Often people think of dance music as an escape—a relieving departure from terrestrial life, and a peek at this Heaven that can only be accessed with some special key, like molly, a VIP wristband, sexual attention from a hot rando, or a plane ticket to a club-filled island. I believe dance music can be more than that. When people come together to actually listen and jack their bodies, moving to get their life and give life to others, the sometimes oppositional forces of peace and power are able to exist side by side. Clubs and parties can be used as tools for revolution and liberation—as well as a source of information about the world around us.
But what does it mean to create a safe space in a nightlife context? Maybe it's because straight men have been told they deserve to inherit the Earth. Maybe it's because they dominate the decks after being insidiously convinced since birth that they're good at technical things. Or maybe it's the simple fact that women are worldwide second class citizens. But it seems like my ability to enjoy any environment in nightlife is predicated on the tenor of the straight men in it. These straight, horny, unwaveringly privileged men are anathema to good vibes, their unending hunger for pussy and validation sucking up all of the good energy in a room, rendering all other life forms catatonic, or forced to use their last ounce of life to flee the toxic space. Thankfully not all dudes are dicks! Many important pillars in the community are caring, respectful guys who love to boogie, and they loathe the accused as much as I do.
On Halloween 2015, my girlfriend and I were insanely psyched to see DJ Sprinkles, one of our favorite discoveries ever in the electronic landscape, at a club called Output. We spent hours getting ready—I was a cat and she was an alien—and yeah, we looked sexy. In hindsight, we should have tried to look grotesque because the night was a total disaster. We were forced to flee in the beginning of Sprinkles' set, due to the relentless fondling we experienced on the floor from guys whose hands seemed to always "accidentally" wind up squeezing our asses. Sprinkles herself told SPIN recently that at one of her DJ gigs in Brooklyn a couple years back, "a trans-male friend of mine took it upon himself to run defense for women who were being encircled by aggressive drunk guys." Similarly, our experience of the music was totally eclipsed by non-stop comments on our appearance from any dude who thought he might have a chance. Our music! Played by our mother! We were depressed, and I vowed never to return to the club again.
But lo, nary little more than month after I made this vow, the unholy trinity of Arca, Total Freedom and Shayne HBA got booked to play in the club's main room. I gagged, texted the link to a million people, then carefully considered my options. I could 1) quietly buy a ticket and totally negate my inner commitment, 2) seethe quietly at home, or 3) go the fuck off about it on Facebook. After some deliberation, I chose #3, figuring that since so many of the children were attending, I knew someone would hear me. I was scared of repercussions, to be sure, but hopeful that my angry post would instigate some change.
"Will the crowd be comprised mostly of straight men? The type that take up all the oxygen in the room and talk through most of the sets while scanning the crowd for T+A? Men that are so unbearable I am forced to flee the club because I feel unsafe and sick to my stomach even though I paid for my ticket and opened up a tab?" I wrote on the event page. "Can't tell you how much I want to go to this but I promised myself I'd never support Output again because it isn't a space for me." My comment yielded seventy-five likes, plus a free ticket to the show from a sweetheart rando who couldn't make it that night. He even offered to walk me to the club and apologized for the terrible behavior of men everywhere. But the biggest surprise was when Arca himself wrote on the event page in response to my post, urging me to "wave us down in the DJ booth and say it's Lindsey and we will cut the music and come down and fight them with u."
So I said to myself, "Okay gwurl let's see how this goes! If you hate it, you can renew your vow of never again hitting up this club." I donned by best soft butch look, hitched my party horse to a Club Mate, and made my way to Output. Once inside, I was astounded by the amount of people I knew! I even had a cute "hello I love you" moment with the stars of the evening, who were having a kiki in front of the DJ booth and invited me to share a dance and drink. We laughed about my comment on the event wall. Then I bopped around, got moderately nasty on the dancefloor, downed a hunk of gooey Rice Krispy treat that I only later realized was a potent edible, and kept it cute with my people.
As the venue filled up at around midnight, however, the vibe began to shift. Bros and bro-ettes started to infiltrate the sweet, considerate, slay-oriented dance circle we had formed near the stage. The weirdoes and freaks who I consider my children were being bumped and pushed by straight people in Zara schlock that arrived perky, unmoving, and decisive, like pillars of salt clutching fifteen dollar cocktails. In an effort to CC them all on the "For Once This Space Isn't For You" email, I flung all my limbs at them until order was restored at the front, and the children had space to dance and get their life once more.
