Category Archives: Identity politics

I am bisexual for your amusement

Because, after all, that’s what bisexual means – just someone who’ll do anything.

It’s difficult to own to a label sometimes. I’ve been watching Big Brother 8 (UK) clips on Utube, cringing at the obviousness of it all whilst surreptitiously enjoying the permission to be a voyeur to a group of social exhibitionists. (Part of watching BB – and other reality TV shows – is this feeling of superiority. Everyone – the media, the viewers – tends to sneer at BB in Britain. The uglier side of this is sneering at the contestants: the banality and stupidity of their actions and conversations, the banality and stupidity of their identities. It’s rather worrying how easy it is to slip from the first type of sneering to the second. The metaphor of the stocks is hard to avoid.)

One of the most recent housemates is Seany, a man presented to us as so ‘wacky and weird’ that, on hearing his introduction by Davina, I wondered if he was made up. Although he probably isn’t, he has met both Hillary Clinton AND Wolf from Gladiators (not at the same time though, now that WOULD be weird.) Seany’s self-identification, in his VT, is that he has been gay “since last year.” After a day or so in the house, another male contestant was questioning him about whether he was gay or straight.* Seany didn’t answer this clearly enough for another housemate, so he was then asked whether he was bisexual. “I’m just Seany,” said Seany, which as anyfoolkno, is as good a way of ending that conversation as any.

Reader, I groaned. For I recognise the truth AND the inadequacy of that answer. Sometimes I have said it myself. Anyone who has desired more than one gender and been open about it will have experienced the question “WHAT are you?” on a sliding scale which goes from gently curious probing right down to vicious angry demanding.** Yet to answer “I’m just…me” is to avoid answering (and, I think, to imply that one is somehow above sexual identity; are all those gay- and straight-identified people not just ‘themselves’? Can Brian not just be Brian, does he have to be Gay Brian? Pah.)

I understand a little of Seany’s dilemma. He has already answered the question as to his sexual identity. That is, he used to be in heterosexual relationships, and now he is exclusively or mostly in homosexual ones. This is the most factual way to describe it: but just as the housemates’ reactions show, this is not considered an adequate answer. “Yes, but what ARE you?” – Modern western conceptions of sexuality demand that sexuality is an identity, not a behaviour. The identifying noun for Seany’s sexual behaviour is thus either gay (announcing an intention to solely desire men) or bisexual.

So what’s the problem with calling yourself bisexual? If it’s just a description of desires or sexual history….nothing. In fact, if it comes up in conversation, if someone asks, this is the term I use. I don’t want to have a conversation about queer theory and/or the problematically shifting nature of identity demarcation every time, especially if the person asking is just making (polite?) conversation… but I have to admit, I cannot get rid of some sort of shame about using that word. It feels like a defeat, a compromise, something inadequate. I know it doesn’t have to be. In fact, in a strange way, I would LOVE to be able to feel pride. But I can’t…too often I am painfully aware of the negative connotations of bisexuality. Female bisexuality as a spectacle. Male bisexuality as a dirty secret.

Programmes like BB reinscribe this stuff. Anyone remember Adele? She was bisexual, she was a black woman, she was painted in the media as devious, manipulative, questionable. I think this was largely due to the fact that we were all ‘told’ she was bisexual but she herself didn’t announce it, so much, in the house…nobody could ‘trust’ her, she got voted off. In Adele’s edited, public image, part of her “deviousness” was due to her bisexuality, part to her femaleness, part to her blackness (BB, by the way, has always been racist in the sense of the spectacle of the non-white housemates implicitly edited, reported on, talked about in terms of negative racial stereotypes. This has been going on way before the ‘racist row’ over Shilpa Shetty – remember Makosi? Remember Victor?)

Actually, the one to watch may not turn out to be Seany at all, but Gerry – the other male housemate who went in on the same night. A self-identified gay man, Gerry hinted in his intro vid that he fancies ‘a break from men’ whilst he is in the house. He might have just been flirting with the viewer. But it might also be his queer theory game plan! Oh – it’s too much to hope for, probably. But the idea of a camp-acting man like Gerry actually getting down with one of the women in the house – that would confuse the tabloids no end. I can see the headlines now…. “Gerry, what ARE you???” ***

* I’m not saying that only bisexuals get asked this. It’s often an occupational hazard for anyone even suspected of fancying the ‘wrong’ gender.

