What am I doing? Why did I sign up for this? How did I get sucked into this? On the other hand, this is going to be an adventure, a unique experience I’ll never get the chance to have again. Well, what if I don’t ever want to experience this! Oh well, we’re already here. Too late to back out now.
These were the thoughts running through my head as I made my way to Adonis. For those of you who do not know, Adonis is a gay bar (one of the more popular ones) and is located along Timog Avenue.
Having expected more traffic on a Saturday night, we arrived in Adonis earlier than planned. And so while we waited on the sidewalk for the rest of our blockmates and classmates to arrive, we had a chat with one of the workers from Adonis who was kind enough to share with us some facts about the place and the people, and also a few tips on what to expect and how to react when inside. He stated the obvious, that we were early but not for reasons we expected (like the rest of our class running late). We were early because people who frequent the place normally arrived after midnight. (We were there at 8pm.) He explained that customers usually come after 12 because that’s when it becomes “exciting”. This is because the dancers are fully clothed during the earlier part of the night but as the night goes on, so do their clothes. Surprisingly, he said that the customers are mostly women and they usually come in groups. They do have men customers too but, unlike the women, they prefer to come alone. Another surprise was that most of the dancers were straight and a lot of them had good businesses on the outside too, like a water refilling station and a computer shop. He said that even he was shocked to learn this and also kind of curious as to why they would still work as dancers when they already had successful businesses of their own. He guessed, “Maybe they like working here,” to which he followed up with a shrug as if to say, “to each his own.”
The man, whom I regret not knowing the name of, gave us advice on how to act when we got inside. To respect the dancers, he told us not to take pictures of them or to scream or laugh when we were shown skin. On a parting note, he said he was glad to see us there so that we could experience something different from what we are used to but he also hoped that he would never have to see us there again. He did not want us to fall into a destructive cycle, something that happened to a lot of the customers that visited there.
Upon entering the place, you are immediately blanketed by darkness and the pungent smell of smoke. I presume this is to provide customers with more privacy. As we walked to our seats in the back corner, we noticed the emptiness of the room. We were the only people there. I guess the guy was right; we were too early. We sat in groups and watched the dancers perform on stage. The dancers wore white sandos, tight shorts and boots and danced to slow, sensual music. After a while things started to get monotonous because the music being played all sounded the same and the dancers lacked variety in their dances. The monotony soon died when we were “treated” to a dance with a guy in only a towel, which he soon removed. My blockmates’ reactions were a mix of shock and disgust. Almost everyone was uncomfortable in their seats and there were even a few who chose to close their eyes and look away because they couldn’t bear the sight of seeing a naked man in all his glory. Because the “exciting” parts normally happened after midnight and we couldn’t (or did not want to) stay until that late in the night, the people in Adonis wanted to “treat” us to that so we could have a taste of what the place is really like.
A little while later, someone came up to our table to give us more trivia on the place and its people. We were told that the dancers normally make 60-80000 pesos a month. All our mouths dropped when we heard this. That was more than a fresh ME graduate usually gets during the first few months on the job! He added to our astonishment when he said that there are some customers who tip 20000 pesos in one night! We were greatly surprised to hear that they had such lucrative jobs.
The night ended when the first part of the program did. We all left because, as much as no one wanted to admit it out loud, we were all too scared to see what was in the next part of the program. We didn’t really want to see what the “excitement” was all about.
My initial thoughts convey all the negative impressions linked with cultures that are not our own. This is not an isolated case though. Upon telling my friends, schoolmates and relatives that we were visiting a gay bar for class, I got negative, rude and derogatory comments and lots of laughs. (The only person that gave me positive feedback was my Mum saying, “Oh wow! How exciting! That’s sure to be a great experience.” I got the impression that she thought I was going to a comedy bar when I said gay bar though so I’m not entirely sure if that counts.)
It’s hard to remove the impressions linked with gay bars and, actually, homosexuals in general because, although our society claims to be more open and welcoming of different views and cultures, we have to admit that some prejudices are so deeply ingrained in our society that we sometimes do not realize when we are already discriminating others.
These people are seen negatively in society and yet this trip has taught me that there is no reason to view them this way. They may have different reasons for taking on this line of work but they all put themselves out there, making themselves vulnerable, and this takes a lot of courage, something I find very admirable.
Despite my initial reservations, I’m glad I went on this ethnographic field trip. I have seen a different side of the world and have opened my eyes to a different culture, both literally and figuratively.
Carmela Nery, SA 21-T