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A History of the Gay Circuit Party: VIDEO


Posted online last week is Got 2B There a full 1998 documentary by Jose M. Torrealba examining the controversies and the spirit of the circuit party, with footage from the White Party (Palm Springs), the GMHC Morning Party (Fire Island), and Black & Blue (Montreal), and commentary from those for the parties, and opposed to them.


(via kenneth)

Got 2B There: A History of the Circuit Parties from Jose Manuel Torrealba on Vimeo.


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  1. oh god i'm so glad i was only 12 when these things were going down... looks miz.

    Posted by: David in NYC | Feb 20, 2012 11:05:14 AM

  2. This was a sad way to say f*** you to the haters. But i guess it was how a lot of people did it. I went through a comparable stage I guess, albeit sans-circuit parties. I don't blame those who make stupid mistakes connected to thinking they've found "wholeness" on such type of scene. But I want better for them and me I guess.

    Demand better, ya know.

    Posted by: just_a_guy | Feb 20, 2012 11:33:09 AM

  3. It's a shame the life and lifestyle we settle for. I'll take hope and promise over fatalism and reckless abandon any day.

    Posted by: Andrew | Feb 20, 2012 11:54:14 AM

  4. I did watch the film and thought, "If you're young, built on steroids, and love to drink and eat drugs, this is for you." Some of the men are good looking, most are like the rest of us, average. I treat this life style as I do the Radical Religious Extremist life style, it's extreme and it's not for me. But if YOU want to sign up, I'll fight to the death to defend your right to do so.

    Posted by: Sargon Bighorn | Feb 20, 2012 12:03:01 PM

  5. Listening to some of the comments by the men in this documentary just reinforces my belief that they are delusional about the extent of their own dysfunction. Fortunately, a number of commentators do point out the sheer destructiveness of this part of GLBT history, but I find that the cultural attitudes toward race, body image, sex, and personal responsibility, have largely persisted in today's gay males. There have been, and continue to be, a lot of gay men who want to believe that they are being far more inclusive than they actually are. There's an incredible stench of narcissism among urban gay white men that is romanticized in the nostalgic reminiscences of some of these guys in this film--and it makes me want to vomit.

    Posted by: atomic | Feb 20, 2012 12:06:34 PM

  6. Documentaries, like reality TV, are edited for the interesting/inflammatory/dramatic bits.

    Are there messy guys at these parties who have made a career of throwing away their lives? Yes.

    Are there also thousands who have attended them, had a great time, made some good friends, and gone back to their productive lives? Yes.

    Sampling bias is not reality.

    Posted by: Dxx | Feb 20, 2012 12:13:37 PM

  7. I think I'll watch this in small doses.

    And I'm not opposed to the parties for others - I'm troubled by the number of gay men who think this sort of activity somehow captures the essence of what it means to be gay. I never found New York to be as bad as some people warned me about; there are plenty of different ways to interact that don't involve shirtless dancing and drug use. But three months on assignment in Florida nearly made me weep at times. The sheer self-absorption, the vacuousness, and the lack of alternatives was distressing.

    Posted by: Nat | Feb 20, 2012 12:18:52 PM

  8. Amen, Atomic.

    Posted by: TPOW | Feb 20, 2012 12:23:00 PM

  9. Circuit parties ruined gay club life. Of course you could blame it on the drugs of choice (when it was fun it was X which supply and demand sent a downward spiral with crystal), but for the most part, the thing my friends and I didn't like about circuit parties (and the guys that inhabited bodies on the dance floor) is it was bland mixture of mostly suburban guys who had no taste in style so they took off their shirts. And since sex > all, that provided a precedence of gay club life (and its eventual demise). Some of the club kids would stick around for the mess, but most of us just gave up and moved on with our lives and leave all the big clubs to eventually close down.

    Posted by: zeddy | Feb 20, 2012 12:38:21 PM

  10. With that said, this is quite an insightful documentary. :)

    Posted by: zeddy | Feb 20, 2012 12:48:43 PM

  11. Substance abuse, narcissistic personality disorders, delusion, addiction and exclusion. A recipe for disaster. Does the circuit still exist?