** This clip is also fascinating for Seany’s discussion of converting to Islam – the awkward tension and fading smiles (see: Chanelle) in response to THAT announcement was priceless.

*** Today’s summary of The Sun reveals a predictable ‘story‘ about Shabnam having “lesbian tendencies! That she isn’t totally honest about! Maybe even to herself!!!” A very odd blend of gay panic and prurient lechery, as usual. Plus, the tack they seem to be taking on Seany and Gerry at the moment is to describe the fact that they are both in the same house, plus platonically sharing a bed (hardly much of a choice BTW since this year, there IS only one single bed) as a “burgeoning romance”. This is actually hilarious.

The stumbling blocks of solidarity

Winter has been posting recently about women-only spaces, and infighting amonst feminists. She has an understandable reaction: she’s keeping out of it. (Not the women-only spaces, but the infighting). Blogwars being the latest symptom in our binary-riddled, politically polarised culture to illustrate why having to pick a side isn’t always conducive to progress, and can often be draining.

What is it with identity politics and infighting? It’s not just feminists who argue over the definition of feminism, although given the loaded way feminism has been represented in mainstream culture as either a monolithic sisterhood or a ‘cat-fight’ its no surprise that debate and disagreement can be a sensitive issue for the movement. Wherever people feel passionately about a subject, there’s bound to be dissent. So a major issue for feminists is: how to encompass dissent without alienating supporters?

In part, resentment and/or dissent often spring from the tension between the concept of group and the individual. Nobody likes being discussed as just a representative of a group, yet solidarity insists they must form as such to act as representatives within society. Feminism is an interesting case because the traditional (but contested) mode of entry – being female – is not a chosen category (not usually, anyway.) Recent blogwars were centred on trans and pro/anti porn issues, which is interesting. What do those issues have in common? They are threatening to the notion of solidarity, that is, of class solidarity/traditional notions of such: trans issues; because the issue of whether gender can be chosen, undermines the idea that women are bound together through something not their choice: sex positive feminism, or pro-porn feminists, because to the radical feminists who insist on the idea of ‘class woman’, and women as the sex class, again the notion of choice threatens the solidarity there. It’s dangerous to the consistency of theory.

The very term ‘feminist blogosphere’ kind of creates a false sense of unity. Each blog is an individual, or loosely/tightly associated collection of individual voices – virtual, real. It’s hard to tie them into types. Some blogs are there as a sort of alternative news source. Some concentrate on activism. Some on theory. Some are a focal point for discussion and debate, etc. And all of this becomes infinitely more diverse if one understands that some blogs are explicitly feminist, named as feminist, with a credo explaining the blog’s particular feminism, and some aren’t.

The problem, for feminists online, is partly to do with this issue of unity. The unity of feminism, as an ideology, is partly descriptive (following Foucault) and partly productive. In the case of blogs the descriptive part works in a positive sense, to give a sense of community and interconnectedness – feminists finding other feminists to debate with, and work with. This is essential for any political movement. However, a lot of feminists (who by their political nature tend to be kinda…sensitive to/questioning of the status quo) have a problem with the productive side of this discourse. This sense of ‘toe-ing the party line’, the pressure to conform which any discourse produces raises a fair few hackles.

I don’t see this as simply a problem within feminism. It’s a tendency which has beset all political movements, particularly those which have been countercultural. When identity politics are thrown into the mix, the issues become that bit more heated and personal. I think we are living in the age of identity politics as never before.

So the tension between ‘group member’ and ‘individual with overlapping affiliations’ is one thing. There’s also, I think, a danger when we consider that feminism is both a theory and a practise. The tension then seems to manifest around issues relating to activism. The question here is all about solidarity. How far should it go? How truthful is it? And is it necessary for a movement to enact political change?

