Sail away, sail away, sail away, sang Oakland queer party Ships In The Night to all the white queers and straight allies. Really. They told us to scram.
Insert needle (and jaw) drop here.
In anticipation of last weekend’s Ships In The Night, a monthly at The New Parish, organizers of the event posted a Facebook update blatantly discouraging cis straight folks (heterosexual people whose gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth) from attending the party.
Ships backed up their request with some snarky hashtags, including #realtalk and #takingupspace.
More jaw dropping. Maybe tears. WTF?
Thinking about me and my friends who have attended or regularly attend Ships, I was sad that half of us would no longer be welcomed at the event. This blow feels especially shocking in the shelter of the Bay Area’s superior status quo in regards to inclusion and empathy. Having Ships deny us a dance hurts. I know we have our differences, but geeeeez. I thought we could at least twerk in the same room.
The reason behind their requests – although poorly executed and insensitive – can be simplified (perhaps oversimplified) to one free of malice: the organizers are trying to ensure that queer trans people of color (QTPOC) have a comfortable, fun, safe space to hang. Apparently there’s been an influx in drunk, pushy bro attendees and perhaps Ships fears crowned and sashed bachelorette parties will come knocking next. Regardless, Ship’s FB status message won’t be reaching these chumps’ feeds. Instead, it hit queer home.
No one can argue with the desire to increase safety, but is the price we pay division and hostility within our queer community? Wouldn’t a party that prioritizes love, nurturing, and kindness feel more safe and radical than a members-only club built on reverse discrimination?
Since 2006, Ships has called itself a “queer dance party,” which was assumed to mean all-inclusive. Now that the popular bash has outgrown its small venue, dance floor real estate is limited. The quartet of organizers behind Ships blame gentrification for their white-washed (even though two of them are white themselves) and “upwardly mobile young queer class” crowd and argue that entry isn’t being granted to all the “right” kinds of party people. In other words, too many whites allies and their cis straight friends, and not enough QTPOC to feel legit. The organizers explain on their blog, “we have recently started to – and will continue to – ask for queer brown folks to take up space in the front... and for white queers to take a step back during our performances” to “better reflect who we are prioritizing.” And they are “asking cis straight people to consider stepping back and not attending this party."
The Ships’ bouncer won’t be looking for official queer IDs or panty peeking, but it’s obvious that my name will not be on any guest list: I’m a cis white queer femme with a cis white straight boyfriend. Basically I’m on the shit list.
Even if I did show face at the door, knowing that everyone was judging the crowd would make me incredibly self-conscious. How do I prove worthy? Am I gay enough? Do my QTPOC friends have to vouch for me and my boyfriend? These questions are fucked. I face enough criticism for being a queer woman who inherently passes as a straight lady. My sleeves don’t adorn pink triangles but that doesn’t mean I’m ashamed or closeted. Being in my relationship automatically makes me appear to have chosen a side, but really, I just chose a human.
I could also just not go. I could take the advice that some friends have offered in the wake of the notice: let Ships sail. A good ally knows when to step aside and if this is how this community wants and needs support, why should anyone fuss? Fine, I don’t want to take up space where I’m unwanted, but I still can’t deny the bruise I feel from rejection.
The craziest part of all this: we’re talking about a public dance party. Is this a private club? Is this middle school? Did everyone forget how to play nice and trot around and shake their bums? Dance parties are for celebrating and queer events like this one are supposed to be about embracing one another – as cool, fucking humans – and the commonalities we share.
I’m not ignorant to the fact that a person of color, a trans person, or a trans woman of color has a different queer experience than myself – I just don’t think we should deny that some of our experiences are similar. I don’t only want to hang with cis white bi girls –diversity enriches all of our lives, especially when we can bond over a common thread or a Major Lazer track. And placing the blame on “undesirable” guests isn’t fair – it’s regressive.
I hope that Ships organizers will take a minute to reconsider and ponder ways the party can remain inclusive while still valuable to those who benefit most. I offer no direct advice, as to not be misconstrued as just another white cis chick trying to run the show.
However, I do think that everyone who attends a queer event, or any intrinsically cultural event for that matter, should be taking a moment to consider why they wish to attend and how their presence will affect the event as a whole. Are you looking for a new lover? You dig the DJ? Or are you here for that fuzzy community vibe you get from a crowd of smiling, sweaty babes who blur gender lines, debunk social norms, and redefine the ideals of beauty? Oh yeah, that’s the part I like, too. I knew we agreed on something.
Homepage image by pmuilu via Thinkstock