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Parties With a Girl Flavor: Dyke Nightlife

‘It’s so white here,” laments a late-twenties white girl from her corner perch atop the Middle Eastern–inspired cushions of the hookah bar Sultana, the home of Choice Cunts. “All the black girls go to one party, all the Puerto Rican girls go to another.” But a look around Choice Cunts—thrown by Ellie Conant, a Korean promoter who styles herself “The Gaysha”—actually reveals a pretty good mix of people: a smattering of black girls, Latinas, and Asians swirled in with the white-skinned majority of what one patron calls “the trendy, hipster lesbians of Brooklyn,” plus a few tranny boys. Top 40 hip-hop spins, to the displeasure of some, but generally to success: The dance floor is packed. Asymmetrical hair, white T-shirts, and Chuck Taylors blend seamlessly with tight tube tops and low-rise jeans in a gyrating throng while Rihanna blasts through the front doors onto a Williamsburg street. It’s homogenous, yes, but not remarkably so.

Just as hetero women get divvied up between Sex and the City haters and wannabes; just as the gays have spawned their own categories like twinks, bears, and leather daddies; so in the lesbian scene’s micro-worlds, everyone—from the goth poet and non-shaving organic gardener to the high-femme bleached blonde and the suburban mom—can find a place to call home. Sometimes, true, the divide is racial, but it’s also age-related, and almost always geographical: How often is a Williamsburg dyke found at Cattyshack [249 Fourth Avenue, Park Slope, 718-230-5740, cattyshackbklyn.com] or a Park Sloper at Metro [559 Lorimer Street, Williamsburg, 718-599-4444]? So what better occasion than Pride to spend some quality time checking out the many faces of the community coming together under the auspices of gay history, solidarity, and a penchant for getting ecstatically wasted?

The big momma of the weekend is the official women’s Pride party on Saturday, June 28, Rapture on the River [Pier 54, 13th Street at the West Side Highway, 800-494-8497, 6 p.m., $20–$40]. Hosted by Heritage of Pride, the organization behind the next day’s march, Rapture lets you watch the sun go down in the company of a few thousand gals to the tunes of DJ Susan Levine, a Fire Island fixture. Head up to Rapture’s massive after-party, Pier Pressure [Pier 59, 18th Street at the West Side Highway, lover girlnyc.com, 9 p.m., $20–$25], co- produced by LovergirlNYC and Henrietta Hudson. Over 2,000 women will dance on two floors in a 12,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor venue to DJs Kim Dazy and Stacy. Dani Campbell—spurned by sometime lezzie Tila Tequila on MTV’s A Shot at Love—will also appear.

Alternative chicks will enjoy Dee Finley’s follow-up to last year’s loud-and-proud rock show Heavy Eyeliner [Friday, Don Hill’s, 511 Greenwich Street, time and price TBA], featuring Team Gina, GSX, and more: “It’s a party for outsiders, not the kind of girls that wear ponytails through their softball hats,” Finley says. On Saturday, hipster fete Choice Cunts [160 North 4th Street, Williamsburg, choiceinbrooklyn@gmail.com, 8 p.m., $10–$15, 18+] welcomes DJs Lesbian van Halen and Sophia H. Sarah FM raises money for RightRides and employs a strict no-’80s, no-irony playlist at Laid [Knitting Factory Main Space, 74 Leonard Street, rightrides.org, 11 p.m., $10, 18+], with DJs Bianca and Noa D. On Sunday, the mother of all alternative gender-queer Pride parties, *snapshot*’s annual Proud as F-ck [35 East 13th Street, snapshotnyc.com, 6 p.m., $10–$15], returns to the roof deck of Bar 13.

