My friends and I belong to a lost group of people who came of age in the year 2000. We are not accurately labelled in sociological terms, and we’re a bit self-conscious about it. We fell down the crack between the hairy buttock of Generation X and the smooth and twitchy cheek of the millennials. We had the internet, but we went to EasyEverything cafes to get it. We listened to OutKast and All Saints, and we worshipped Eminem – we still prefer to separate his mad rap skills from his unsavoury opinions.
We spent our time in hip-hop clubs and wore very large trousers that sucked the rain up to our knees by osmosis. We danced in circles with our arms slung low like rappers, in a way that would probably now be considered cultural appropriation. We were politically motivated but politically incorrect. And we did not value ourselves at all: we’d emerged from school shellshocked and were simply relieved to be getting a second chance at social life.
When my friend and I went to Manchester last weekend, we decided to do some clubbing to see if we still “had it going on”. He booked two tickets for a new queer night near the university, and in our urgency to dance – we’d been watching Haddaway on YouTube in the Airbnb before we went out – we were the first on the floor, buzzing on Kronenburg, while groups of younger people chatted quietly downstairs in the bar.
The empty, white dancefloor was scattered with balloons, which didn’t bode well for the kind of dancing we do. We started jumping around anyway and my friend found a Hawaiian flower garland, which he placed round his neck. The room filled with students, but we barely noticed because they were so quiet compared to the students of our day – not drinking much and not apparently on drugs, judging by the gentle way in which they shifted from foot to foot in time with the music.
On the stage were two large men of about our age with beards the size of shovels, naked apart from leather shorts. They were the masters of ceremony for the night – but maybe they too felt the mini-generation gap, thin but powerful between us. One of them held out a bottle of poppers and, like big children going to sit on Santa’s knee, two of us shuffled up to the stage for a hit while the crowd looked on. The other wielded a bottle of Absolut, crying “Let’s get wasted!” – but no one really got wasted. He announced a dance-off – and we were thrilled, because back in our day we went to loads of them and pretended to be Julia Stiles in Save The Last Dance.
The floor cleared and the first competitor was a man in a smart jumper and wristwatch who flopped on the floor like a fish. The MCs quickly named him “Amex V-Neck”. His performance was challenged by a large trans man in beautiful green eyeshadow. He threw himself on his knees, pulled down his shorts to reveal his bare bottom and embraced the event as though he were in a small club in the Weimar Republic. The winner was judged by size of the applause – and the crowd chose Amex V-Neck. That was the first surprise of the night.
A young man had been eyeing us for hours, smiling and watching so closely that eventually I went to the toilet so he could approach my friend.
When I came back, my friend was dancing alone again, rubbing a balloon on his head to create static.
He looked a little delirious.
What had happened, I asked?
“He didn’t like my personality!” he cried.
My friend told me that he had taken off his Hawaiian garland and wrapped it round his fingers while dancing, shouting: “Do you remember cat’s cradle?!”
His suitor had replied: “I’m just going for a cigarette.”
Even now, the former admirer could be seen a few feet away with his back to us. He’d quickly moved on.
We wondered, perhaps we really have lost it? Perhaps, when approaching people in clubs today, young men like ours are auditioning serious life partners?
“To be desired, then rejected for my shit personality is almost freeing,” my friend observed.
It’s the generation gap, I said.
This article appears in the 30 Jan 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Epic fail