I think solidarity is needed for activism. It’s needed for compassion, and empathy too; but solidarity in feminism has been a powerful and effective force. People have a great need to feel that they are not alone in their experience. When I read about, say, Islamic dresscodes in Iran, it is solidarity that enables me to know whose side I am on. Those women may be living in a totally different society from me, they may have different beliefs, and very different lives, but solidarity not only makes me want to work against their oppression – it also enables me to draw parallels and trace patterns in the female experience. I want to help draw attention to other women’s voices who haven’t been heard. Solidarity can be a great positive force for change and growth.

However, it does have its problems. I see those problems most starkly when it comes to theory, philosophy, and the investigation into human existence. For solidarity has the effect, if we’re not careful, of flattening and decontextualising the very group that it unifies. That is, I am a woman, but I am also many other things. My truth may not be your truth. My experience may contradict your experience. And so on.

Why is this a problem? Well, because, in order for a group to make an impact politically, it often needs to simplify its message, shape its message around and against the prevailing culture. (Think of the arguments around Jessica Valenti’s recent article). The way our political (and cultural) system works does not tend to allow for complexity. I think this is what happened, partly, in the post-stonewall Gay Liberation movement, for instance. The political arguments of GLBT (in those days, perhaps just ‘G’) groups struggling for political (human) rights have to be understood in the context of the prevailing political climate – which was extremely homophobic.

To illustrate this: there is an argument that desire is somehow ‘hard-wired’ into our brains. That we cannot change what we find attractive. It’s an argument which has been very important, politically, to many, especially the gay rights movement. It was needed, because while desire was described (after Freud) as something which one had been conditioned into, it was too easy for homophobic discourses to describe homosexuality as a disease which could be cured. (The history of the work of Anna Freud, for instance, who believed that homosexual desires were a result of incorrect socialisation, were bad for society, and could be treated in psychoanalysis.)

Understandably, many gay rights activists argued that sexuality was in fact an orientation, one was ‘born’ gay, and thus any attempt to ‘treat’ gays was not only wrong ethically, but cruel and impossible. This argument was not only crucial to fighting homophobia but also the way many people actually experienced their desire.

While I would not want to deny anyone their identity, I think that the fact that the arguments over the origins of (queer, but by extension, all) desire became politicised has muddied the waters. In political discourses like this one, the arguments become streamlined, forced into a makeshift dichotomy, and robbed of their original complexity.

What I am saying is not that desire is or is not ‘inborn’ but that, for a long time, and to a large extent still, consideration of this topic was/ is very affected both by the participants’ knowledge of the antecedents of this argument, and by consideration of the potential consequences. Thus, there is a pressure to believe one way or the other, depending on what political motivations you have, and the authenticity of one’s own experience (let alone that of others) gets further and further out of reach.

This – the expediency of activism, and the elision of experiences under solidarity – is very dangerous for theory. Not only because it leaves theory open to criticism, and allows later, the tearing down of it’s arguments, but simply because too many people are affected by theory (or rather, the effects of theory upon culture) in a way which is not truthful, and is restrictive.

Theory itself may also be oppressive, even within a liberatory framework. I’m thinking here of the arguments over transsexuality that have occurred within feminism (academic and activist). On one level, feminism should not be prevented from discussing the way transsexuality affects/enacts gender, and how this is to be viewed by gender theorists working from an explicitly radical agenda. ‘ Is transsexuality a subversive or repressive act?’ is not a question people should be afraid to ask. Indeed, transsexual theorists (feminist or non-feminist) themselves have long been investigating this and many other questions. However, what happened, or seemed to happen, with some feminists was perceived by others as an enactment of hierarchy, a creation of insider/outsider status groups relating to trans-friendly and trans-hostile camps. How did this happen? Was it simply a result of bigotry? Was it a legitimate standpoint?

The discussion that resulted from the issues over transwomen (a discussion that has been going on, in one form or another, for a long time, but in recent years was symbolised by the exclusion of pre-op transwomen from Michigan Womyn’s Festival) can be seen as useful to feminism in many ways. Feminism needed (and still needs, often and repeatedly) to have a conversation about womanhood, because of the ways certain groups of women have been positioned to ‘speak’ for all women – and the ways this has resulted in marginalisation and silencing for non-white, non-able bodied, third world and trans-women, as well as other groups.