    Posted by: excy | Feb 20, 2012 12:48:44 PM

  12. @EXCY: The circuits themselves don't exist, but the attitudes prevail in the minds of an entire generation of gay men who still cling to the idealized, romanticized vision of the "empowering" and "liberating" experience that they believed it to be, and wish that they could relive it. You can almost pick out who these men are--if they're still alive--just by looking at them. They're miserable because they still live in denial, their friends are either dead or just as delusional, they do everything they can to prop up their aging bodies because their entire sense of self-worth is defined by how pretty they look to others, and they have no understanding of love or commitment and so are incapable of having meaningful relationships. Then they go around bitching about how they're miserable because the straights oppress them, refusing to accept that they're the ones who have emotionally imprisoned themselves.

    That said, the ultimate reason why the circuits died is not because gay culture realized its destructiveness, but because the explosion of the internet made it irrelevant as a means of securing drugs and sex. Gay men didn't grow up; they just realized it was easier to get their hookups online. The underlying attitudes and behaviors (racist, narcissistic, addictive, exclusionary) remain.

    Posted by: atomic | Feb 20, 2012 1:14:17 PM

  13. been there, done that. i do wish i owned the drug concession for all of those parties though...

    Posted by: Oliver | Feb 20, 2012 1:56:09 PM

  14. Atomic you've clearly thought this through, and make an eloquent statement regarding your feelings and observations on the matter.

    However, I can't help but be saddened by the pessimistic tack you've taken. Sure, there are miserable narcissistic douchebags among those who frequent such parties. But there are also lots of normal well-adjusted guys who enjoy the spectacle. I've been to a couple of these parties (albeit back in 1999 and 2000) and am quite assuredly not a body-obsessed mess who's unable to maintain a relationship. Though I will admit to having a trainer and being a little more attentive to my fitness (in a healthy way) as I enter my mid 40s. The older we get, the more work it takes to stay fit.

    Circuits died for a lot of reasons. I can't say I'm terribly sad to see that scene diminish from its late 90s early aughts zenith. But I'd venture to say that a large percentage of people who attended such events returned home to a rather pedestrian lifestyle. They aren't all WeHo muscle boys, and even those oft-stereotyped guys can occasionally surprise us with substance and insight.

    Posted by: The Milkman | Feb 20, 2012 1:57:33 PM

  15. Is there really much of a difference between this and the Fire Island wedding video posted over the weekend? The same empty, drunken faces in front of hollow excess. Nevertheless DXX has made the most balanced assessment here. Good people, healthy ones and lots of them, can be found everywhere. Check out that other and very opposite gay wedding video from the Mid-west posted a few months ago.

    Posted by: uffda | Feb 20, 2012 2:41:37 PM

  16. You people are all ridiculous. These parties for the majority of people are just a night out, just like straight people get to have a night out, maybe drinking, maybe smoking pot, maybe taking a pill or two and dancing your ass off and then going back to your life for 3-6 months. If that's a bad thing then I'd rather live in my world than yours.

    This movie is propaganda pure and simple. Someday someone will do a movie about the circuit from the inside and show the truth, the good and the bad. Not to mention almost everything he said about each specific drug was proven incorrect over the next 14 years.

    I love reading comments by queens who sound like Anita Bryant clones.

    Posted by: Jonathan | Feb 20, 2012 2:46:47 PM

  17. The original circuit parties were fantastic, in part because they sprang out of HIV/AIDS-related charities. They were essentially benefits. And those were the days of Ecstasy which lent a very, very different vibe to the parties. And if there was any barebacking going on, it was deeply underground and unthinkable to most of us. The parties were a way to escape what was, prior to the arrival of combination therapies, a very grim time. In some ways, a celebration of survival (I know - get me!).

    The last good ones, to my mind, were at the March on Washington and then the next year at the pier dance for Stonewall 25.

    Sydney Mardi Gras was awesome - especially the year Kylie showed up at 2:00 or 3:00 am for the big show. It was unbelievable.

    But once crystal meth appeared on the scene and the common purpose dissipated, the parties became commercial ventures.

    For me the era, which really began around 1983-84 was over by 1995.

    So the video from 1998 dates to a time almost 15 years past the first events.

    At that point the circuit was as dead as disco, crystal had taken hold and barebacking had begun to emerge.


