Part 2 of 2 on parties: norms in straight vs. queer spaces, how to create a safer atmosphere and is there such a thing as unspoken consent?
Last week, I was really enraged at the sexist dynamics of a party, which had advertised itself as a respectful, erotic place for people of all persuasions. I felt like the lack door policy, and the permission of cameras, led to a sexist dynamic of straight men in casual clothes ogling women dressed-up in erotic wear. I was frustrated that the organisers hadn’t reinforced their door policy and allowed people in who were not on the guest list. I thought they needed to take responsibility for the atmosphere of the parties they create and acknowledge where they go wrong.
The vibe of this party got me thinking about the difference between this, a mixed party for straight and queer people, and queer parties for queers. My experience of mixed parties is, sadly, that I often feel the ‘freaky queers’ are being objectified by the ‘normal’ straight people. I get angrily defensive of my people when I feel we are put on display for the titillation of straight people. When we are just expressing our freaky selves in an atmosphere that we assumed would be safe.
Although I have many criticisms of the dynamics of queer communities, I do think there are some things we do well. Although our attempts to talk about hierarchies and prejudices are flawed, at least we are trying to talk about them. I don’t like imposing a blanket ban on straight men from spaces, because there are some straight men I would like to flirt with. But last week reminded me of how blessed I am that I can sometimes go to a party where I can dress like a pretty slut, and feel safe doing that.
Last week I promised I would answer the tricky question, ‘is there such a thing as unspoken consent?’ Hmm. I really do set myself up for challenges, don’t I? I don’t really want to discuss sexual consent here, but I do want to discuss the norms of queer parties. I appreciate queer scene attempts to cultivate a respectful atmosphere where people feel safe. I have seen this a lot in Berlin around the treatment of trans folks at FLT (Women, Lesbian, Trans) parties. In our invitations to events, such as on Facebook, we use the space to lay out rules; how we imagine the space is going to be. We suggest what kind of atmosphere we are trying to cultivate. There is a leaflet that sometimes circulates on Berlin toilet doors that is a guide to the respectful treatment of trans folk. For the alternative pride march in Berlin, a group of femmes also made a guide to respecting femmes for the Berlin community, which has a history of not being so hot in femme respect.
When organising The Berlin Femme Show 2012 I got annoyed at how fussy people were about photographers and wouldn’t let people photograph them, but now I understand it a bit more. I hate to feel put on a stage, my freaky femininity, eroticism or queerness there for the entertainment of ‘normal’ others. I feel this especially when I am not performing. I expect and want attention when I do burlesque. I also want sexual attention from other queers at parties. But I see now that things like a ban on cameras helps to create a respectful atmosphere where no-one feels like they are being the freak and non-consensually performing for others.
Two days ago, a pretty shitty incident happened outside a mixed queer/straight club in Berlin. The party offered free entry to Queens and Kings, and because I couldn’t afford the entry fee, I decided to get changed into my Queen outfit on the street. This involved taking off my jeans to reveal stockings, putting on high-heeled boots and taking off my top so that all I was wearing were sparkly tit tassles and a net cardigan. A Queen indeed. Unfortunately, some drunk teenage boys took my near nudity as an excuse to come right up to me and stare at me, make some rude remarks and try to grab hold of me. My reaction to this was violent. I told them to fuck off and went to kick them. They left me alone after this threat, but I entered the party feeling angry with them, and guilty at my own violent reaction. Luckily, a friend was with me and escorted me to the door; otherwise I would have been afraid I would be attacked outright.
Perhaps I was naïve. Getting changed on the street and not expecting any unwanted attention. I had just come from being on a drag and burlesque stage, where I performed topless and was treated with nothing but respect by the audience. I think sometimes I forget that Berlin isn’t this big happy queer play space and that some men, when faced with a half-naked woman, think it’s their lucky day. A perfect opportunity to … what? I have no fucking idea what goes on in their heads at that moment. I pride myself on my empathy – my ability to understand others’ points of view, especially when I don’t agree with them – but I can’t imagine those teenage boys’ thought processes at that moment. I think it’s something to do with being macho, being in a group and wanting to show off to their friends. I don’t think they are thinking clearly. I think they are being drunk, and hyper and talking about girls and then they see a sexy girl and they do something really fucking stupid. I hope they feel bad about what happened. I bet, on some level, they do.
These two recent experiences have left me feeling exhausted by the fight for my bodily autonomy in straight spaces, and grateful that queer spaces do exist where sometimes, just sometimes, I can be who I am and not expect to be attacked for it.
I would also like to talk about violence as a response to sexual harassment. My instinctive reaction when attacked is to yell, swear and hit back. I have beat myself up about this but found it affirming to hear two feminine, queer lady friends of mine talk about their own violent reactions to being queer bashed or sexually assaulted. One told me she will kick and fight back until she sees understanding in their eyes that they have done wrong.
I would be interested to hear about your own reactions to sexist, homophobic or transphobic violence. How do you react and are these reactions deliberate or instinctive? How do you feel about the way you react?