So what’s the answer? Tracey has some good ideas at Unapologetically Female (as well as further links). I like the way she points out that diversity can and should be a strength, and also this:

“Ever hear that old saying that we learn in spirals instead of straight lines? We all have something to learn from each other, no matter where on the scale we happen to fall.”

The history of feminism, as written by the world, has been one of spirals, if you think about it. Women’s voices buried and elided by history, forgotten and remembered; the rights of women moving forward, and often back. But one of the most hopeful things about it is the solidarity that kept the voices and ideals alive, resurgent through times of struggle.



Identity politics and the internet

I’ve been thinking about this recently, what with the whole “woman attacked for daring to be a woman” most-recent-ish example in blogland.

What’s in a word, what’s in a name, what’s in a label? Aren’t they almost always for other people, so that their identification of you might be a little easier? Strange, it seems, the effect of the internet on identity politics. The internet, virtual; famously anonymous; people can be who they want, etc etc. Yet with identity politics, people have been very certain to establish exactly what their credentials, and identities are; helpfully adding selected details re personality, interest groups, political affiliations etc to their profiles.

Now on one level, this is because most people, writing blogs about a particular topic for example, are keen to speak to others who understand that of which they speak. This is crucial for things like fandom, finding others who share your interests etc. If you want to discuss the finer points of post 1977 punk groups emerging from the Estonian music scene, in English, then perhaps it helps to find friends and like-minded folk who are happy to discuss such things. Indeed, the internet is a valuable resource for people who previously have felt isolated or alone in their obsession/interest/whatever. Notoriously, the internet can connect two people with the most seemingly random fetish, although this is often a happy pairing or more, the media tends to only report on the shock! Scandal! aspects, like the famous cannibal case in Germany. I have a friend who argues that the internet ‘creates’ more paedophiles – or at least encourages people with taboo fantasies to feel somehow ‘supported’ in their actions when carrying those fantasies out in the real world. I disagree – I don’t think that one can ‘accidentally’ become a paedophile through the internet, or that the existence of other ‘supporters’ is necessarily a major factor in people’s minds when committing acts. It’s an interesting argument, though, since people can influence each other for bad and good – whether bad influences actually intensify each other to create more scope for bad acts I’m not sure. There’s an argument which goes, the evil of the Third Reich was so huge and hugely impacting due to the ‘chemistry’ that occurred between Hitler, Himmler, Goebbals and a few others – each man had evil in their heart, but the largeness of the evil that resulted was due to them knowing and redoubling the energy of that evil, through the interaction that occurred between the three of them.

I wonder about all of this, and the extent or influence such interaction has, and the way the virtuality of the internet mediates and affects that influence.

It’s a micro- (or should that be macro-?) cosm of the world, and just as people feel freer to express their opinion, especially if anonymous, so they feel freer sometimes to express their rage and hatred towards others. Or rather, towards the IDEA they have of those ‘others’ who have a virtual presence…

I also wonder about the way this ‘virtual’ world works to exclude certain people – the obvious exclusion of the poor, the illiterate, people who have no access to the web as well as less obvious things like the fact that the original language of the net is English, most things seemed designed for the already ‘savvy’ and the younger, more technologically educated and so on. So to say it is an exact mirror, or –cosm would be very incorrect; the third world especially, is vastly vastly underrepresented and actual, real-life ‘global’ perspectivism is elided.

