This post was contributed by Danielle Conlon.
A few years ago, I returned to my birth country, the Philippines, for my auntie’s wedding and even before my bags had come through the carousel, there was some talk of going to a drag club for her bachelorette night. With just a little hesitation, I came along, having just turned 18 and being the most eager for my first drag club. I was particularly amazed when the drag queens seemed to be missing all of their drag, and also all of their clothes… huh? It was at this moment when I actually realised we were at a strip club. ‘We’ being my entire family. So, let’s jump right into the hardly spoken about, hilarious story of: my auntie’s hen party, where we managed to go to a male strip club, get robbed by the strippers, dance with drag queens and barely make it home in time for church the next morning.
I am a half Filipina, half British girl, born in the Philippines but moved to the UK when I was 5 years old. Something I had forgotten about Filipinos (or at least my family) was their love for partying. I thought we went hard in the UK, but the Filipinos are a different level with it being much cheaper to do so with a beer costing only 50 pesos (just under £1) there, compared to London where you’re lucky to find a beer for under £5.
Like I said, I was 18, jet-lagged and amazed by cheap alcohol; a budget recipe for disaster.
After a short but sweaty journey to the family home, we were greeted by yet even more family – “cousins” of every sense of the word and constant smiles. After hours of small talk, the ‘ladies’ decided to set off to paint the town red whilst the groom’s gang, including my brother, dad and (70-year-old) granddad finished all of the whiskey before heading off to their mysterious bachelor party. Of which, to this day, it is still unknown what they got up to. Hopefully, you’ll find out in the sequel.
Our travel was arranged to Malate (pronounced ma latte); a combination of Jeepney and Tricycle. A Jeepney is a popular but ever crowded form of transport and basically looks like a school bus with a front end of a four by four. You hop on and off and the fare is very cheap (10 pesos – equivalent to around 5 or 6 pence).
A tricycle is a motorbike with a couple of extra seats stapled to the back. It could be compared to a taxi, just lots less space. So, as you’d imagine these modes of transport were NOT wedding appropriate, with us trying to squeeze ourselves into very small spaces much like we’d squeezed our bodies into tiny dresses earlier that night.
Malate is a colourful centre for tourism and business but is the favourite spot for nightlife as it’s not too far from Makati (the centre). The best part of Manila is its ability to blend different cultures and ideals so effortlessly and sometimes, blissfully unaware. Manila’s a city with lots of rules but in Malate, you’d find businessmen next to drag queens, limos by shacks and strip clubs next to churches and no one bats an eye.
It was raining and the group of us, the dream team, all scurried to the nearest club with probably too bright lipstick and our high heels slipping in puddles. Around me were all my female family including my great aunties with their funny little nicknames such as ‘Cutes’, ‘Tet’, and ‘Ming’. This was the best group of women I’d ever met in my life, and they were all related to me.
We started at a few quiet bars that we filled with noise and split alcohol left, right, and centre, just like any group of bachelorettes, only half of them were over 50. The eight of us walked into the club with hangovers already starting while R Kelly’s ‘Bump and Grind’ deafened our ears as we found our seats. I don’t remember who (totalllllllly not me!) shouted for shots.
This is when we all looked at the stage to see a man unzipping his pants and prancing around the stage. He was the Filipino dream boy; muscles, a cheeky side smirk, and dark dreamy eyes that we’d all fallen for fast. To everyone around, we looked like school girls, which honestly, I wasn’t much older than at that point.
We drank more, and more (and more), as we made this seemingly ‘cheap night’ excessively expensive. My mum didn’t even look me in the eyes for half the night. This is the same mother who has given me concerned ‘what are you doing with your life?’ eye contact since I was born and yet this was the point she decided to not be my mother. She’d never admit it but she was probably too distracted by all the bulges before her. We continued to mix sambuca, blow jobs (the drink, duh!) and straight gin, which in the Philippines is not so much of a ‘gentleman’s drink’, mixed with fancy tonic and grapefruit – it was definitely more of an ‘illegal anywhere else’ drink of 80% alcohol. After the third blow-job SHOT, on the fourth, I shot it straight into my face, too drunk to even open my mouth. You had to pay to use the toilet (even to wash your hands) so I made decided to run out into the street under the pouring rain. Standing there in the rain was such a moment of genuine bliss that I never ever wanted to leave that little strip club in the middle of the Philippines.
From then onwards, the night turned into a weird blend of giggles, crying from laughing and dancing like we thought we were women in music videos. The most notable highlight of the night for me was locking eyes with a young stripper dancing in the centre of the room. He was wearing a blue polka-dot G-string and pouting more than I’d ever seen a man pout before. “Blue G-string” (as we’ll call him) was dancing so seductively, it took me a moment to notice the song playing was ‘Dance With My Father’ by Luther Vandross with nothing but a shower head (with water coming from it…) for the entirety of the very emotional and lengthy song. You couldn’t work out if there were tears coming from his eyes or water from the shower head. The world may never know.
While I stared into blue G-string’s dreamy eyes, the first fully clothed man I’d seen, for what felt like days, blocked my view of that polka-dot panty and asked us, “Is everything all right ladies?” like a waiter asking if our meal was okay “Got any favourites tonight?”
As images of blue pants flooded my mind, my Mum jumped straight in with her top five and thanks to that, they all came to drink with us. One of these men was my blue, polka-dot G-string, who turned out to have a name, Jake. We spent the next few hours talking and with every passing minute, I fell more in love. He was an actor and was doing the stripping to pay for his little sister’s education (my childish 18-year-old heart melted) and I regretted ever referring to him just by his G-String.
After a few more hours of drinking heavily, most of us were now at blackout point and decided it was probably time to go home. All of the men had disappeared, including my heartthrob Jake, and they had left a very big bill just for us women to pay. The price of which my mum will still moan about to this day, but has never revealed the amount.
Half of the ladies braved the very long journey home just as the drag night FINALLY started and there was no chance I was leaving.
It only took 4 damn hours.
This was truly the best drag performance I had and will ever see; the glitter, the queens, the alcohol and the excitement. Overwhelmed at one point, I, without warning, got up to the stage and started dancing to about 100 people as if it was an ‘open mic night’. It wasn’t. The queens, confused and impressed (I can only assume) then gave me the mic and asked me to introduce myself and show them how to dance British style. Let’s be real, they probably just meant badly.
I was a hit though (apparently).
And that’s the true story of how I fell in love with a male stripper (miss you Jake) and had the most memorable, unpredictable and genuinely unbelievable night out in my wonderful birth country. The next day, we all managed to go to church at 10 AM (a few hours after I was in a strip club) to sing hymns with sore throats.
Heavy with Catholic guilt, we didn’t speak about the night before.
Meet Danielle: Danielle Conlon is half Filipino, half English northerner, living in London looking for love, friendship and writing inspiration across the globe. With a heavy heart (and love for satsumas), when she’s not travelling, she’s working on her fantasy children’s book series: She Belongs To The Sun. Keep up with her on IG.