    Posted by: JoshG | Feb 20, 2012 3:01:22 PM

  18. Perhaps the film over-analyses its subject. C'mon, they were just big parties & people went to have a good time.

    Everyone had their own experiences & retain their own memories.

    No profound all-inclusives universal truths to be drawn here. Still, it was an interesting film to me. Reminds me of the good old days.

    Posted by: JONNY NYNY2FLFL | Feb 20, 2012 3:20:05 PM

  19. @Jonathan, thanks for your "expert" analysis of the comments here. You being such an expert and all perhaps you should write a book. I'll bet there are several publishers that would give you a dollar advance.

    Posted by: Oliver | Feb 20, 2012 3:21:41 PM

  20. It's really easy to stereotype people who go to circuit parties from a distance; up close the picture becomes infinitely more complicated. I won't bother trying to disabuse people here of the misconceptions they might have of me and others who go to parties. I know who I am and don't need to defend myself against anyone. I've had some of the most joyous experiences of my life on the dance floor, and no amount of judgment from others can take that away from me.

    Posted by: Don | Feb 20, 2012 3:37:40 PM

  21. Oh burn. That's the best insult you have? Maybe it would be better if some of the posters here actually attended the parties instead of just judging from afar. The truth is nothing is black and white and the parties, like life, have a little bit of everything. Right now the best parties are mixed because in big cities we are living in a post gay world where it makes no difference who's there. The straight muscle boys are flattered by the gay attention and the straight girls flirt with us. It's actually pretty amazing, and the music is always fun to dance to. I went out New Year's Day and I'll go out again in late March, then maybe oner the summer a few times. Now if you want to pass judgment then write about the Cruises, which are nothing short of horrific. See, everybody has a line in the sand, even me.

    Posted by: Jonathan | Feb 20, 2012 3:46:12 PM

  22. P.S. I wouldn't go on a cruise if you paid me but I don't pass judgment on those who wait for the big cruise each year like it's the second coming. It's their life. And I've never been on one so what do I know anyway. I just suspect it's not for me. And everybody I know who goes on one gets sick for a month when they get home. (plus the suicide and the arrests this year) ;-)

    Posted by: Jonathan | Feb 20, 2012 3:49:08 PM

  23. I couldn't bear circuit parties because I don't like having my shirt off in public. Not because I'm fat or out of shape, I just don't like it and never have. Guys would constantly try to get me to take my shirt off. It got old. Take a pill at home and I'll be naked in 5 minutes, but I don't like being ogled and groped by strangers.

    That said, I went to huge clubs in DC and NYC constantly starting at 13 and had great times with funny, great people. But I definitely agree that the circuit scene peaked in the 1990s and was pretty much over by the early 2000s.

    Posted by: Paul R | Feb 20, 2012 4:14:09 PM

  24. To those who seem to have interpreted my comments as being a condemnation of circuit parties, I think you're missing the point. Your main counterargument predictably falls along the lines of "well, many gay men went to these things (including myself) and we're not all messed up." That may be true (I have no way to know and I'm not sure if it's fair for you to make that self-assessment), but the crux of my point has more to do with gay white male culture being a lot more narcissistic, image-obsessed, drug-abusing, and racist than it cares to acknowledge. The circuit parties are not the cause, but rather, a consequence and concentration of such attitudes.

    Nowadays, these attitudes are expressed in online dating/hookup profiles. Overwhelmingly, you see that when certain ideals are expressed, they are anti-black, anti-Asian, anti-fat, anti-fem. The desired individual is white (sometimes Latino), muscular, wealthy, young, and "straight-acting," and that choice is defended along the lines of "that's just what I'm into, no racism intended."

    It's a curious kind of self-inflicted narrow-mindedness that leads such gay men to refuse to accept certain individuals on the basis of what they look like, when all this time they cry over how oppressed they are. Perhaps this sort of cognitive dissonance serves to make them feel that, as much as they are discriminated against for being gay, at least they perceive themselves to be at the top of the totem pole in other respects.

    Posted by: atomic | Feb 20, 2012 6:44:32 PM

  25. the editing was horrific.. the outro with the hawaian dancers, wtf? whats that supposed to symbolize? amateur stuff here.. great footage though.

    Posted by: yadda | Feb 20, 2012 7:01:30 PM

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