Empowered by my success in moshing away the "normies," I went up to the roof to insert myself into people's conversations and/or randomly scream in order to deliver declarations about climate change, the global arms trade and the US' involvement in every horrible conflict happening right now. I know what you're thinking: "OMG that's your idea of fun?" Yeah, it totally is. Next, I decided to get even more disruptive by taking off my Dead Kennedy's shirt, gently hoisting a girl on my back, and running around the roof screaming, "WOMEN ARE THE WORLD. EVERYONE CAME OUT OF A PUSSY!" People stopped talking and listened. Achievement unlocked!
I decided to reenter the crowd downstairs and asked the bartender for a drink, a request she hesitated in responding to, then as if obeying an unseen order, denied, citing my activity upstairs. Laughing, I closed my tab. Tired of negotiating a space to dance on the packed floor, and eager to focus on Arca's increasingly hectic set, I scurried behind two beefcake stripper dancers to a slightly elevated area lied with low, built-in benches and drink tables. On lower capacity nights this area is actually used as a stage, but this time, it presented itself as a sort of chill space—barely populated and protected from the laser's frenetic bursts.
Once nestled in the zone, I lept onto a table, closed my eyes and felt my body pulse and quiver as the music swept me away. In my reverie, a thought presented itself: "What if I get naked?" I mulled it over. Even if I got kicked out or banned, at least I'd have this one subversive act: a not-skinny, soft butch girl with her bush out, disobeying all the heteronormative rules on gender, body image, and what's acceptable in public.
It wouldn't be the first time I got naked at a party, but it certainly would be the first time I got naked in a warzone. I felt that by doing so, I would be taking a step to reclaim clubbing from assholes and weak willed suburban minds, turning it back into a safe space for artists, weirdos and queers (The Children!). What does it mean to create and maintain a safe space in New York City today? Safe spaces are crucial autonomous zones for bodies and minds that are accustomed to fear. In a safe space, people can relax and let loose, feel themselves and grow. Safe spaces are inclusive and emphasize community creation and involvement, while making an effort to reach out to the people around them. More often than not, these spaces are DIY and underground—which means they run on the hopes, dreams and financial fumes of the children who make it their whole fucking life to keep this open, loving vibe alive.
When these people cannot afford rent for a space and are forced out of hard won locations by money hungry developers, the city becomes more hostile for The Children. Unfortunately the putrid claws of heteronormativity and commodification are nearly impossible to escape, and all those who yearn for Something Else are forced to generate safe spaces wherever they can.
So I got into it. Keeping my head down, I disrobed super fast. My goal was to get totally naked, snap a selfie, then put my clothes back on before security punched my lights out. I focused my gaze either on the ceiling or the ground until I gyrated my body out of all my clothes, carefully set them next to me, and kept dancing, becoming more and more comfortable. I really let go, closed my eyes, and served for my life. And wouldn't you know it? I opened those little peepers a few moments later to realize that—WTF, that painful white light shining into my face was a spotlight! Then, Total Freedom cut the music, and dubbed me the "motherfucking pillow queen" which was the name of their party.
The room burst into cheers and whistles, so I flapped my arms a little bit, giving them more of whatever dancing I could without falling off the booze-slicked table, then delicately stepped down, dressed myself quickly, and scooted out the club like a scared little mouse into the night. Can you believe that even after getting spotlighted and cheered, I was still afraid I'd get clocked by the staff or receive some kind of stern talking to? I couldn't bear the thought of getting in trouble after serving so hard. Or maybe I was just tired.
Anyways, if I'd hung around I would have said: Hey women-identified people, queers and weirdos! Take this, and every, space back. You can do it! Either subversively, like I did by taking my clothes off, or with love and intention in another way. Feel comfortable opening up a dialogue on your safety in the spaces you want to be in. This music and the party is for you. It's for the vibe warriors and peaceful lovers and we all deserve a space to dance. Namaste, bae.
Follow Lindsey Leonard on Twitter