Last friday, i decided to visit a performance of a queer non-binary duo from St Africa, FAKA. It reminded me of all the other times out at night in non-queer spaces. Unfortunately, going to a queer performance doesn’t mean the space is safe for queer people. Unfortunately, when a space is not actively held safer by people aware of what it feels like to be queer in public spaces, it means that the space will be taken over by the ones with a sense of entitlement.
Yes, dudeboys, it’s about goddamn time you start to at least slightly know who you are, and act on it. You DON’T have the right to occupy spaces that are meant for expression and other things you have no clue about. ART is NOT YOURS. Nothing is yours.
This is not an incident on its own. It is a last-straw kind of incident, a fragment of a structural problem called toxic masculinity.
Back to last night. It happened like i remember: drunk people were bumping into me, groups of loud men were gathering around me, and i felt awkward and out of place. The music was too loud to really talk and there was not really a dance floor either. Nevertheless i stayed, and felt strengthened by our expanding group, amongst which appeared to be some incredible dancers and i enjoyed their company.
The two people performing were queer POC, and so were most of the people in my group. Being amongst POC, enjoying that specific music genre, makes me always very aware of my whiteness. I try to reflect upon that, because i don’t want anyone to be ‘othered’, but i can’t deny the awareness of difference either. I think queer POC don’t have enough safer public spaces, so when i am with them, i try to make space, step aside a bit, without disconnecting from the group. I think this is an (even) more important event for them as it is for me, considering the intersectional perspectives. I am their queer like-minded, and try to be their ally in racial matters. This makes me feel even more humble whenever i am with them at a performance of Black-artists, compared to, for instance, the predominantly white performers i invite over from Berlin to perform at my parties. Problematic enough as it is, i know.
Just before FAKA came on stage, our group got slowly pushed away from the front of the stage to the side. I remember how this always goes, from when i was a young girl trying to catch a glimpse of my rockstar heroes. There’s dudes in their jackets, hoodies mostly, they stand right in front of you, and slowly start walking backwards. If you don’t feel like touching them or pushing them, you have no other option but to move back, until you notice your favorite spot in front of the stage is suddenly miles away and you are stuck between this dude and others behind you.
This time it was like that, but quicker. Suddenly all the queer POC were all the way at the side of the stage, beyond the sound system. In front of the stage were dudes drinking their beers, standing still. The concert started and the dude-space was taken over by more dudes and also what seemed to be cis white women. My friends didn’t seem to bother and gave it their all at the side.
I noticed a difference between their dancing and the movements of the white people in front of the stage. I was wondering whether what felt wrong was just their white cis-bodies being there, so (too?) close to the bodies of the performers, or also something else.. It was like they were treating those 2 bodies (black and femme) differently. Was this objectification, fetishisation, exoticisation? I decided to postpone this question and to talk about this with my friends afterwards.
I was dealing with my anger and frustration for approximately 20 minutes, then i managed to let go a bit, it got a little less crowded and i was able to still enjoy the concert. But goddamnit, it was a queer performance! Why was it dominated by non-queers, without ANY hesitation?
This is why the riotgrrl movement said: girls to the front! Let me adjust that a bit:
FEMMES (of any gender) TO THE FRONT.
Rotterdam by night has been my refuge for a long time. First, as a teenager, there were concerts of unknown alternative bands, then there were nights in pubs and bars, then came clubbing, and now … i guess there’s nothing (unless i organize it myself). The last couple of weekends have one thing in common: going home sad and angry and frustrated and scared, because i had nowhere to go. I tried (gay)bars, alternative cinema, pubs, clubs and last night a performance bar, for the ‘weirdly artistic’. Nope. I feel unsafe everywhere. What happened?
I guess i always felt unsafe, but my coping strategy was to pull up a wall, take drugs and/or alcohol, gather friends and go for it. It has always been a fight. I am done fighting. I don’t want walls, and i don’t want to switch off parts of myself to be able to deal with assholes. I don’t want to sedate myself to be able to go to a party. At least not every week.
And I haven’t even gotten into what happens when we exit the bars, clubs, etc. because that is mostly even worse, or a different type of bad. Yesterday, i was cycling only a couple of metres away from the venue and there were some guys catcalling me and asking me if they could taste my gothpussy. There is no way out. I got home tired, frustrated, but mostly sad and scared. Did the world change, or did i? What happened? How do i create a new way to cope with the daily struggle and escape from it all for a while?
I am so very grateful to be able to host a queer party in my city where i hope the experiences of my community are different. And of course, this party stems directly from my experiences elsewhere. But is this really it? Is there nowhere I can go, WE can go, in a free time, just to enjoy a drink, company, and a dance? Not even a queer performance? Do we really have to FIGHT for a spot on the dancefloor? Cause when we don’t, we get pushed away, touched, groped, asked inappropriate questions, and walked over?
We deserve the means to create a steady bar, a refuge where we can gather in vulnerability. We want a place of our own, on our own terms, without having to negotiate, educate or get hurt first. A place that is there, no matter what. A place where everything is femme. Think Silver Future in Berlin, think a small WORM for Avantgarde-avant-la-lettre-only, The Hang-Out 010 for all ages and times of the day. It’s not a lot to ask. We can do the work. It’s our daily life.
FEMMES (of any gender) TO THE FRONT. RIGHT NOW.