Swill Magazine Issue 5 - Out Now

As we walked down the stairs, we started to hear the music. Pulsating, throbbing, the walls moving with reverberations, the ceiling dripping with sweat.

Harriet Leigh


When I was 15, I looked eight. We’d designed our fake IDs using the brand-new Windows 95. The school printer only printed in black and white so we improvised, colouring the word “college” in with a green marker pen. We snuck into the school office to use their laminator and cut the results into rectangles using a pair of scissors. It was a sophisticated undertaking. Brandishing my new fake ID, I started going to the terrible clubs and bars dotted through the suburbs of London. 

That same year my maths teacher became my friend. James (known in his native Manchester as Gay James), glanced at my dungarees and shaved head and instantly knew all the stuff about me that I was yet to learn. James told me I needed to stop hanging around with these losers going to loser places, and that he’d take me to a proper nightclub. So he took me to Heaven. 

As we walked down the stairs, we started to hear the music. Pulsating, throbbing, the walls moving with reverberations, the ceiling dripping with sweat. There was a snaking queue at the bar, but everyone was ordering water. Giant bowls of condoms sat on every communal surface. Outside was a winter’s night in London, but inside people were nearly nude, dripping in the humidity. I did my first lap of the venue and passed two men laying on the stairs. One of their heads was moving up and down, as he delivered a blow job. He caught my eye as I walked past and I tried to project a look of nonchalance, cool knowing. I knew in that instant that I was stepping across the threshold of adulthood, and my gut told me you should try and look cool when you do that. 

We made it to the main dancefloor, and I started moving, swaying as a single mass with hundreds of other sweaty bodies. I still remember the smell. Smoke machines and Marlboro Lights, stinky men’s sweat and Lynx deodorant. In one corner of the labyrinthian club there was a chillout room staffed by queer hippies serving chai, next to the dark corridor where men were often fucking. The upstairs bar played something more accessible than the house or techno downstairs. One night it was disco. I was dancing on a speaker, euphorically, to ‘I’m Coming Out’ by Diana Ross. I was 16. The words “I want the world to know / Got to let it show / I’m coming out” weren’t just about a debutante entering the big grown-up world, they were about me. I knew the song, I’d always known the song, but I’d never really heard the song. The lyrics, about coming out, unashamed, letting the world know that I was one of these people. These incredibly beautiful, nearly nude people, were my people. Queer culture is about accepting everyone, enjoying them enjoying each other, whatever form they come in. Relishing in the carnal, refusing to bow to shame. Desires are valid, they’re what make you human – that most truly divine form.

I still seek out the escapism of clubs, but now, in my 40s, it’s a measly few times a year instead of a few times a week. Bars and restaurants are cool and all, but if you want to understand your place in the universe and speak to God, you have to dance until the sun comes up. Also, everyone there is getting blow jobs. 

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Harriet Leigh


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