But back to the issue of identification. Since it’s been much in the news etc re: woman bloggers, it’s a good time to address the issue of identification. Now, a lot of feminists have pointed out that there is a problem with women who don’t want to be called ‘feminist’ yet acknowledge that they believe in gender equality and in fact, benefit from the effects of the feminist movement. Since feminists hold equality to be their ideal, and the ideal of what feminism stands for, understandably they find it annoying that women don’t identify as such. It’s kind of a semantic issue as well, as feminism is often mis-represented in the media as being about hating men or whatever. I won’t get into the whole argument here. I just want to make the point that for ME, the idea of feminism being that women and men should be equal, and the professed goal of, say, men’s rights that men and women should be equal, seems to be subsumed into the idea of human rights – that all humans should be equal and so on. The differences come not from the goals, but from the identification of the problems impeding those goals, and the solutions offered…

I am very wary of saying that I *am* any “ism”. I don’t know why this is, but all my life I’ve held that the overarching thing is to ‘question, question, question.” Never just accept on faith what other people tell you to be true. Examine the evidence, go with your experience, even your feelings, but always question. This is not to say that one shouldn’t listen – as long as it’s with an open mind. (This tendency …possible contributing cause to me being bisexual vol. XVII no. 734).

However with something like feminism, I have to look at the historical evidence. Have you ever asked yourself or been asked by someone, “If you could have lived in any era during history, when would it be?” It’s fascinating question. My thoughts on this go something like: well, am I going to answer that question as myself? As in, would I be ‘me’ as I am now, physically, just born in a different time and place? Because, quite honestly, if I think about it the fact that I am female always comes into play! As a woman, I don’t think I can answer by saying any time apart from the present one. As much as I might have liked to live during certain fascinating or romantically viewed time periods – let’s face it, if I was anything other than a rich white man during most of them I would have probably ended up as a slave, a chattel, or at best, the wife of a rich white man!!! (I mean, there’s people who argue that things haven’t changed all that much now…) There might have been other times when it would have been good to be a woman, but I’m really not aware of them, what with history books being all coy on that subject and all.

So the reason for positive changes during MY lifetime, anyway… often, if not always, has those people to thank who promoted feminism in the past, who promoted the idea of equality. For me, directly, it was feminism, because I am a woman. For me also, it was those who argued AGAINST racial stereotypes and all sorts of profiling, which led to the eventual fact that I could live my whole life in England without ever encountering any real sort of barrier through racial prejudice. I could not say the same for my parents, who had a bit of it, or my grandparents, who had a lot of it. Our race? Irish. If you read that and thought, “but that’s White so what racial prejudice are you on about? Then my point is kind of proved. Irish used to mean ‘non-white’ or rather ‘non-english’ and this was terribly important to certain people who believed in innate racial differences between the English and the Irish, beliefs which were used in the service of colonisation and exploitation, the eradication of a language and the starvation of a people. The racial scale that was used then has shifted, so now skin colour is the more ‘important’ barometer in the categorisation of races – the scale shifts to whatever it is most convenient at the time. Irish people are now ‘white’, whereas they used to be something else.

Thinking about these historical shifts makes me wonder about myself. Truthfully, I would choose my own life from all the other times in history for the very selfish reason that until this moment in history, I have never been as priviledged as I am now. Yes, I might not be as priviledged as someone richer or male, but I most certainly am priviledged, as is attested by the fact that I can even write that sentence, in English, on the internet.

But this also makes me think about those other people, who, through the accident of fate, are born into bodies and situations which means they are still being excluded. You might well ask: who, exactly, am I talking about? What are they being excluded from? Isn’t it human nature to form cliques?

Who am I talking about: nearly everyone experiences some form of exclusion in their life. In different situations, people may be included or excluded from a group based on their perceived characteristics. This judgement is almost always made in reference to the excluded person being categorised as a member of another ‘group’ – a group that is seen as Other to the first, exclusionary group. Sometimes this is gender, sometimes this is race, sometimes it is sexuality, – all these things, the aspects of the body. Sometimes it is aspects of the person’s culture, their beliefs, religion and so on; aspects of their person. It is often less crudely about one aspect of a person and rather more about the way an individual may stand at an intersection of two or more of the aspects described. These are usually underlying. One can also say this works globally, with the first world and its relation to the rest of the peoples on earth.

What are they being excluded from: essentially, human worth. Recognition of them as a full human being, as infinite and various as any included member. From this follows all exclusions from: culture, history, material goods, care for the body and for the mind, sympathy, empathy and respect.

