Danger lurks at circuit parties

Nov 13, 2003, vol. 28, no. 6
By Marianne Meadahl

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Participating in so-called circuit parties is seen as being rife with danger for some gay men, while others see the activity as a source of friendship and a sense of community.

An SFU study into the relevance of the circuit scene among gay men reveals that either way, the events are fostered by a common need among participants to voice their struggle for social recognition.

Circuit parties are large dance parties held annually in cities across North America and attract as many as a few thousand gay men, who come together to dance for hours. Their popularity is growing among gay men, who travel to host cities and are willing to pay for hotels and admission costs for the opportunity to participate.

While they provide a large and open forum for self-expression and networking, they are also becoming known for risks associated with drug use and unsafe sex.

Sociology doctoral student Russell Westhaver (above) found that circuit parties have become “a strategy for gay men to find a place.

“Attendees generally tell one of two stories: the circuit is a site of danger, while others tell about community, bonding, friendship and self-development,” says Westhaver, adding that the high energy circuit expands socializing opportunities beyond those of the gay bar scene.

“I wanted to think about the circuit from a different perspective: why are they so important, as either problems or solutions, to those who attend, and increasingly to those interested in gay men's health?”

For his PhD thesis, Party boys: identity, community and the circuit, Westhaver conducted interviews with circuit attendees and recorded observations while participating in a number of parties as a volunteer with an event production company.

Those events include an annual party at Whistler held in February. “It's apparent that these events are ways for gay men to express a struggle for recognition through intense visceral bodily experiences associated with prolonged dancing and drug use,” he found.

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