It’s Friday night. I’m invited to a rave by an edgy gay woman who’s obsessed with houseplants and astrology, this seems perfect, except… the function is predominantly white… I should make more of an effort to be immersed in Queer nightlife, I think. But as expected, it doesn’t end up being the communal or spiritual experience I’d hoped for. There are a few micro-aggressions that I had to ignore to keep the peace. This is the worst feeling. It’s Friday night, again. A hip-hop/Afro-fusion night might be better – but I’m almost certain it will be way too straight for me. I float between these two subcultures as though it’s necessary to choose just one.
I’ve wondered, especially in my younger years, if being Sudanese and queer was always going to be a balancing act. ‘Belonging’ was a theme I came across often when speaking with Afro-diasporic people in Europe, and those of us who are LGBTQ+, it seems to be an even more prominent issue. Migrants and children of immigrants, I found, struggle to find a balance between relating to their ethnic cultures – and relating to queer culture.
I did not escape war or direct physical violence, that’s something I want to stress. What I am, is a migrant alienated from a home country where anything queer or gender-fluid is prosecuted; held back by bureaucracy rather than weapons.
In this experience of emotional exile, I subconsciously search for places that provide me with the luxury of not having to hide – and the discovery of Black queer nightlife does just that. I’m disappointed that more spaces like this do not exist for afro-diasporic people – or that they’re often co-opted or gentrified.
The main kind of magic that Black queer nightlife has worked in my life and in the lives of the people I know – whether its club nights or balls, is the subversion of that constant heteronormative, white gaze we encounter from immigration officers, police, security guards, or just random men in the street. I experience Black queer nightlife as an exercise in imagination: how would I live if I were completely free? What if there was no ‘hypothetical cis-gendered straight man’ judging my every move?
If you come from an (Afro)diasporic background, participating in queer nightlife culture is a courageous act, and the forces against you in those hours are tangible and physical, even if you live in the UK, or somewhere in mainland Europe, away from anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. In the same way that the darkness of night-time can provide comfort through the concealment of your identity – it can also open up a portal where violence can go unnoticed, or where police presence is increased. In those settings, it is easy to become prey due to your race and/or immigration status on top of being targeted for your sexuality.
In his thesis, Eddy Almonte addresses that spaces for queer people of colour are diminishing, while mainstream LGBTQ+ spaces are, in fact, thriving. Even when governments incentivize nightlife, queer nightlife for people of colour does not benefit. A possible reason he posits is the “homonormativity of queer nightlife” where spaces are centred around a mainstream portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community that is “increasingly ‘family-friendly’ and white.” While such mainstream spaces are increasing, spaces for queer people of colour are, in contrast, targeted and suppressed due to socioeconomic segregation of cities and systemic racism.
If we are always presented with only mainstream/white LGBTQ+ nightlife, we lose the opportunity to truly experience the productive and creative magic of inclusive queer spaces, where that heteronormative white gaze is totally subverted (think of the historical contributions of Ballroom culture, pioneered by Black and Latino queer communities). We also run the risk of making queer nightlife a spectacle, rather than an activity that truly serves the most vulnerable of our community. Alternative club nights like Pxssy Palace, for example, address the varying degrees of discrimination encountered by queer people of colour, especially Afro-diasporic people and citizens of non-western countries.
Whether you are queer or a person of colour or both, not having this heteronormative white gaze constantly looming over you and judging your actions and decisions – even if for a few hours – is freeing. This sense of freedom spills over onto my everyday life and encourages me, therefore, to attempt to live as though this ‘gaze’ does not exist; a very difficult but necessary exercise. Queer nightlife ideally offers an illusory escape from discrimination, it, therefore, lets us imagine what the world could be like if we were ultimately liberated. I like to think of imagination as the gateway to creation.
For all these reasons, we should challenge ourselves to create more inclusive queer spaces and grasp the potential they hold both on a personal and collective level.