Isn’t it human nature to form cliques? Whether it is an inherent genetic trait or a learnt behaviour, the fact remains that it is not something which we, as a people, need in order for our species to survive. That is a massive lie which is told by those who hold power. The lie creates it’s own truth, and the situation resulting means that if power is reluctantly ceded by the powerful, those who gain power from them have often used it to perpetuate the lie under a different banner… Yet one has to remain optimistic in the fact that this is NOT inevitable, just likely…you will have to decide what is more important in the endeavour to live – safety, or truth? Also, if you conceptualise all power AS something to be ceded you acknowledge the fact that there is only one source of power. This is probably erroneous and in itself, creates an intensification of power. What do I mean? Well, if you take the issue of race and culture, you can imagine culture as this ‘thing’ – the history of western civilisation, for example, which includes all knowledge about the branches of human endeavour that the west has seen fit to remember. The majority, and in fact the pinnacle of knowledge, is attributed to individuals who are overwhelmingly white, male etc. If one says this ‘is’ culture, objectively, and it’s hard not to when you’re raised in the west, then one can conceive of a culture which may be threatened by the Other (non-white, non-western and so on) – or one can conceive of an attempt to make that culture more inclusive, by widening the net to include contributions from the Other. Yet the original conception of the culture remains the same – the way we think of its origin, its power. This way of thinking affects everything you do because it conceives human interaction as ‘give and take’. Is human interaction necessarily ‘give and take’? I don’’t know; but I do know we live in a capitalist world, where we are encouraged to see things like that, and value everything in terms of worth. One might consider capitalism to be the best of all systems, or the one best suited to human lives, but one must recognise that it is not the only system we can conceive of, and thus might not necessarily be a priori reflective of all that we are.

For my own description of the workings of power, see the post below: A Nightclub called Exclusion.

A Nightclub called Exclusion

It’s always easy for the people who made it through the door, past the bouncers, to slip their coats off and survey the dancefloor inside. Who wants to think about the people left outside? Let’s enjoy ourselves and dance! Life’s unfair – we should just count ourselves lucky to be allowed in and make the most of what we have. Some would say, that the people left outside were just unlucky – they came too late to the party, the dancefloor was already crowded, the bouncers can’t let everybody in otherwise the nightclub would become a fire hazard. Others might say: well, maybe, there’s a reason some people weren’t let in – maybe they were dressed wrongly, or the bouncers knew them as troublemakers…whatever, the bouncers know their jobs, and I’m sure the reasons are for the good of everybody already inside. Besides, it’s just NO FUN being part of a club that lets anyone in, right?

But history itself says: in fact, the rules on being let in are entirely arbitary as far as dress is concerned. The decisions of the Club are made based on what the Club considers to be in its own best interests. You, person dancing away on the dancefloor, may feel that we provide the backdrop and the company for your personal benefit: in fact it is as a business we operate, and as a business we want to exploit you for our own, continued survival.

We, the owners of the Club, know full well that dancing may be done anywhere, and that, truly, music is free, but it is not in our interests to promote that idea; in fact we will squash any mention of it whersoever it occurs. We want you to believe that those things do not ‘count’ unless they occur within our walls, and in order to persuade you to do this we use the usual tricks – official photographers, dazzling reviews, beautiful PRs, fashionable bands etc. We know full well that the ‘experience’ of dancing may well be as or more enjoyable on the outside, particularly if the dancer is (horrors!) unaware or unsympathetic to the idea of our dancefloor as the Only One In Town. We can’t actually make the subjective experience of dancing any different, so, instead, we will work with two main aims – 1. To ensure that the immortality of reputation is ours to bestow; that is, the promise that your dance and dancing will be remembered only if you choose to impress and express on our dancefloor and 2. To undermine your subjective experiences so that you come to believe that there IS only one choice…

