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Bryan is a man I jokingly refer to as my “gay uncle”. He and his husband (my other “gay uncle”) were in London on Saturday, and after dinner drinks and picking up one of their bodybuilder friends from his gorgeous apartment on Sherwood Street, we made our way to XXL.

You know those cliche gay clubs you see in American sitcoms where the men are all shirtless, muscled and gyrating to awful club music? That’s XXL.

I suppose a part of me hoped that the two “gay uncles” and I would end the evening in their hotel bedroom, but it soon became clear they had their eye on another target – the bodybuilder friend. He was tall, very muscular, and charming. But somehow, I couldn’t stand him. It was like when someone has a smile too wide or a body that’s too perfect, and they stop looking human. That was him. It was like the ego had replaced the character, until that was all he was; vanity personified.

It also reminded me why I hate clubs. There’s something interesting about them, though. When you’re half-drunk and the whirl of life is going on around you, it’s like the outside world doesn’t exist. For that one night, for those few hours, you’re playing by a different set of rules in a different society. Like all societies, there’s a hierarchy, there are those at the top and those at the bottom, nobles and peasants, winners and losers. But the point is, everything is heightened. A brush on the shoulder, a graze of thigh, a conversation – the tiniest gestures can take on a life and meaning of their own. We somehow read in and take more to hear than we would otherwise. We dismiss the massive and see the emotional details between lines we didn’t even know were there.

It’s a world to inhabit for a time, before we re-emerge from the dark, sweaty basement and back into the cold grip of reality. I could only feel thankful that my reality was more desirable than the darkness I’d left behind. A world of cliques, cocks and bare chests. For some people, that’s what they want. For myself, a part of me couldn’t wait to leave it behind. It was like I’d stepped into a world where there was no compassion, only judgement. No romance, only lust. No delicacy, only desire. Everything was raw and harsh and hurtful.

I wasn’t going home with them, but Bryan took me aside and told me how special I was to them. although I’m not their real nephew, although they live in Sweden, they’re very protective of me. My lustful side may look at their bodes with longing, but my emotional side knows that we have something far more intimate, and far stronger.

I walked through the city a dawn, watching London wake up. Perhaps its the alcohol, lack of sleep, heightened emotional sensitivities or a combination of them all, but my thoughts tumbled one over the other. I felt the high of dancing for hours on end, but I didn’t like what I’d seen. I wondered things that usually lie dormant, dreamed about things I thought I’d laid to rest and wanted things I know I won’t ever have. It was like I’d glimpsed int a different world, a world of smiling snakes and Adonis-like bodies. When I had my first visit to XXL, I’d come out saying how much I’d loved it. I realised that had been a lie, a lie to myself most of all. It was a vile place, and not one I’d be venturing back to in a hurry. Nights in with friends or a simple TV and pizza with those you love may be far less glamorous, but in a way it made me realise it’s much more real. It doesn’t evaporate like the smoke and sweat of a grotty club: what’s left remains in your heart far longer.

For the record, my gay uncles didn’t take the bodybuilder back to their hotel either. Judging by what I saw, his vanity got the better of him.

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