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The black queer club night making a space in a hostile city

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Body Party: ‘Why it’s so vital for us to have a nightlife experience created for us, by us’

Nightclubs are an ideal setting to explore identity, body and beauty politics outside of the institutions of art and academia. Queer people often don’t feel safe in mainstream cultural spaces. The current state of nightlife is depressing if you’re black, queer, a woma or  trans and have little interest in the predatory heteronormative white gaze. My London club night Body Party is inspired by the innovative DIY bootleg style that comes from making do with little or no resources.

There is no other club night in the city that’s cultivating an intimate space specifically for young black queer people who continue to inspire every other cultural group in art, fashion and music. Believe it or not, it’s actually really boring, disappointing and draining simply being tolerated or evaluated only from arrogant and damaging straight perceptions of queer sexuality. Many young people experience degrees of social exclusion because of their visible or invisible queer identities, thus it’s necessary to have somewhere, anywhere, to unwind and connect with others on that level. The need for a less fractured community isn’t exclusive to queerness, but black queer people often don’t have the privilege of publicly asking these questions.

We deserve a nightlife experience created for us, by us. Why is it so difficult to imagine being queer, being yourself, as a central narrative for black people of all genders, instead of hanging on the margins of social life? Parties are only as innovative and inclusive as our personal relationships and social networks. Familial bonds are often cultivated and established in clubs for marginalized people, many of whom for various reasons only find opportunities to articulate questions around their identities in what are called underground or queer social spaces. Body Party’s existence and impact in its short lifespan only shows that there are no real stable spaces of culture which clarify and cultivate our desires for intimacy.

When thinking about nightlife, art and fashion’s cultural voyeurs, I have to question my own artistic motives. Just how much of New York’s influential and unique ballroom scene can we organically bring to a London club environment? What are the boundaries in collaboration between queer artists and DJs of colour and the people who love them? What happens when the sexualised aggression in heteronormative men is perpetuated in music that is in many ways liberating and fun to mockingly laugh at?

Homophobic and patriarchal songwriting is only bitterly humorous if we’re re-contextualizing them by dancing and laughing instead of crying and mourning. Our supposed peers are often people who degrade us by choosing to perceive our ethnicities as spices which, as bell hooks said, “livens up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture.” Queer black people show us that queerness is as much about ethnicity as it is about sexual and romantic orientation. What do people who identify as queer have as a resource or “safe” space to resist a majority racist and heteronormative nightlife and its expectations of gender performance? What are we breaking away from and what is the point of arrival? There are not nearly enough opportunities for queer communities and scenes in London (visible or invisible, public or private) to be able to celebrate instead of mourn the realities of diasporic life. The public pressure, threat and scrutiny of a white heteronormative culture in the UK has administered a chokehold on marginalized youth with unemployment, unstoppable gentrification, no real institutional support, visibility or media representation.

‘We are often superficially perceived as "sub" culture. Sub for whom? Not for us’

Body Party’s attendants and extended family have the potential to collectively transform the club environment into a casual, loose, sensual political sphere of engagement. Imagine trading secrets like two schoolkids with Jam City by the DJ booth, bubbling over with excitement at meeting someone as enthusiastic as you about your favourite James Baldwin books, forgetting who you are and finding yourself at peace because Sophia Grace’s “Best Friends” just morphed into Busy Signal’s Whatsapp anthem “Text Message”. Nightlife is more than just dance, performance and ritual for queer people; it’s about feeling safe at home, free from the queerphobic encounters prevalent in a hostile city like this one.

Body Party and former residents BBC AZN Network have already been clumsily introduced to a large youth culture and fashion publication’s readership as “the face of the immigrant experience”. After seeing the image, credited to a photographer who has never attended my night, used to run with the “thinkpiece” instead of the images art-directed by myself and designed by artist Isaac Kariuki to represent this “face”; I was faced with a recurring problematic viewpoint. The fashion world, fashion editors and writers seem only to be concerned with how things look and nothing outside of narrow, insular perspectives on queer black nightlife and cultural production. The photographer’s image is dated, archival even and says a lot about white fashion editorial attraction to the black hyper masculinity and heteronormativity exhibited in Grime that, in this context, has very little to do with Body Party’s queer visual narrative or mostly queer attendees.

After being dismissed by one editor, I was offended before another white editor of said publication called me “a dick” on Twitter. Isaac and I have worked to create images for our parties with the intention of “calling you to recognize my beauty, recognize my sexuality.” We are always reminded of our place in white society, immigrant, outsider, too queer, too “sensitive” instead of a legitimate and intentionally crafted space in nightlife, art, fashion and music. We are often superficially perceived as “sub” culture. Sub for whom? Not for us.

The next Body Party is tonight (10/9/2015) at the Ace Hotel, Shoreditch feat. Mischa Mafia, Larry B and Westindians.