This month, THUMP honors Pride with a celebration of LGBTQ nightlife all across America. Follow our coverage here.
Dance music began as a refuge for marginalized people. That legacy bears repeating, because everywhere you look within contemporary electronic music nightlife—be it on festival bills or at underground basement shows—you’ll find near-constant reminders that those with the most power in dance music are straight white men. The good news is that there are always going to be people who remember the culture’s roots and are fighting for the place of women, LGBTQ people, and people of color within the scene.
There are event series like Daphne at Chicago’s Smart Bar that specifically center themselves around booking women and non-binary people. TUFFEST launched last year in Seattle, centering women and non-binary people in electronic music. There’s also recurring parties New York’s Papi Juice, whose stated goal is “celebrating queer and trans people of color and the folk who love them.” And those are just a few among the many events all across the country that are specifically centering queer people in their booking practices.
By and large, events like these are run by people who are seeking to create spaces that are safe for the marginalized groups they’re hoping to uplift—and most of the time, they do it right. But as these inclusive nightlife spaces have become more popular—and frankly, more in vogue for the press to cover—it’s also presented new challenges. As the language of events thrown for and by the queer community becomes more widespread, it’s easy for promoters to say the right things without putting in the work to provide an environment that’s safe and comfortable for the communities they’re ostensibly serving.
That lack of attention to detail is an issue that I’ve especially seen affect non-binary people over the past several years. As non-binary and otherwise gender non-conforming people become more visible in the US—Oregon has just become the first state to allow its residents to identify as a gender other than male or female on a government-issued ID—it’s become more and more popular for parties to include language that suggests that they’re welcoming to people of those gender identities.
But it’s my experience that they sometimes fall short of those stated goals. It’s not too uncommon to see an event for queer people taking place a venue that doesn’t have gender-neutral bathrooms, for example. So in light of all this, it seems prudent to review some basic tips for making parties welcoming to non-binary people.
1. Actually book non-binary people.
The yearly number-crunch of festival bill data every year only tells part of the story of the dance music ecosystem. But Pitchfork’s breakdown this year shows that even after years of work, there’s still a huge gender imbalance on the world’s biggest stages. Straight white men still receive the most prominent placements, and still get paid the most for those slots. Those gigs are harder to come by for non-binary people—but that’s easily fixed with some careful thought from promoters.
This bit is pretty self-evident, but if you’re putting together a party that’s explicitly geared to serve women, non-binary people, and the queer community, you should actually book people representative of those groups. As we’re constantly reminded, structural advantages—like access to expensive equipment and the white men frequently in charge of booking nightlife events—benefit from patriarchal hegemony even in the underground. So whatever you can do to dismantle those power structures through redistribution of wealth and social capital can go a long way. If you don’t know any non-binary artists off the top of your head, do some digging. Go to other queer club nights in your city, read local press, ask your friends. Visibility has a ricochet effect—who knows how many non-binary kids you could inspire to take up the decks if they see themselves reflected onstage?
While booking a line-up, it’s also important to consider how other power structures intersect with gender identity; as much as non-binary people are overlooked in society, it’s that much harder for non-binary people of color or disabled non-binary people. Book those people too. Obviously.
2. Provide gender-neutral bathrooms.
All those vodka sodas have to go somewhere, but bathrooms can present especially tricky situations for gender non-conforming people, who can be sometimes read as using the bathroom that doesn’t correspond to their assigned gender, no matter which one they use.
Especially as laws restricting gendered bathroom use continue to pop up across the country, it’s your duty as a promoter to provide an environment where concertgoers feel safe using the restroom. Fortunately, as Rose Dommu, a THUMP contributor and New York nightlife fixture, explained on this week’s THUMP Podcast, it’s easy enough to cover gendered bathroom signs with notes that say “urinals” or “stalls.” If a venue won’t let you do this for whatever reason, take your party elsewhere. There’s really no excuse!
3. Do as much as possible to staff your venue with queer and non-binary people.
As stated above, it’s always good to put traditionally marginalized people in roles of power in your organization. Some of this will happen naturally if you’re embedded within the community you’re hoping to serve, but always make efforts to staff your events with people who are representative of those communities. Not only will clubgoers be more comfortable seeing door people, bartenders, and hosts who reflect their experiences, but you’ll also have people on your team who can recognize problems—like potentially predatory or intolerant guests or staff unnecessarily gendering attendees—before they snowball. So many issues of discrimination, conscious or otherwise, can be avoided just by putting people from the community in places of power.
4. Train your staff to avoid gendering people.
If you haven’t been able to staff your entire venue with cool queer kids—and even if you have—it’s important to provide resources for your staff so that they know how to avoid assumptively gendering the people who show up. The most obvious way to do this is to teach them to be careful of their language when greeting people. Some people won’t care about being called “Dude,” “Man,” or “Sweetheart,” but for others, being gendered in those ways can throw them off for the rest of their night. Sometimes it’s cool to just say, like, “Hi.” People like that!
Also, be mindful about pat-downs, if that’s something your venue insists upon. The nightlife industry has a weird tendency to act like the TSA and sort people into lines of “male” and “female” so that they’re not accused of impropriety. But doing so, as Dommu pointed out on our podcast, genders attendees in a way that’s uncomfortable at best and outright discriminatory at worst.
On a related note, be sure to train your staff ask for pronouns if the opportunity for more prolonged interaction arises. It can take some brain rewiring for people unfamiliar with this sort of practice—but it’s a good thing to do in everyday life, and especially important for a show geared toward people spanning many different gender identities.
5. Check in on people, and listen.
Walk around and talk to people. This is applicable to any event you might throw, but especially to any event specifically geared toward non-binary people. Make it clear to people that they have someone to come to if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe—be it due to harassment or other issues that can arise in dark loud rooms. Listen to them if they express feelings of discomfort, and take actions to remedy it. You can’t stop assholes 100% of the time, but you can watch a room, get a sense of who’s making people uncomfortable and curtail the problem before it gets out of hand. If worst comes to comes to worst, you can even kick people who are ruining the vibe out of your space. Just be present.