By Jay Ray | @jayrayisthename
It was 1998 when I first went in there.
I bought my first Amtrak ticket to Washington DC’s Union Station. I was going to meet my new friend who I met on the internet. Back then, the hot chat site was WBS and Black Gay Chat was where everyone chatted. To explain, once upon a time Black gay and bisexual men would log onto the internet through a telephone land line. They’d use Netscape or Internet Explorer to log into a group chat. These humongous pictures would accompany each person’s profile, and you’d proceed to chat as a group or sometimes sneak into private chat.
It was a different time.
Well, I’d arranged to meet Leon for the first time, and we were going to the club. It was my first time visiting a gay club, and I was equally exhilarated and terrified. Coupled with the fact that I was headed to a strange city to meet a strange person and spend the night at their apartment. There were a lot of firsts here.
I arrived at Union Station and we headed back to Leon’s studio in Baltimore. We were having an awesome time! He was not only smart, he was fun to be around, and I needed that comfort since I was going to be doing this club thing for the first time.
I got dressed. Who knows what I wore. I am sure it wasn’t very fashionable, but I was wearing it, and it was time to drive down to DC. I had no concept of how far DC was from Baltimore. Growing up in Chester, you could hop down to Delaware or over to New Jersey within minutes, but I remember driving down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway dancing and singing along to whatever Euro-soul we both were into at the time.
There was a dim light over the space, and I could hear the music.
The Delta was in a corner, in the back of some strip mall. I remember it being extremely dark outside, and this feeling that the door to the club was very heavy. I paid my money and I went in. House music was playing, and there was a metal piping sort of stage thing. It was dark, and all I could see were strobe lights and moving sweaty bodies. There was a distinct smell in the space. Not funk, not sweat, but almost a sweet spring breeze smell.
I was overwhelmed.
I’d never seen so many Black men dancing together. I’d never seen so many chiseled sweating bodies moving to music.
I was afraid.
The Delta didn’t have many ways in or out of the club. In fact, I remembered one door and one door only. What would it have been like had violence broken out? How would I have escaped? What if I couldn’t? My family would find out I was in a gay club. My family would find out I was gay. All of these things ran through my head that night.
The beat hit me.
After my nerves calmed down, I settled into dancing. I didn’t dance with anyone specific that night, but I had a good time, so much so we did it again at another club the following night. I was rebelling against convention, and doing it on my own terms. I was learning how to be myself and how to interact with other men who were like me. It’s one of the fondest memories I have of those early years of accepting my sexuality. That space, that experience is sacred. It was the first time I was myself.
I lived that night.