Until we filmed Golden Gays, I had never been to White Party - or any circuit party. I never attended because my years on the gay party scene pre-dated such things. I was a circuit party boy before the predictable annual calendar of international circuit parties even existed.
The circuit party phenomenon had its origins in the disco era of the late 1970s. I enjoyed those years in San Francisco, the great gay Disneyland of the once and future City by the Bay. With smoke-filled bars and discos jammed on weekends, smart promoters soon saw the profit potential of big gay events at large venues, featuring a personal appearance by one of the disco divas of the moment. The local favorite was the unforgettable Sylvester, and the best of those early San Francisco venues was Showplace Square, a to-the-trade design center south of Market Street.
Like the rest of my 1970s peers, I discovered Nautilus machines, sculpted a muscular physique, and dabbled in the recreational drugs of the moment. All were put into play for those early party events. I remember them as incredible fun. In those years I established my longstanding practice of always leaving the party at its peak. I would maneuver my way to the front of the dance floor just before the headliner took the stage; dance through the performance; sweat my way through one or two post-ovation songs; then exit. I would never be the sloppy mess still leaning on the bar when they brought up the house lights.
Those parties, like the circuit parties of today, were tribal rituals. And the energy of the tribe was, and is, transformative. The whole is more than the sum of its parts - parts that often reflect narcissism, body dysmorphia, and a dominant group identity that can stifle individuality. But standing now outside the bubble, I enjoy the benefit of perspective. I believe I understand.
The ongoing homosexual diaspora has no geographic point of origin. But like the Jews, we're a people of diverse cultural backgrounds who must create a place for ourselves in the world. Some of us are still forced from our homes by bigotry, intolerance, and religious prejudice that can be both malicious and life-threatening. Our global settlement process involves the creation of a homeland for our affections - one that affords us shelter and acceptance. We should not have to uproot ourselves to achieve this. Yet that is still the case in many places around the world. And so we disperse. We join a wandering tribe, settling in locations where like-minded souls may congregate without fear. In the process, we sometimes arm ourselves with the protective coloration of the tribe's evolving physical expression.
At White Party, with hair as devoid of color as my jeans, I was accepted by the tribe even though I was no longer an object of desire. And as I danced my way into the Palm Springs night, I recalled the moment in 1987 when I exited my last big gay party. Walking to my car through the early morning mist of San Francisco, a voice in my head acknowledged, without hesitation or regret, "I'm done with this scene." And I was; it was time to move on. I did not look back until I attended White Party, 25 years later. I was clearly out of my element, but the feeling was less a revelation than an experience of déjà vu.
I do not possess the physical beauty I had in my thirties. It was a beauty I wore with ambivalence because I knew the most valuable part of who I was could never be encapsulated by form. I also knew men were visual creatures and I wanted to arouse, and be aroused, by men. So I made a rational accommodation to the aesthetic demands of the marketplace. I moved with my peers, among but not really of the group. At White Party I found myself back where I started - portrayed and betrayed in equal measure by the parts of me that are visible.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
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