use. Usually, mellow, pop ballads from the 90’s and 80’s accompanied the dance performances – perhaps to appeal to the pathos of the customers – and on occasion, some upbeat, techno music was played during the announcements before each performance. The more risque shows start at around 10 pm and the most anticipated performances (nudity) usually happen later, at around midnight. We also observed that the dancers have varied looks – Moreno, Mestizo, Tsinoy, Koreano, Gangsta, Boy-Next-Door, perhaps to appeal to as many tastes as possible. Various alcoholic drinks are served at relatively high prices, along with some snacks. We noticed that the prices of the drinks were differentiated based on the customer’s gender. Females were charged slightly higher for their drinks. Since the place is purely for leisure and entertainment, smoking is understandably not prohibited in Adonis.
Because a gay bar is primarily a business entity, its foremost goal is to earn a profit by selling the service provided by their establishment – entertainment. Doing this entails utilizing any and all means at their disposal, which implies that as ethnographers, we must be aware of the possibility that all or almost all things experienced at the bar is deliberate or intentional on the part of the establishment – such as the placement of the tables, mirrors, lights, stage, music,…etc.)
Being part of a bigger adult entertainment industry, Adonis also operates with capitalism as its system – using the customers’ tendency towards “pleasure addiction” to the business’s advantage. Total entrance fee per person amounted to Php 350, which included the entrance fee and a mandatory drink – usually alcoholic but there are other options. Also, employees and servers constantly kept track of the number of customers entering the bar to properly tally the payments. This process was implemented rather strictly. This scenario makes it easier for the employers to benefit from the willingness of the customers to spare no expense in order to enjoy their gay bar experience despite the over-priced drinks and extra fees for direct contact with the macho dancers.
As an employer, the people running the gay bar would also be mindful of the needs of their employees. Their motives can either be for humanitarian reasons or for business reasons. However, given the nature of the industry, it is more likely that the employers treat the employees “decently” in order to keep them “satisfied and mollified” (the goods must be kept in good condition). As a result, we hear about macho dancers earning up to Php 80,000 per month (according to the insider). Moreover, employees who gain the most earnings for the business (the most popular dancer) receives a car, a condominium unit and the title of Mr. Adonis, as rewards. At first, several of our fellow ethnographers commented that this isn’t such a bad deal – we were surprised to hear that the dancers could earn that much money from this establishment. However, after thinking things through, we realized that there must be more to this arrangement than what meets the eye. Spotting several VIP rooms along the sides of the bar, fully enclosed, discreetly tucked away and inconspicuous, we couldn’t help but wonder, “The dancers may earn this much, but at what cost?”
The macho dancers we observed that day were quite young. In their mid to late 20’s, they were at their prime. According to the brief comment shared by the insider, the usual reason why these dancers enter this profession is to improve their lives, financially. They are tasked to dance (in shorts, underwear or completely nude) and to entertain customers who have taken a liking to them (paid conversations) in exchange for financial security. However, there are also dancers who enter this industry for their own pleasure and enjoyment, regardless of their sexual orientation. Sometimes, this social environment also affects their romantic relationships – most are involved with numerous partners both within the industry and outside it.
When the DJ takes hold of the mic, the show begins. First, he would announce the names of the performers although we are uncertain if these are their real names. Each performance is composed of a pair of macho dancers dressed in white shirts and unusually short denim shorts with belts. Some wore knee supports – perhaps to prevent injuries from certain dance routines like pivoting on the floor while kneeling and gyrating on the floor. Others donned high boots. Then the dancing begins. At the beginning, both dancers slowly moved their bodies while flexing their muscles, in such a way that their physical assets are showcased. They would start at the back, then would slowly come forward and their movements become more aggressive, often using the poles situated at the front part of the stage. This continues on until the song ends. After roughly around 5 minutes of upbeat music and strobe lights, another performance takes the stage. There are 3 kinds of dancers – normal, bikini and all the way. These performers have their own reasons for choosing to do this kind of work. Therefore, we are in no position to judge them and what they do for a living. Despite of what jobs they hold, they deserve respect like anybody else does. What can significantly be noted here; however, is the boldness they possess to be able to perform such acts.
The insights and observations discussed above simply illustrate one way of looking at the adult entertainment industry. This point of view is just one of the many other perspectives through which the gar bay sub-culture can be viewed. We acknowledge that as upper-middle class college students and gay bar first-timers, our initial impression of the whole experience would be colored by the biases resulting from these characteristics. We also arrived as a big group, so the tendency to interact with unfamiliar people lessens. Given these factors, we admit that we may not have given a full account of what being in a gay bar truly feels like, we may not fully comprehend the various intentions and motivations behind the behaviors and attitudes of the members of this sub-culture. It would probably take more than just one night at a gay bar to fully understand their lives; however, this field trip served as an eye-opener and a good initial experience to the sub-culture present in our society today. Overall, we can honestly say that this was a very memorable experience. We were able to apply as much as we possibly could from what we have learned in class, in an actual scenario. The experience was undeniably different, and as we have learned in SA, different isn’t always bad.
Cua, Aibeemae | Erese, Chelsea | Ong, Jeanelle