Friedberg and Perry weren't the only ones staking out new ground on the dance floor; this was a party whose time had come. Part of the impetus came from the increased visibility of trans folks. "In San Francisco, there are gay bars and lesbian bars, but there aren't any trans-specific bars," says Amos Mac, co-editor of trans mag Original Plumbing. When the magazine launched, the Original Plumbing crew hosted a series of parties in Brooklyn and San Francisco to raise funds.
"When we had the first benefit party [in San Francisco], it was so clear to us that there was a need for this sort of physical space because people came from all these far-away rural towns that you wouldn't think transpeople lived in," says Original Plumbing's co-editor, Rocco Kayiatos. "It was our original intention to create a space for all types of queer people and allies." In the past few years, similar events have sprouted up organically across the country, including Boston.
LOUD AND QUEER
Befitting the variety of the Nu Life crowd, Perry and Friedberg draw inspiration from a staggering number of music styles. Though they're especially partial to bass music and its offshoots like dancehall and ragga, they also spin cumbia, sissy bounce, '90s rave jams, and Rihanna remixes.
"I love indie music," Perry said. "But it felt like the only thing ever for queer people to do around here was to go a party and hear Cut Copy or Madonna all night long."
Friedberg's a tiny bit less diplomatic: "You get a lot of kitsch, you get a lot of camp, and a lot of '80s songs. It's fine — there's a time and place for that — but that's not innovation."
"Queer people do listen to hip-hop," Perry said, "and sometimes we listen to homophobic shit, and sometimes we listen to misogynist stuff, and we're able to accept that as a part of that culture and flip it and queer it."
Dancehall, a fixture at Nu Life, has experienced some pushback in the queer community for its homophobic tropes.
"We want to be able to express ourselves and love that music anyway, and make it make sense for us and for people who come to our parties," Perry said. "I won't play people who are egregiously horrible, but you can take a song and queer it."
Perry cites Buju Banton's song, "Batty Rider," in which the singer makes ample reference to "batty boys" — a homophobic slur. In another song, "Champion," the artist holds himself up as a paragon of manliness: "Me wanna walk like a champion."
"So you just switch it so he says, 'Walk like a batty boy,' " said Perry, "and it changes the entire meaning and message of the song."
And they play LGBT artists, too.
"We're in an open world now," Friedberg said. "We're playing new, quality gay artists. We don't have to look back to pop icons like Cher and Madonna and wish that they were gay."
Eugenia Williamson can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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