by: James Croft
They told me not to visit the Eagle. They were wrong.
Wednesday night in Vegas. The small string of gay bars – the “Fruit Loop” – is dead. The first bar I enter has less than five people in it, bartenders and I included. The second isn’t even open, and I’m left standing in the dry desert heat looking up at the garish neon guitar which adorns the Hard Rock Hotel, thinking I might crash.
Instead, I climb in a cab.
“Take me to the Eagle.”
The previous Thursday, one day before the opening of the world’s biggest Star Trek conventions (yes, I’m an uber-geek). The Crown Nightclub at the Rio Hotel is full of Starfleet Officers, Klingons, Ferengi – even the occasional Tribble. It’s an eclectic gathering, and the dancing, now, at the start of the evening, is cautious and inhibited. I’m not. I’m spinning round the room like a shuttlecraft at warp speed, the red of my Starfleet uniform (surprisingly well-kept after ten years of use) leaving a streak in the air behind me.
Few are following, though. Most of the menagerie is seated on long couches ringing the dance floor, sipping outlandish cocktails nervously while an intrepid few twirl with each other. The enormous club, nowhere near filled to capacity, seems to swallow up the trepidatious Trekkies, while the booming music is doing little to get people moving.
Suddenly, the room quiets. Rod Roddenberry, son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, takes the stage. To cheers from the crowd, he articulates his father’s vision of an accepting society, encapsulated in the IDIC, the lynchpin of Vulcan philosophy: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. Tonight, he says, there will be no judgments. Tonight, we revel in our individuality, our difference, our uniqueness. Tonight, everyone can be who they want to be, and will be accepted. With a stroke he turns IDIC into a clubbing mantra – no judgment, just life, in its infinite diversity!
Trekkies leap from their seats, and begin to dance. Red alert!
“Welcome to the Eagle, where all your fantasies come true!”
It seems unlikely. Despite Vincent’s warm welcome, the signs are not auspicious. The smoke is thick as London fog, small multicolor fairy lights lining the ceiling struggling to bring light to the gloom. A solid rank of men sit playing slot machines which line the bar top, knocking back beers. I’m ten years younger than any of them, and feeling out of place. I’m not always at my best in bars – my English charm is better suited to tea rooms and dinner parties – and I’m nervous.
But I’m here with a purpose. I push through the throngs to the second bar (oddly festooned with inflatable objects hanging from the ceiling), and approach a small counter in the back of the room, opposite a second bar with inflatable toys hanging from the ceiling. I’m greeted by Frankie, a tall black guy in a leopard-print bikini, with tattoos on both butt cheeks (a butterfly on the right, and a pair of juicy red lips on the left). He hands me a plastic bag, and moments later I return it, now containing my clothes – it’s underwear night at the Eagle.
I’m not self-conscious about my body – not since coming out last year, at least – but I don’t spend much time in the gym, I’ve never been a sportsman (I’m an academic – so sue me!) and I sometimes worry about how I look. Standing in your underwear amidst a group of gay men (most of whom have been drinking for free after shedding their clothes) can be an unforgiving experience. Some of the guys here are gorgeous, and excitement mixes with a little dread in my guts. I’m wondering if the pearlescent G-string was really such a great choice (“It’s Vegas!” is only a great argument up until you take your pants off, it turns out).
Frankie is my angel. As I hand back my bag, he’s already throwing compliments my way. His sassy, flirty innuendos boost me up just when I was starting to feel down – he even wants to take a photo! It takes only seconds, and Frankie – a guy I don’t know, a guy I’ve never met – makes me feel beautiful.
The dance floor beckons, and I buoyantly respond to its summons. Soon I’m dancing in the midst of a microcosm of all humanity. The tiniest guy I’ve ever seen – slim frame, short stature, with gorgeous brown skin and curled black hair to his shoulders – gyrates in a white bikini that is so small it’s hardly there. A large Latina girl gets in close, placing her hands on my chest, and we move together as she giggles with delight.
I spin away after a couple of songs, and am captivated by the dance moves of a sinewy African American man, his perfect, muscled ass framed by striped knee socks, a black tank top and bandanna, and a black, contour-hugging bikini. And he can move, bouncing from foot to foot, up and down in the splits, twirling and whirling while his head snaps from side to side.
Inevitably, he soon has to take a break, and we head to the small enclosed patio outside so he can smoke a cigarette, joining Anthony, a hip gay boy with large black-rimmed glasses, and Rosalinda, a trans woman. We’ve been chatting for a couple of minutes when the knee-socked dancer exclaims “I wish I had an ass like yours.” I turn, startled. Was that directed at me? Since he has his hand on my butt, I draw the obvious conclusion. For a second, I’m speechless – this guy’s ass is sublime, and he wants to trade it for mine?
“That’s funny,” I say, “because I was thinking the same thing about yours!”
“Mine has better shape,” he concedes, flexing it a little to make his point, “but you have more ass!”, emphasizing his point with an enormous, stinging slap, the crack of it reverberating around the small patio. I respond in kind, but Knee-Socks isn’t satisfied, and begins a short training on delivering an effective ass-slap: cup your hand, bring the arm way back, then follow through like a golf swing. He proffers his own for target practice. Our impromptu spanking session is only interrupted when Anthony breaks in with a polite request:
“Can we see your penis?”
It’s not the only time I’ll receive such a request that evening, though they aren’t always so politely phrased. Ron, a much older guy, gets a little too personal at the bar, his hands straying where they shouldn’t. A fully-equipped leather daddy, cap, chains and all, wants to suck me off on a barstool, and I politely decline. One man, in a red baseball cap, is even cut off and thrown out after pursuing me too aggressively.
And I feel wanted. I feel beautiful.
As my night draws to a close (the Eagle itself never closes – it just wears its clients out), I strike up a conversation with Pete, a skinny guy dressed in nothing but a pair of panties and a collar which says “pig”, handcuffs swinging from one of his wrists. He tells me how he likes to call himself “Kebler” (I presume after the elves – he looks a little elfin), and about the day he told his mother how he liked to dress, and how he spends his Vegas nights. It was hard at first, he says, but now she accepts him for who he is, even wants to visit him in Vegas. “But I can’t take her here on a Wednesday!”, he opines. “What would she think?”
I don’t know what Kebler’s mother would think. But here’s what I think: I think you’re beautiful. I think we’re all beautiful. Whether you’re Trekkie, Tribble, or Trans woman, whether your ass is small and firm or large and smackable, whether you’re a suited and booted leather daddy or a giggling Latina, you’re beautiful. You have value. You deserve to be respected and revered.
They told me not to visit the Eagle, but at the Eagle I found a powerful expression of the IDIC – Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, a place where we are all respected and valued for what we are, not judged and denigrated for what we are not. And if that makes me an uber-geek, so be it.
I’m beautiful, too.
James Croft is a teacher, researcher, actor, singer and a proud, gay Humanist. He teaches and studies toward his Doctorate in Human Development at Harvard University, where he works with the Humanist Chaplaincy as Research and Education Fellow. His work has been published in academic journals, magazines, and blogs. He is a board member of Join the Impact MA, a direct action group working toward full civil equality for LGBTQ people, and a tenor with the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus and Coro Allegro. He writes regularly at his blog TempleoftheFuture.net.