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Linux – spring 2019
Linux wears windbreaker coat GivenchyPhotography Matt Tammaro, Styling Marcus Cuffie

How New York nightlife maven Linux took on the US prison complex

Last year she was imprisoned on false charges on Rikers Island – now, the club queen is channeling her freedom into PlayNow, techno a party that urges you ‘to be power-bottoms to this city and take it all!’

Taken from the summer 2019 issue of Dazed. You can buy a copy of our latest issue here

As a child, Linux would speak to the universe: “You put me in Wisconsin? Really? In a Republican household? You missed the target entirely.” Today, she’s a trans activist and nightclub promoter, imbuing NYC’s club scene with a new sense of purpose. In September 2018, the 22-year-old was wrongfully arrested – with news about a theft and rape she’d reported the year before used as a pawn. She was taken to the men’s prison on Rikers Island, after being held on charges relating to a falsely reported incident involving a person with a different name and date of birth. She wrote about the experience in a visceral account published in Paper, detailing the mistreatment, drug abuse and moments of friendship she experienced in Q2L, a “protective custody house where they send trans girls and the men caught having sex with each other”. When she was released, she rallied her community to fundraise for other incarcerated trans people – as well as herself, seeing that the incident left her buried in bond fees and legal debt.

The experience left her with newly realised ambition, which she now channels into PlayNow, a monthly techno party in Brooklyn that reinvigorates the escapism of clubland. Here, she talks to us about the importance of learning from the forebears of your industry, why she doesn’t think of Linux as a persona, and why, “New York nightlife is in its renaissance, again, finally for the first time in fifteen years”.

What is in the air for you at the moment? What are you currently working on?

Linux: I throw this monthly party with Susanne Bartsch called PlayNow at 3 Dollar Bill in Brooklyn. Very techno. Very sexy. You know the videos on the side of porn sites? “Play Now, you won’t last five seconds”, those ridiculous ads of some ripped guy jerking off an alien penis? Well, that’s the entire concept of the party. 

Speaking of dark corners, Linux, are you a computer nerd? Where did your name come from?

Linux: Ha. Totally not. I first started dressing up when I was 16. I grew up in Wisconsin. It was a nightmare. My birth name was trash. I remember growing up so excited for the Apple Keynote. But my family was a total Microsoft household, and I was so bitter about it. They’re all so straight and Republican. I was always very into Apple because any fabulous person understands the art of the Apple user interface. It doesn’t take a computer nerd to appreciate that. I was obsessing over the liberal household I wish I had. I don’t know how the Linux operating system works but I do know that Microsoft and Apple are closed-sourced processing. That is your playpen, you cannot leave those boundaries. Linux, however, is open-sourced processing. Meaning there are no rules. You can literally change the entire working order of the software to the core. That was something I really wanted to embody. Not having rules to play by. The idea that you can customise your life and your interface to whatever the fuck you want it to be. And I remember seeing a commercial for Linux when I was 15 years old and thought: fierce. I know what it means. I know what it does. That’s me. That is my name. I’ve always been attracted to futuristic symbolism. Anytime humanity is more civilised than now, I’m into. 

Personas have always been a key aspects of queer club culture, like at balls. What is your relationship to the notion of a persona? 

Linux: From the very beginning, I knew I was never the person I was born into. I would talk to the universe, like Wisconsin, really? You missed the target a little bit. Wrong situation. But okay, if I have to do a little extra walking, I’ll do it. I love the aspect of nightlife and drag culture, and show business in general, where people have these personas and stage names. It’s true dedication to stardom. 

I’ve always been so expressive, so theater, so attracted to entertaining, but this truly is me to my core. My name is legally Linux; she has been inside me and finally she’s here. I’ve made so much progress becoming myself in only the past three months – I can’t wait to see what I become in twenty or thirty years. When I hit my true form, that’s what I’m most excited for. 

I read your piece in Paper about your wrongful arrest. It was an amazing read, remarkably raw. Can you talk about your experience on Rikers Island? And how expressing your trauma has changed you?

Linux: I obviously wanted to talk about the fucked-up things that happen to transgender, gay, queer people, really any misrepresented people in America in the prison system. I wanted to share that struggle, but I also wanted to share something spiritual that happened within me when I thought I lost everything, and still had a will to live.

Right before (the arrest) happened, I was already on my process of self-realisation – of harnessing my own power in this world. That situation really took me to a higher level because I had no food, no contact with people. I was treated as a man, as a fourth-class citizen for over a week and a half. They thought I was a science project. And I thought I lost everything. I was valuing myself based on the material things in my life: my job, friends, bosses, gigs, boyfriend, my talent even, my identity. But when I thought I lost every single one of those, and I was still able to smile in the morning, and have a goal, and write on toilet paper… that’s when I truly realised that, while I am so happy to have all these things, I would still be able to thrive without them. That’s why that moment was so powerful. That’s why I had to share the story. And then I get out and I find out that every single person in my world was banding together like an army to make things right. It was an outstanding, out-of-body experience.

What are the access points for somebody interested in joining the clubbing world?

Linux: Always listen to the people who came before you. So many people – even me – come here with a rebellious attitude, like, “Oh, I’ll show these people, I’m the new young thing!” When I really started to gain momentum is when I started listening to Susanne Bartsch and Ty Sunderland. I really sat down with these people and became genuine friends with them, and I learned from them and their experiences and perspectives. 99 per cent of people who run to nightlife are running away from their problems, from reality. I think it’s very important while we are there, even for five seconds, to address that this is fucked up, but that we are the people that get it. We know that love is the answer. Nothing can go wrong from there.

In club culture, there is an intricate balance of spirit and materiality, of play and meticulous work. How have you seen the heart of club culture evolve?

Linux: When I first came to New York, maybe it was my vibrational level, but it felt very Mean Girls. We were just on the brink of the PC revolution. People were catering to their egos rather than being empathic. We took such a drastic 180. We all finally looked at each other and decided to fucking love each other… I do truly think that New York nightlife is in its renaissance, again, finally for the first time in 15 years. Enough of the child’s play. We are not in high school. We are here to make art, money, and love. 

And PlayNow is part of this idea, right? 

Linux: Exactly. That’s why the tagline is: Do you make love to the monsters under your bed? Are you attracted to the aliens? Take out every skeleton in the closet. Let it tie you to the bed and submit to it. You know. Since I was a child, I’ve always had a love affair with New York City. I think we all need to be power-bottoms to this city and to this world and our urges and take it all!

Hair Neil Grupp at The Wall Group using MAY11 Hair Oil, make-up Yui Ishibashi at Defacto Inc using M.A.C, hair assistant Drew Martin, make-up assistant Eve Soendoro