The inside/outside nature of the Club is in fact created. The Club encourages all within it to view themselves as the luckiest of the dancers. In fact, to that end, it allows a glass window so that all within may view the envious faces pressed against the window. Of course, any actual violence on the part of the bouncers is always shielded from the Club patrons; it spoils the atmosphere of the party somewhat and is in the worst possible taste. Whispers occur as to its practise, but the official line is: those people were troublemakers wanted to STOP the party and ruin it for everyone, violence was the only solution, they were jealous of everyone inside, they were the ones that attacked the bouncers – crazy! –People are slightly fearful, and glad that the bouncers are there to protect them, and the Club. Yes, outside and waiting in line, those bouncers seemed cruel, scary and prone to violence themselves, but now the people are inside with a few drinks inside them and a warm fuzzy feeling, why! The bouncers are actually diamonds in the rough, no, really, they are the best of men, they are selflessly serving the people! Thank goodness they are there – how frightening to think that one might otherwise have to face those violent crazies who want to come in and harm us, the people!

And in fact this is true. The bouncers DO protect the people. The people inside the Club. Any irrational, violent tendencies are reserved for those bastards outside.

And what OF the people outside? The ones who, on the night in question, were not quite of the right sort? Did they really just come late to the party? Was it a matter of numbers? Were the clothes they were wearing too reminiscent of last year’s fashion, or a little too outré – a bit too ahead of the fashion pack – to be in good taste? After all, maybe they can’t even dance at all! Who’s ever seen them dance, or read a review of their dancing in the papers? Why do they even come, why do they even look through the windows, surely it must be torture to know they don’t have a chance of getting in? Haha, the fools!

But the Club isn’t stupid. In fact, it knows that those faces pressed against the glass, hungry faces, hungry eyes watching every move of the dancers on the dancefloor, are the very clue and reason for its continued success. Without that necessary audience, the dancers might falter in their steps (some do, anyway, put off by the constant gaze of attention). Without the long queue stretching outside, those inside might start to talk about the way the Club seems to be losing its cachet…maybe even ponder aloud to others the possibility of finding a new or better, more exclusive Club…

So the Club does all it can to keep the waiters waiting. Now and then, a bouncer will randomly stroll up and down the line, choosing someone in an apparently unguessable fashion to be pulled out the line and ushered past the rope into the club. Whispers, rumours pass up and down the line: soon it will be our turn, soon the very fact that now and again people from inside leave the Club to go home means that some of us have a chance of getting in if we wait long enough! (Indeed, they DO have a chance – if the Club decides that previously unfashionable puffball skirts are ‘in’ this evening, then puffball wearers will get lucky!)

And who ‘runs’ the Club? Who indeed? The truth is, it’s hard to know. Maybe it is those who have been dancing the longest. The people with reputations. The people with the most to lose.

Maybe there is no one running the Club. Maybe no-one wants to go and find out, in case it’s empty air.

You can imagine the effects this practice has on different individuals. Some inside have been inside for so long they forget there is an outside. They doubt its existence. They can’t imagine it. Some can’t forget it. Some try their best to leave, to disappear. Some are forcibly ejected from the back way – either to vanish without trace, or to attempt to rejoin the endless queue.

Some outside are happy to wait. Some aren’t, and try everything they can to get inside, or rage against the nightclub itself, try to kill the bouncers, try to bomb the Club. They hate the people that are inside for their dancing. It enrages them to see the happy unconcerned faces inside. Or: they hate the bouncers, the cruel arbiters of fate. They refuse to be chosen from the line. Or: they hate the Club itself, and vow to tear it down.

Some lose interest, or wander away, or start to form small dancing groups of their own. Maybe they even plan to build other nightclubs, away from this one. These small experiments are viewed with unspeaking gimlet eyes by the bouncers, who know that the Club cares nothing for insignificant alternatives. As long as the outside dancing isn’t admired through the window by those inside, in which case it will be moved or stopped. The Club is only really bothered if they become aware that another nightclub is gaining in popularity, fearing a loss of their own profits. They fear that the line might dwindle, or people be tempted elsewhere. In such cases, they move in, and employ various tactics to either gain ownership or destroy any rival nightclub. Maybe they’ll silence the music there, or stop the dancing, or infiltrate the club and create scenes inside to discomfit the patrons, scare them away. Or, maybe they’ll simply move in and buy out the management there, and turn the other club into a smaller version of their own. Who knows? Either way, the Club is able to promote itself, eternally, as the Only One in Town…