It was about a year ago that shit hit the fan with a group of folks with whom I’d been putting on an annual dance party celebration weekend. I’d been involved in organizing that event since it started years ago, and yet felt like I wasn’t welcome, mostly due to my queerness but also because of my stance on the need for vocal inclusionary policies: I wanted us to make it clear to all attendees that we were not going to put up with sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, bullshit behaviour, and that such actions would be grounds for removal.
Apparently, this sort of policy “ruins the mood”.
Hey, you know what really ruins the mood? Being targeted for assault because of your gender, race, sexuality, and/or body!
Blech. Whatever. As I’ve written before, the good thing that came out of that experience was my decision to throw my energies elsewhere: I got involved with another party-organizing group, this one queer-focused with an anti-oppressive mandate.
Together we’ve hosted 5 events in the past 10 months, including one just for teens that absolutely blew my mind with how rad it was… How rad the teens are! Seriously, if you’re down in the dumps and want to get back some hope in the world, try spending an evening making buttons and playing board games with a crew of young folks. They were so fun to hang out with. I’m now friends with a couple of them on a social networking site and have learned how they personally face a ton of homophobia and transphobia at their schools. Knowing this makes it all the more special, the connection we made… Not to be cheezy, but I felt like it was actually doing something to make it better, moving beyond simply telling them “it gets better”.
Of course, in a lot of ways, it isn’t getting better. I’ve sometimes been asked why I’m involved in putting on radical queer dance parties, when there’s a gay bar in our city. Well, this is why: In many gay bars, a commitment to supporting gender and sexual diversity is not taken seriously. It’s all about being the right sort of gay, as Miss T.R. Gendered writes so well: If you fall outside the “norms” for your perceived gender or sexuality, you’re got to face the Gay Police, who’ll make you feel unsafe simply for being who you are.
Tying together my rambling thoughts about queer youth socials and the lack of safety for certain bodies at gay bars is a recent big decision made by my radical queer dance party collective: We were approached by the organizers of the local pride festival and asked if we’d put on their official youth dance, in exchange for some funding and the use of their name and promotional clout. After many long discussions that bounced all over the place, we said no to their money and credibility (?), but yes to the task. We’d already been planning our annual celebration of queer resistance dance party for that week, and as we hold such events as fundraisers anyway, we decided to simply channel the profits from this one into a huge queer youth dance party the next weekend.
One pride week, one small radical dance party collective, two dance parties!!! I have no idea if we’re in completely over our heads here or not, but I’m totally excited. I feel like we could have taken the offer from the offical pride group and it woulda been okay… Eventually, I’d probably have gotten over my initial sense of being a sell-out. Having said that, I’m thrilled. More than anything, the decision to do it on our own makes me feel proud of us: Proud that we’re willing to test our limits, to see what we can accomplish, to risk financial autonomy in a capitalist economy, to stay as true as possible to our mandate for providing alternative queer space.
For the record, we did thank the organizers of the local pride festival for thinking of us, because it is a tribute to our group’s reputation, that they’d consider us good enough to host the youth dance… And we believe that partnerships such as the one they were suggestion can be pretty great. Going it alone seems to be a good deal for both groups, in this case though, since they’ll get to put their funding into other pride initiatives and the youth still get a dance party… And we get a crash course in putting on a really big youth event!
Does it change things, does it make them better, to have such firm ideas about creating queer spaces outside those sanctioned by a larger society? I’m sensitive to stoking the flames of in-fighting among members of the minority group that is made up of those of us whose lives include sexual and gender diversity, and I don’t want to waste energy hating on those queers who’d tell folks like Miss T.R. Gendered to put their shirts back on… I’ll be writing those letters of complaint to the bar management, of course, and telling everyone I know to boycott the place, but I need more. I need to turn this fury inside me into something pro- in stead of anti-, something fiercely loving instead of angrily frustrating. Dance parties meet that need for me.
It’s not exactly revolutionary, to organize a liquor license and a sound systems and few DJs, but I like to think it’s part of a long queer tradition. Before gay bars were legal, in places where they still aren’t, all over the world and through history, this is something we’ve done: Gotten together to shake our booties, lick our wounds, meet new lovers, visit with old ones, share in a temporary oasis of fragile safety* in a world that would have us silent or dead or simply pretend not to exist.
* (Safety for some… Sadly, as with any community event, fucked up shit sometimes goes down at our parties too.)