Guest author Ryan Topping gives us another perspective on a topical subject…
I’ve had a couple of guest authors since the beginning of this site, but this is the first time that someone has written a companion piece to one of my originals. It’s important to note that Mr. Topping is a few generations removed from my own. He’s become an adult in a world where marriage equality and LGBTQ rights are mostly established (despite the current political regime’s attempt to undo them). Growing up in a more progressive culture undoubtedly impacts your point of view. But that doesn’t mean you’re oblivious to what’s come before…and what challenges still remain.
You may recall that a little over a year ago, Sam published this article in which he ranked Vegas male revues from a gay p.o.v. I discovered that article while doing research for my 21st birthday, trying to determine if there were any shows in which I could expect to receive attention. Reading his article was the beginning of a series of events that lead to us actually meeting in person.
Sam’s article was fantastic (and in my opinion will always be his most useful), but I wanted to write one that dealt with the subject matter from a slightly different angle. I’m talking about the personal realities of attending as gay man. Unlike Sam’s article, I’m not intent on discussing each show individually, but instead certain things that apply to all. These matters can be viewed as positive, negative, or somewhere in between depending on the person and situation. So here they are, in no particular order:
You Will Always Be In the Minority
It’s a well-understood fact that gay people are a minority in the world. In daily life this difference isn’t always felt, but that all changes when we go to a male revue. You’ll instantly feel like a minority. I believe that in almost every one I’ve been to, I’ve been able to count the number of gentlemen on one hand.
I’d like to make a comparison for perspective. I’m currently attending nursing school, and out of my class’s forty-six students, I’m one of only seven guys. Even in this female-dominated field, that’s still a higher ratio than at a male revue. The first few times I viewed this a major negative. Despite being a confident gay man, this made me feel less so. Luckily after a few visits, it became a positive and was perceived as something that made me stand out.
You’ll Have a Your Own Private Bathroom
This is an example for a specific show, but I love it so much I had to include it. Both before and after Chippendales you can spend time in the adjacent Flirt Lounge. Only ticket holders can access this lounge so there are at most a few males there. While there are girls constantly coming in and out of the ladies’ room, you’ll have your own private restroom. That makes it a great place to fix your hair, check your teeth and be sure your outfit is just right before meeting the performers.
You’ll Never Be the Primary Focus. It Will Always Be “Ladies Night”
No matter how progressive male revues have become, their focus will always be on the primary clientele…women. It’s impossible not to read or hear the words “Ladies Night Out”, “Girls Night Out”, “Bachelorette Party” or “Bride To Be”. I’ve never seen guys being addressed in either advertising or merchandising. The host will almost always refer to the audience as “ladies” instead of “ladies and gentlemen” or something gender-neutral.
Handshakes, High-Fives and Hugs: The Dreaded Three
At many shows you can expect to receive handshakes, high fives and maybe a few hugs…but not much else. At Thunder From Down Under that’s all you can expect. While attending Chippendales I’ve had a few experiences that extend beyond this, but the one notable exception is Aussie Heat. Their show was specifically created with inclusive treatment in mind. For guys, this is the one show at which you expect to receive some serious, meaningful attention.
You’ll Feel Grateful To Get What Women Routinely Receive
When women go to a male revue they are able to touch, grab and squeeze whatever they want on a dancer. For men, this is definitely not the case. Every little bit of attention you receive from a measly handshake to a high-five will feel like a privilege you had to earn…not something you have a right to expect. Yet the more often I go, the less it seems obligatory to be grateful for these things. Maybe that’s why I go so often? (ha ha)
You’ll Be Scared to Push the Boundaries
No matter where I am, I’m always concerned about not pushing boundaries. Women don’t have to be conscious of this at all. Most times I let the dancer guide where my hands go. I’m more independent and free at Aussie Heat, but even there I find myself being aware of it.
You Can Almost Forget About Going On Stage
When you’re a guy at Thunder From Down Under, you can forget about an onstage number. With Chippendales the best you can hope for is being roped up by the guys for their cowboy number…and that only lasts about a minute. For Aussie Heat the most I’ve seen is one guy onstage during a performance. The general point here is that you’ll be competing with every other man for that single opportunity, so your chances of participating are consistently very slim.
You’ll Get a Special Shout-out
This is another show-specific example but it’s one that means a lot to me so I’m including it. Chippendales recently added a special shout-out at the end for the men in attendance “because it’s all love”. When you have a whole room full of people clapping just because you’re present, that’s empowering.
You Can Share a Name With the Dancers
Full disclosure: I’m partial to this one because it directly applies to me. There are many gender-neutral names out there but the chances of a female audience member sharing a name with one of the performers is slim. It might not seem important but to me it does make a difference.
Chippendales dance captain Ryan Kelsey…
I share my name with two of the Chippendales – Ryan Kelsey and Ryan Worley (read Sam’s profile of Mr. Worley here). One of those two may even have even said that I’m one the Ryans in their life. Who wouldn’t want a Chippendale to say that?
With Ryan Worley…
They’ll Talk To You Like You’re “One of the Guys”
When interacting with the performers, you’ll probably be referred to as either “buddy” or the Australian equivalent “mate”. You’re more like your one of the guys than an audience member. This makes the conversation feel personable…as though they’re talking with you as a friend.
The guys also seem to open up more to other men. Recently I was expressing regret to one of performers who’d endured an uncomfortable onstage experience at the hands of a rowdy woman. He confided something equally shocking that he did to “get his revenge”. It’s doubtful he would have confided that to another woman but was willing to open up to “one of the guys”.
You Will be Remembered On Your Next Visit
You can imagine that the performers see hundreds of females each week, but at most a handful of male audience members. In practice this means more than likely you will be remembered. My personal example was with Chippendales, I attended the show in September of this year and returned to three months later.
On the first night I went back a few of the dancers remembered me…one even remembered my name. Since it’s one we share I don’t know how much of a factor that was, but it still made me feel great. I returned a few more times throughout my stay and by the end all them knew who I was. It makes you feel special to be remembered.
The acceptance of homosexuals in society has come a long way over the years. When Sam told me that he first saw Chippendales only four years ago, I was in disbelief. Did he really have to wait that far into his life to let loose and be free?
I’m fortunate enough to have been born into a more progressive time and was only twenty for my first experience of this kind. I was also shocked to learn that Sam would always be seated in the back. That has slowly progressed to its current state where men are often right up there in the front rows.
There were many gay men and women who laid the way so I could live in a more accepting culture. I hope that the amount of change and progress during Sam’s lifetime will also take place in mine. Fortunately for the challenges we still collectively face, simple pleasures like attending a male revue still outshine them all.
Photos: Ryan Topping