vendredi, mars 27, 2009

Fantômette's B-day (part 2) at L'Hotel des Sens

After sleeping in a bit in preparation for a big night out, I headed to the market to buy a roast chicken (which has now become my fortnightly treat to myself) and then proceeded to feel very, very full. I barely ate anything else for the rest of the day.

I took care of some administrative stuff and also did some work on the revision of chapter two, but I also wasted a large part of my day trying to get my internet connection working again. It seemed to be a server-side issue, so all of my attempts were really for naught. The thing just came back online spontaneously.

Later in the evening, I headed over to a friend’s place near Châtelet, where they were hosting a little apéro in preparation for our night out. I met a few new people, got to talk to a few other friends, and had a surprisingly in-depth conversation with one friend about the music of Steve Reich.

I also had an interesting conversation with one friend about “party friends.” Arguing against the notion that “you don’t make real friends in nightclubs,” he told me about how he met his current close friends, all of whom he got to know at nightclubs and many of which were perfect strangers that he spontaneously engaged in conversation. I’m going to have to corner him for an interview one of these days…

So…… Hoooooo @ L’Hôtel des Sens

OK, I’ll admit that the name of the event doesn’t translate well into English, but you’ll have to trust me when I say that it was a big hit. This was apparently the last “regular” night at this location, which is returning to its usual function as a swinger’s club.

The evening itself was pretty much a non-stop series of intense conversations with friends and strangers (plus a fair bit of drinking), so I’m not going to recount everything. Nonetheless, here are the highlights.

I had a long conversation with a girl that I used to see in the techno scene back in 2006-07, but who was pretty absent from this scene this past year. I remembered her as being adorable, effusive, tactile, and talkative—all of which was still true. She was still really interested in my dissertation project, we talked about that a length, as well as more mundane topics like how much she hated her current job, the difficulties of relationships between people of different ages, and so on.

Right as we were finishing a conversation on tactility and touching norms in nightclubs, Julie Dragon appears in front of us. She was apparently going to do a burlesque / striptease / fire-eating act in a few minutes, so she was walking around the floor, throwing fake rose petals while wearing 3-inch stilettos and a bright read leather corset. My friend gave her a playful pinch on the butt, and Ms. Dragon did not like that one bit. She turned around, still smiling, and proceeded to rip my friend a new one for touching her. My friend apologized, saying, “Look, I thought you were a guy [i.e., drag queen], and they generally react differently to that sort of thing.”

That explanation didn’t go over well, either, but she (my friend) had a point. She had a set of assumptions about what sorts of touch were welcome, permitted, or at least tolerated, based on the nightclub context, the composition of the crowd, and the gender-expression of the person in front of her, while Julie Dragon had her own set of assumptions and expectations that were influenced by the fact that she saw this setting as her workplace. Both of them saw their expectations put into question in this interaction, although Julie Dragon had the institutional weight of the club (as an employee for the evening) on her side.

What was also interesting (and unfortunate) was how this totally deflated my friend. She was angry, hurt, embarrassed, confused, exasperated, several other things, but mostly there was a feeling of disappointment that the tenuous and vaguely-defined interpersonal links that hold a crowd together had evaporated so quickly.

A couple of hours later, I was dancing downstairs and this guy approaches me and says, “Hey, I know you! We’ve met before somewhere…” It took me a few minutes, and then I recognized him as the boy from Toulouse that I met at Batofar nearly six months ago (not the one I made out with, but the one that constantly appeared to be getting it on with his friend). I managed to remember his name, his occupation, and even where he was from, which seemed to impress him. I told him about how the night that we had met at Batofar had become an important ethnographic anecdote for my research, which he found pretty amusing.

As some random girl started rubbing up against him and he got nervous (he has a girlfriend at the moment), we talked about male-male tactility again. He pointed out that he and his male friends would get frisky with each other precisely because there wasn’t the (perceived) danger of cheating on your girlfriend, having an unwelcome advance turn into accusations of sexual aggression, or even have casual flirtation be mistaken for a promise of sex. “On se chauffe, et c’est tout” he said (“We get each other hot, and that’s it.”), claiming that these homosocial/erotic/sexual/whatever interactions allowed him to have fun and experience certain kinds of sensual pleasure while avoiding the risks associated with heterosexual courtship. Of course, there’s the risk of being mistaken for homosexual, having his tactility be read as desire (probably why this happens mostly between friends), or even letting the playful eroticism spill over into a more sincere homosexual encounter (Boys Gone Wild!™), but those were risks that somehow seemed affordable to him and other Parisian boys like him—which marks a pretty big difference with most American/Canadian guys I see at clubs.

By 5h30, I was tired and ready to head home, but every time I did, one of my friends physically dragged me onto the dancefloor and stuck a drink in my hand. I did eventually manage to escape their attentions and get mysef on a bike back home, but boy was I wrecked.

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