On Feb. 15, Oakland-based queer dance party, Ships in the Night, posted this on its Facebook page:
“if you are *cis* straight & thinking of coming to Ships In The Night, please consider that you are taking the place of a queer person. #realtalk #takingupspace”
And right below that:
“we stand by this sentiment. if you disagree, please find another party. #everyotherpartyisforstraightpeople #realtalk #takingupspace”
The controversial post has naturally garnered many heated comments. Pro-separatist commenters wrote things like:
“Thank you for this!!!!! My group of queers didn't get in last time.”
“So many cis straight tears. Life must be so hard with all that privilege.”
And “…sometimes being an 'ally' means getting the fuck out of the way and making room for those who you claim to support.”
Pro-inclusion commenters pointed out that for an event that purports to promote community and equality, telling allies and whites to go elsewhere isn't the greatest solution:
“I would echo the sentiment that having a space be welcoming to all is big. Before I had any sort of queer community, it was my cis straight best friend that went out with me as I got my first tastes of the homofabulous nightlife scene.”
“…for myself and my partner who are both QWOC [queer women of color], this was EXTREMELY DISHEARTENING and evocative of homophobia and racism that we frequently experience and expect in the outside, everyday world.”
And “Queer has always been about inclusivity. It's what makes these nights so much better than a strictly 'gay' or 'lesbian' night. It's a beautiful, loving, warm, INVITING community.”
Fans of the dance party who were upset over the post responded by making a Change.org petition asking Ships to apologize and recant and by creating a counter-party boycott at TGIFriday's. The outcry also prompted a much lengthier defense from Ships organizers on their blog. Here's a snippet:
“This past year the Ships crew and patrons have been experiencing the changes and shifts that gentrification (among other factors) have had on our communities and events. Gentrification in the Bay Area has influenced the queer community and we can all see it in the crowd at the party. We have noticed an increasing amount of white faces, a lot less of Black and Brown queers, more *cis* straight-identified people coming to the queer dance party; specifically many of our Old Oakland crew and friends are not attending the party. There is also an overall vibe of individual needs being more important than the community's needs and a lack of cognizance of personal space and spatial entitlement. We have had a lot more incidences of people getting overly intoxicated alone, people being pushy at the bar trying to buy a drink, people elbowing their way to the dance floor to claim their spot, constant microaggressions, etc.”
The post doesn't specify who is responsible for all the “spatial entitlement,” getting drunk alone, and elbowing, but it implies that these are examples of Straight Whites Behaving Badly and not the more likely culprit: Drunks Behaving Badly. Ships continues:
“… If you are a white person (of any gender, sexuality, identity) not directly connected to a network of accountability around your own whiteness, please consider that you may be taking the place of QTPOC [queer and transgender people of color] and white queers who are doing the work and would, with a shift in dynamics, otherwise like to attend Ships.”
Part of the problem is that Ships has a space issue. It takes place at The New Parish, which is roughly the size of a breadbox. And like every popular Bay Area queer dance party, long lines abound, many give up or don't get in, and those who do get in face a packed space and still more agonizing lines at the bathroom and bar. Instead of addressing these legitimate concerns — by, say, switching to a bigger venue, hosting more frequently than once a month, ramping up security for those who feel unsafe, and so on — Ships organizers, half of whom are white, instead chose to issue a hostile proclamation based on blanket race and identity assumptions in the guise of political uprightness.
Of course, Ships can't actually control the race and sexuality of those admitted to the party. We'd like to see that screening process: “ID please. Great, thanks. Now are you directly connected to a network of accountability around your own whiteness? Fantastic. If you'll just write up a 3,000-word essay proving how you curtail the dominant paradigms of heteronormative hegemony, we'll let you right in.”
Or: “Hi, are you 'doing the work'? If not, I'll have to ask you to leave. The queer person of color behind you does the work by virtue of genetics and a history of lived oppression.”
Or: “Is that a Sylvia Plath tattoo on your arm? Please check your white privilege along with your peacoat inside.”
Since Ships can't enforce its own racial and political ideals, it is asking patrons to police themselves and any straight/white friends they might want to dance with, a tactic that is only going to alienate and isolate people further. There is no singular enemy at play here, but it's far easier to demonize ALL the straight/white people than it is to look closely at individual behaviors and how we treat others. To bastardize Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous quote: It's not the color of one's skin or who one wants to see naked, but the “content of one's character.”
We're also gonna throw it out there that some of the straights Ships organizers have noticed “infiltrating” the party might actually not be straight. Many feminine-looking queer women read as straight, and many non-flamboyant queer men read that way too. Unless Ships is taking detailed histories of its patrons' genital exploits, no one can be certain who is straight. But that's not really the point.
Despite the supposed inclusivity of the LGBTQQIA community — as evidenced by the ever-expanding acronym — queers have a long and sordid history of policing and excluding each other's sexualities, identities, and politics. “Can't we all just get along?” is not a strategy oft-embraced by queer political correctness. Perhaps the most obvious example is how fractioned Pride has become. Lesbians thought gay men were taking over and started Dyke March. Trans people felt marginalized by both groups and started their own march, too. Queers of all stripes thought too many straights were in attendance, and boycotted the whole thing. And bisexuals continued to be ignored by everyone in the sexual spectrum and are day-drinking alone somewhere as we speak.
The strangest part of this whole debacle is that it is somehow being packaged as not prejudice or discrimination, even though discrimination is defined as “the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people.” Ships is hawking the same kind of prejudice and discrimination historically leveraged against queers and minorities, without the faintest hint of irony.
Some partygoers don't want to twerk with 1,000 Justin Biebers, and that's fine, but recognize that preferential treatment for one group over another and crying “straight privilege” is a similar move to the homophobic bakers denying gay couples cakes and crying “religious persecution.” Exclusion, in-fighting, and claiming that one kind of prejudice is okay out of “political righteousness” aren't viable solutions to Ships' problems, and we think it's especially sad in the context of who gets to booty-bounce while drinking overpriced Miller High Lifes.
Ships is hosting a forum to hash out some of these issues at the Bay Area Queers Talking Race Community Forum (QTR) on Sat., March 9 at 2 p.m., at 3405 Piedmont Ave., Oakland.
Clarification: The folks at QTR would like you to know that the forum was not created to air Ships concerns, but since Ships organizers are collaborating with QTR for this forum, some of the issues mentioned in this article will be discussed. More information can be found on their Facebook event page. They also claim the time and location of the forum might change.