In the most recent issue of The White Review, a literary magazine published in London, writer Julia Bell narrates an emotional evening spent at Berlin’s storied techno club Berghain. Despite its growing mainstream popularity, Bell frames Berghain as fundamentally a queer space, where queer social relations and queer temporalities thrive. In her moving piece, she describes the waves of emotions—from ecstasy to grief to joy—she felt while dancing among strangers for a few hours. Here’s an excerpt:
The bouncer smiles. ‘How many times have you been here?’ he asks in English.
I wonder what to say. None, many, a few. I wonder if I should lie. I know I’m showing my age. At 45 I look lived-in these days. Perhaps I should know better. Now I am entering middle age I should know my place, and restrict my public dancing to the occasional house party where, if I’m lucky, after too many glasses of Prosecco someone will spin me round to something with a Nile Rogers bassline and my heels will get stuck in the carpet.
I came to Berlin partly to escape this, which is, like a lot of things, more pronounced in the UK than in Europe. Single, still strong, childfree, I have a freedom and a flexibility unavailable to many women my age. My childfree status is my liberation, but it also puts me out of time with some of my peers, and the general, oppressive, conservative narrative of what we should be doing when. Especially as a woman, and even more especially as a queer woman.
Judith, now Jack Halberstam and others have argued that it is not our sex acts which constitute queerness, but rather what we do with our time. S/he suggests that we ‘try to think about queerness as an outcome of strange temporalities, imaginative life schedules, and eccentric economic practices,’ so that we can ‘detach queerness from sexual identity and come closer to understanding Foucault’s comment in Friendship as a Way of Life that “homosexuality threatens people as a ‘way of life’ rather than as a way of having sex.”’
This is what the many – hilarious – websites which obsess about how to get into Berghain don’t get: this is primarily a queer club. And you can’t really pretend to be queer. Perhaps it’s something you can become, but mostly it’s something you just are.
In the end I say nothing. The bouncer nods me in. And as always, the ego lifts.
Image of Berghain via mixmag.