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February 18, 2021
The Black Queer Dance Party That Helped Me Find Myself In NYC
Just before giving up on NYC nightlife, Staff Writer Nikko Duren discovered their safe place. What happens to these spaces after the pandemic?
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Sweat trickled down my cheeks like tears of joy. My sparkly flare pants clung tight around my thighs. My feet were wide apart, planted firmly on the cement below me as Sylvester’s come-hither jam “I Need Somebody to Love Tonight” nearly shattered my eardrums. To my left, I caught a glimpse of someone shaking their floor-length, pink braids all over a group of smiling Black faces who cheered them on with their hands up in the air. This ecstatic sight gave me chills. It was a humid day in June 2019 - World Pride Day to be exact - and I was twerking at The Well in Williamsburg. There, in the middle of the dancefloor, I closed my eyes, took a breath, and stood still for a moment of silent prayer.

Dane Isaac

As a recent transplant from the Bay Area, finding this sacred space on the dancefloor wasn’t exactly easy. I remember showing up to venues with friends, quickly taking a scan of the cis- and straight-dominated dance floor, and immediately sneaking back to my apartment - sober and alone. I was tired of being the one Black person at the grungy house party or the only queer person at the dive bar. Deep down, I believed that NYC had more to offer me than the compilation of drunk and disorderly events that had filled my weekends.

Dane Isaac

That’s why Joy Party BK felt so different. This day party was the first time I felt safe enough to bring my whole self to a public space in my newly-minted city. This monthly party was hosted by Brooklyn Boi Hood, a collective of queer and trans people of color (QTPOC) who create space for other QTPOC to feel safe and rejoice.

As a Black, queer, non-binary person, I’d finally found a sanctuary where I could blend in and vibe out at the same time. Seeing thousands of Black queer folks voguing to disco music, passing around water bottles, and showering each other with much-deserved compliments was like a breath of fresh air compared to nervously reminding my coworkers that I use they/them pronouns at a holiday party in my Midtown office. It was liberation in the form of a day party.

Dane Isaac

When I first moved to New York, I used to lay on my bed and stare at my bedroom ceiling for hours, dreaming of finding a community like this. Everyone told me it would take at least two years to really find “my people,” and every time I heard it, I kicked myself for moving here alone. On weekends, I’d shove my way onto the dance floor in the cramped back room at Mood Ring, a dimly-lit Bushwick bar that happened to be three blocks from the apartment I shared with three white strangers.

I occasionally had a good time there. But after a while, I got tired of long-haired dudes in leather jackets stepping on my shoes, bumping me with no apology, and staring me up and down while leaning against the wall out front. So I abandoned my local bar scene and started venturing out to queer parties like Papi Juice, Bubble T, and GHE20G0TH1K. They were better, but as an introvert who loves to sleep, I hated waking up at midnight to float aimlessly through giant warehouses filled with well-dressed strangers, red neon signs, and DJs playing hard house. Going out with friends quickly went from being a good time to my least favorite chore.

Dane Isaac

Finding Joy Party was like being thrown a lifeline just moments before giving up on NYC nightlife. And after that surreal Black queer fantasy of a World Pride event, I was hooked. You could spot me in line at every one of their monthly parties, hosted at venues like Three Dollar Bill, Kings Beer Hall, and House of Yes. Joy Party was the only place that I felt confident enough to wear my Aaliyah-inspired club looks, which incorporated both feminine and masculine elements.

The Joy Party community reminded me of the inclusive social scene I left behind in Berkeley. During undergrad, I lived in a BIPOC-only housing coop that was full of queer folks. Living amongst 30+ other queer people everyday gave me the courage to be fearless. In spite of the compounding societal consequences of racism and queerphobia, our values bound us together like a family. We frequently hosted events that had the same vibe as Joy Party.

Dane Isaac

Just nine months after I’d found a safe place to commune with “my people,” the global pandemic brought the regularly scheduled “church service” to a screeching halt. I distinctly remember the last Joy Party before COVID-19 changed everything. It was at Three Dollar Bill in East Williamsburg, where the massive dance floor afforded everyone more than enough room to twirl, sway, and dip without disrupting one another’s groove. Little did I know that this night would be the last time our community would be connected in one space.

Life had taken away the one place I could simply show up without having to explain, audit, or shrink my Blackness.

Life had taken away the one place I could simply show up without having to explain, audit, or shrink my Blackness. The Brooklyn Boi Hood community managed to host a virtual event for Pride 2020, but nothing socially-distant can compare to intimacy of line dancing to Beyonce’s remix of “Before I Let Go” with a crowd of 1500 people on a sweaty dance floor. For the next month, I spent the majority of my free time venting about this loss in group chats with other QTPOC.

Dane Isaac

In the midst of this mourning, I joined 15,000 other people at the Brooklyn Museum on Sunday, June 14, 2020 to demonstrate against the violence affecting Black trans folks across the country. After the deaths of Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Nina Pop, Riah Milton, Tony McDade, Layleen Cubilette-Polanco, and others, QTPOC organizers asked our community to gather in protest. There was an undercurrent of joy in our resistance, as folks vogued their way through the streets, consoling one another, and chanting phrases like “Stand up, Fight Back!” On another humid day in June, I could sense the ethos of Joy Party in the air.

As of February 2021, it’s been nine months since the last time I gathered with other QTPOC folks in mass. In lieu of intimacy with the community that has established my sense of belonging in NYC, I’ve turned to Barbara Smith’s essays, Elegance Bratton’s films, and Kaytranada’s albums for glimmers of joy. But looking ahead, I wonder what happens when spaces designed for folks like me no longer exist. I imagine that only a fraction of NYC’s nightlife venues, queer bars, and QTPOC-run collectives will still be around after the pandemic. If these safe spaces for Black queer joy don’t reemerge, I can’t imagine living in this city for much longer.

This piece was edited by Deidre Dyer, a freelance editorial director and brand consultant. Find more of her work here.

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