Beijing’s nightlife has a lot to offer. But what if you are gay?

By Katrin Büchenbacher Source:Global Times Published: 2018/5/16 14:38:40

Thursday nights at the Red Dog Bar in Sanlitun have become the place to be for the LGBTQ community in Beijing. Photo: Courtesy of Zoey Zhang

Through a curtain of golden tinsel, a topless Mona Lisa seems to look after the cocktail-sipping crowd from her painting like a patron saint. Two men are sitting so close together that their arms and legs are touching. The DJ shakes rhythmically to the sound of his electronic dance music, and the air smells faintly sweet and sour like tequila mixed with strawberry juice.

Then, I see her - Wonder Woman. She is dancing a slow, seductive dance, wrapping her hips up and down a closed umbrella and swaying them in round circles in a tight blue skirt.

The woman dressed up like Marvel's fierce and sexy female superhero calls herself Britney Bradley. She was born a male.

"I'm gender fluid," the young Chinese says. "Sometimes I feel like I'm a male. But sometimes I also like to feel like I'm a female," she explains.

Kris is one of Beijing's famous drag queens "Krystal de Canteur." Photo: Courtesy of Zoey Zhang


We're at Red Dog, a small little boutique bar in Sanlitun's underground; you can see it is not exactly a place you would accidentally come across.

Luckily, the purpose for the visit is crystal clear - finding out where the LGBTQ people dance in Beijing. It has been said that Red Dog's Thursday nights have become a hot spot in the local LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) scene.

However, the owner of the bar Jack Ren emphasizes that what they are doing is not a "gay night" and that Red Dog is a "normal" cocktail disco bar from Friday to Wednesday.

"I always insisted Thursday nights being an LGBTQ plus night," he says. "Everyone is welcome; we open our doors to all the communities." Indeed, he adds, while gay people make up the majority of patrons, many straight people and people with sexual curiosity also join the ranks on Thursdays.

Where do I count myself in? I realized that I could feel attracted to girls when I was in my early 20s. At the time, I was already in a serious long-term relationship with a man, so I did not see any use in exploring this newly-discovered attraction. I have always been curious and supportive of the LGBTQ community, but I never felt I belonged to them.

When I moved to China, it started a process of slowly acknowledging all parts of my identity. So, as people across the globe celebrate the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT) on May 17, I decided to connect with the LGBTQ people of Beijing.

Chloe  Photo: Courtesy of Zoey Zhang

Britney Bradley  Photo: Courtesy of Zoey Zhang

Red Dog owner Jack Ren  Photo: Courtesy of Zoey Zhang

Edoardo  Photo: Courtesy of Zoey Zhang

Magical love

People come to Red Dog on Thursday nights for all sorts of reasons. Chloe, a young Malaysian expat, is here to support the LGBT community, as a family member of hers is part of the scene.

"It's already really hard to find love in terms of just being straight," she says. "The people who can find love with the same sex, I think that's a really magical thing."

Kris, a long-term expat, born in Sweden, comes here because he knows everyone. More precisely, everyone knows him, as he is one of Beijing's famous drag queens "Krystal de Canteur."

His first time in drag dates back only two years.

"I almost died because of my high heels," he says. "They were pointy shoes. That was a big mistake."

While the community celebrates Krystal's mesmerizing performances, his fiancé is less enthusiastic about Kris dressing up as a glamorous dame.

"He supports me being happy and he supports me being able to do what I do, but he does not really support drag," Kris says.

Being yourself

LGBTQ people do not always experience acceptance in Beijing and sometimes have to deal with violence. A young woman was beaten by a security guard in Beijing's art district 798 for wearing a rainbow badge only five days before IDAHOT, the Global Times reported.

But at Red Dog, members of the LGBTQ community can feel safe and at ease.

Edoardo, an international student from Italy, regularly comes to Thursday nights at Red Dog.

"Thanks to these kinds of nights, it feels really natural to be who I am even in Beijing. So, I almost feel no difference between here and my home country," he says, adding that he thinks the Beijing atmosphere toward the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ-friendly places is generally improving.

Meanwhile, Bradley, aka Wonder Woman, is greeting new guests at the entrance while taking small sips from her margarita.

"You can enjoy yourself and express yourself here without any kind of judgment," she tells me. "It's a very good place to gather LGBTQ people."

I toast her glass with my Cosmo, promising to come back to another dazzling Thursday night under the patronage of the topless Mona Lisa.

Liu Ruiwen contributed to this story

Newspaper headline: Where we dance


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