Editor’s Note: Systemic violence can be just as devastating as interpersonal violence. Large swaths of the media have resorted to victim blaming. They point to issues of building codes, while failing to acknowledge the rampant poverty and structural violence that leads to the necessity of living, working, and otherwise using condemned spaces. We’re strongly reminded of the victim blaming that occurred after the UpStairs Lounge arson in the 1970s. This piece helps to contextualize the idea of safety in the face systemic violence.
For the fallen Ghost Ship warriors
We used to have places where we could love. The bars were ours. The bathhouses were ours. The clubs, and the studios, and the bookstores were ours.
The places where we fell in and out of love, where we learned what it meant to be hard or soft, where we could let our hair down (or shave it off) have all been coopted now. Still, we keep dancing.
Apparently, since some of us can enter into monogamous unions, “We no longer need the old bars.” You heard ‘em: Hang up your sequins and eyeliner, and let’s find ourselves a great accountant. (Our taxes have just gotten too darn complicated to do ourselves ever since we bought the summer home in Boca.)
“But some of us didn’t wrap ourselves in red, white and blue even though SCOTUS said we could.”
But some of us didn’t wrap ourselves in red, white and blue even though SCOTUS said we could. Instead, we lost our friends amidst the centerpieces and cake toppers. And when their honeymoons were over and they moved to the suburbs, their apartments were rented out to the woman who called the cops when she smelled marijuana in the building, to the man who harassed the trans women on the first floor, to the couple who would feel safer raising their son in the building if there were a neighborhood watch so let’s just get a petition going around the building to implement our own self-sanctioned surveillance, okay?
Our buildings got remodels, and so did our rent prices. Our neighborhoods turned into high rise apartments—mixed-use developments with washer/dryer in unit, a 24-hour yoga studio (for residents only), and great views overlooking Whole Foods. Our neighborhood clubs (well, those that survived) started catering to “anti-racist” white boys with dreads and no sense of irony, to straight girls who thought gay boys were “adorable” but who were uncomfortable at the sight of dykes, and to the sort of queers who don’t call themselves “queer.”
As the established clubs were appropriated before our eyes, we formed new clubs. Informal clubs. Raves at discreet locations.
We kept dancing still.
Friday nights became a blur of loud music and wild dancing. Hookups and free love. Hugs and screams when we saw old friends. Drinking and party drugs. Hey grrrl and love your shoes and stay safe out there tonight.
When the news of Pulse broke, we reminded each other to keep dancing, and dance we did. We danced to remember and to forget. We danced until our feet hurt. We danced until we wore tracks in the floors of whatever condemned warehouse, or old barn, or rented gymnasium we were in that night.
And we keep dancing still.
For the artists, the underground musicians, and the queers, dancing is harm reduction. We dance any chance we get. We dance to celebrate and we dance when we don’t have anything left to celebrate. We dance whether or not it’s safe.
“When you’re queer, safety is relative. We keep our bouncers on the lookout for biggots and cops; no one has time to worry about exposed wooden beams.”
When you’re queer, safety is relative. We keep our bouncers on the lookout for biggots and cops; no one has time to worry about exposed wooden beams.
Our rainbow #Pulse tattoos remind us that in clubs with state-of-the-art sprinkler systems, we still get shot. So we dance where we can, when we can, for as long as we can.
And we’ll keep dancing still.
E.L. Axford is an angry, Roller Derby DykeTM who would prefer to keep her identity a mystery before her online persona gets her real-world persona into more trouble than she can handle. When she’s not angry (which is rarely) she enjoys drinking loose-leaf tea.