The female bouncer

A fight broke out at the football one day, up in one of the stands, and wildly swinging fists soon turned the altercation into an all-out brawl. Suzana Gavran was on roving patrol when she was called on her two-way radio to go up and help.

‘There were a whole lot of guys one on top of the other, all laying into each other,’ she says. Taking the standard arm and shoulder hold, she took to pulling each fighter up and moving them away, as prescribed in her training. ‘But one guy swung a punch at me as he came up, like in the Westerns,’ she says. ‘As soon as he saw what happened, his jaw dropped, he stood there gaping and all his aggravation just melted away. He was so sorry about hitting me.’

The resulting big black eye, although not an everyday element of her job as a bouncer, is nevertheless within the bounds of professional hazards. She has also avoided back-handers, had burning cigarettes flicked at her, and had rubbish and general insults thrown her way – although Gavran emphasises that these are out of the ordinary.

But for her, respect, rather than confrontation, is the key word of her modus operandi. ‘The important thing is to continue to show respect for everyone, no matter what they say or do, or what they’re on. That’s all people need sometimes – to know that you have respect for them,’ she says. ‘Then you can get some interaction going, and know how to handle them.’

As a bouncer, Gavran says she finds herself trying to analyse people as she meets them, even before they speak, trying to assess their personality first off. But she says categorising people can be a trap: ‘I have to use my initiative. I can’t assume that this drunk is just like the last one. Because they’re not. Everyone is different.’

A modern complication is that the glazed look in someone’s eyes may be the result of any number of substances, making it harder at times for Gavran to judge what the appropriate reaction should be.

‘On occasion, people on Ecstasy are all over you saying ‘I love you, I love you’. And I just get them through, like ‘Yes, just go through and love someone inside. Next’.

‘I’ve also seen a guy, just 17 years old, who had rubbed himself all over with that stuff that dentists use to numb your gums. People say they get a rush out of it. Anyway, seven guys couldn’t put this kid down. He was so agro and he couldn’t feel anything. I mean he would have felt it the next day, but at the time … I mean how do you know you’re going to come across someone like that?’

Gavran is trained in the martial art of Shorinji-kenpo, or Korean karate. But she doesn’t usually set out to hit someone, but rather fends off, or tries to put them off balance to push them away. ‘That’s what I’ve learned. To try to deflect rather than confront,’ she says. ‘And let’s face it, there are a lot of bigger and heavier people than me out there.’

She says it is always better to cool down a situation than provoke more. ‘What are you really there for? You’re there for people’s protection, and to protect the property of whoever has hired you. That’s the whole point of security.’

Gavran says her behaviour is always on the line. ‘You can’t say the wrong thing in the heat of the moment,’ she says. ‘The best thing is to just be pleasant. It works. You can be so nice to agro people and you can see it really getting to them: ‘Yes, thank you, I know I’m a bitch, move along please’.’

Every bouncer should be able to stand at their post, show control and respect but be capable in a fight, and know where they stand with the law. Knowing the law is all important, and Gavran says she has to know what lines can’t be crossed and what she can or can’t do.

‘But to be accepted as a woman in this job, to have people listen to you to maintain security, you have to not only have all that but try to get an edge on the control side of things. Keeping a clear head and a calm attitude are really important.’

Gavran was one of the first female security staff employed by her firm, Advent Security. Her first time on a job saw her partnered up with a male staff member. ‘He looked at me and just said out loud ‘I’m not going with her’. I said is that your name on this list? Then yes you are. He really didn’t want to, but at the end of the night he was chatting, calling me a great sheila, said I was like one of the guys.

‘The bottom line is that after working with a lot of the different security guys around the traps Ñ at the footie, at concerts, nightclubs – they get to know that you’re not interested in anything else except getting through the job and getting it done right. And once you have their respect you never lose it. I know as a woman it’s hard to get that respect from a lot of these guys. But when one of the other bouncers can say ‘You know, you’re alright’, it really means something.’

Now Gavran says she can shake their hands, say hello or have a conversation with any of them. She says that it feels good to know she has earned their respect, that they hold her work in high regard, that she is good enough to shake their hand and stand next to them in mutual confidence, facing what could always end up being a rough night.

This article first appeared in Good Weekend magazine