At the annual carnival of excess known as Art Basel, there are three kinds of parties. There are the parties you knew about, parties you only read about later, and of course, the parties you went to. This year, the party I was most excited for was Paris Hilton's DJ set at the W Hotel's Wall Lounge. I've been a massive fan of hers forever. Her lazy eye and subdued bad girl demeanor captured my heart as a teenager, and I've never been able to shake the love. I especially wanted to see her DJ because it would mark the first time I'd get to see her be more than the blonde bimbo stereotype she's marketed to be.
Paris Hilton has been criticized for all her life—and now she's DJing! Bravely (at least in my eyes) exposing herself to even more criticism, but following a passion of hers (and mine). The media has dismissed her attempt to be a DJ out of hand, mocking her in a troublingly one-sided and sexist way. I wanted to peel back her party girl veneer and see into her inner workings as a woman with interests, goals, and pursuits. I wanted to give Paris the closer look that she deserves. Ironically, I was the one who ended up getting pre-judged and summarily dismissed.
Before I loaded into the cab bound for the W Hotel, I showered and picked out the outfit I'd been waiting to break out all week. I've always been a fan of dressing ostentatiously. Back in school, I would bewilder my mother with my full-plaid or denim outfits. These days, I usually opt for Sporty Spice, Long Island Dad-core, or elegant butch styles. Clothing has always been armor of sorts—a way of expressing my individuality while simultaneously inviting people to be a part of the dialogue surrounding my choices. On the flight to Miami, I wore a two-piece Apple Bottoms tracksuit with pink Nikes, my hair spiked, and a thick gold chain. I looked like I was from a different planet from the New York art world types: skinny and tired-looking creatures in expensive but boring clothes. The outfit I'd chosen for Paris Hilton's set was a set of matching leggings and shirt with an all-over print of Van Gogh's "Starry Night." Who doesn't love a good art joke? I thought. And it made my butt look amazing.
So I spritzed my perfume, spiked my hair, checked my earrings and headed out. I had confirmed my press accreditations already and was feeling pretty good about getting to the hotel early. I got to the door and asked one of the doormen about my spot on the press list. He told me I was all set, but asked me to step aside and wait for someone to speak with me. A huge, balding man came up to me and squinted, looking me up and down.
"You're going to have to go home and change if you want to come in here," he said. I didn't understand. I looked great! Plus... I was press. "Oh, I'm not going to be out and about in the crowd. I'm just here to see Paris' set and write about it," I told him. He sneered. His next few words came out slowly and deliberately. "You cannot come in here wearing that. If you want to be here, I suggest you go home, put on a dress and heels, and then we'll see."
My heart was racing. How could this possibly be happening?
I turned around and left in defeat, crying my way up Miami Beach. It'd been so long since someone told me I wasn't welcome. I'd gotten used to the freaks (my friends!) being in charge and taking care of me. Suddenly, I felt ugly and stupid. I couldn't help but wonder if I had been rejected because my get-up was too casual for that VIP crowd, or because I looked too much like a lesbian—because I am a lesbian. I'll never know. I want to believe it was the former, but this wouldn't have been the first instance of discrimination I experienced in Miami. Nearly every time I've gone to a club or bar, I have been told how I should look or act by some man in charge. Even if it wasn't true, in that moment, my thought was "I can't believe I was rejected from Paris Hilton's DJ set for looking like a dyke."
Glitzy clubs, even gay ones, are built on the premise of exclusivity. Often, those who get rejected at the door are the ones who don't look right. Sadly, that sometimes includes people of color or non-heteronormative sexual identities. Still, I was stunned to find that bleak history is still being written in a place as beautiful as South Beach.
The next night, at the Bushwick Gone Basel party thrown by Witches of Bushwick and Ms. Fitz, something equally ugly happened. Touted as one of the "ultimate events at Basel," the event was chock full of my friends from Brooklyn. Many queer and all gorgeous, we descended on a tacky outdoor nightclub in Wynwood. When Gaelic electroclash hottie Neocamp took the stage, I noticed a shift in energy at the club. Our Brooklyn horde was screaming with love, but a cloud descended on the club's regular patrons and owners. Some muttered "faggot" and paced nervously near the bar. Then, a fight broke out between two of the patrons, and our party came to a screeching halt. Owners of the establishment turned off the PA in the middle of a performance and demanded we vacate the premises.
Being denied entry to any situation based on what you look like is the absolute worst feeling in the world, regardless of the reason why. To these strangers, I represent the unknown—they sensed this and shut me down. When we adhere to heteronormative ideas of masculinity and femininity, we lose the vibrancy of our culture.
I'm back in Brooklyn now, having fun, living in a world where I do what I want. And I'm not afraid to wear my Van Gogh print with a gold chain and a clean fade.