If Laid is no-’80s, West End Girls [HK Lounge, 523 Ninth Avenue, 212-947-4208, Monday at 7 p.m., free], one of the few lesbian events above 14th Street, is—as the name implies—all-’80s, with classic films from the Reagan years like Flashdance. Uptown girls—and by that we mean fancy—can also be found at Showstopper [BLVD, 199 Bowery, myspace.com/showstopperparty, Friday at 10 p.m., $10–$12], a fashion-forward, erotically charged event (synchronized pole dancers, anyone?) brought to you by Wanda Acosta (who also runs Starlette). Other schmancy affairs include Stiletto [18 Ninth Avenue, myspace.com/stilettoevent, Sunday at 11 a.m., $5], an outdoor soiree for upscale femmes at the Hotel Gansevoort’s Garden of Ono, and Shescape’s holding three events: Kick-Ass Kick-Off [Mannahatta, 310 Bowery, shescape.com, Friday at 10 p.m., $15], The Main Event [I Tre Merli, 463 West Broadway, Saturday at 10:30 p.m., $20], and Climax [Aspen, 30 West 22nd Street, Sunday at 8 p.m., $10].

For the cheap girls, there are no covers at these lezzie institutions—on Pride or ever. Starlette [Angels & Kings, 500 East 11th Street, starlettesunday.com, Sunday at 8 p.m., free] is the East Village’s long-running Sunday-night party. Slopers of all shapes and sizes can enjoy a garden BBQ and a Bud at the old-reliable lesbian pub Ginger’s [363 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope, 718-788-0924, gingersbar.com, Sunday at 2 p.m., free].

Women of color flock to LovergirlNYC’s Fifth Annual Pride Event [Mars 2112, 1633 Broadway, Friday at 10 p.m., $20–$35]; Extravaganza [Pacha, 618 West 46th Street, Saturday at 10 p.m., $20–$25]; and Grand Finale [Shadow, 229 West 28th Street, Sunday at 10 p.m., $20]. DJs Mary Mac, China, Missy B, Trini, and Tease spin the best hip-hop, r&b, house, and reggae, while dancers Oohzee and Mona could melt the poles with their moves. Snack on the buffet and elegant eye candy at A Taste of Honey 3 [Iguana, 240 West 54th Street, xclusive-ent.com, Saturday at 10:30 p.m., $20–$25], where rapper Charlie Baltimore and r&b songstress Chrystal Atmosphere perform. At Cirrah [Sultana, 160 North 4th Street, Williamsburg, 718-218-8547, myspace.com/cirrahfridays, Friday at 10 p.m., $10], Miss Sugah and her dancing divas do a special performance, putting a burlesque spin on the wildly popular party.

Queens’ two Latina lesbian bars both move to Manhattan for Pride. Chueca presents Sinful at the Chelsea club Prime [511 West 28th Street, myspace.com/chuecabar, Saturday at 10 p.m., $20–$25], while the Bum Bum Bar collaborates with Hudson Heels to present Last Call [Porch, 115 Avenue C, myspace.com/hudsonheels, Sunday, free, time TBA], with DJs Charo and Boli.

Sporty gals will hit up the after-party for the Gotham Girls Roller Derby game on Saturday. The Queens of Pain take on the Brooklyn Bombshells, followed by post-game inebriation at Manitoba’s [99 Avenue B, gothamgirlsrollerderby.com, Saturday, free, time TBA]. For those who’d rather participate in indoor sports, play parties for women and transfolk provide a safe space for some hot BDSM action. Lesbian Sex Mafia’s Pumped Up With Pride [call for location, 212-726-3844, June 22 at 5 p.m., $20] also serves as the after-party for New York’s leather festival, Folsom Street East. Scores of people ranging in age from 21 to fiftysomething turn out for Felice Shays’s Submit [call for location, 718-789-4053, submitparty.com, Saturday at 10 p.m., $15–$20]. “At the end of each party, we have to pull folks apart like junkyard dogs in heat!” Shays says. Or you can dig into the Ibiza nostalgia at Foam Party [Club Remix, 24 Murray Street, nikkis remix.com, Sunday at 6 p.m., $15].

If you’re looking for a sugar mama (or are one), these parties draw maturer crowds than those who play in the foam: Q-Girls [the Eagle, 554 West 28th Street, q-girls.net, June 25 at 7 p.m., $5] gets an early start mid-week on the rooftop for the 30-plus set, while Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) is hosting a post-march cool-down at the Center [208 West 13th Street, 212-620-7310, sageusa.org, Sunday at 4 p.m., free].

The bars of the West Village are notoriously crowded but notoriously fun on Pride Sunday as the masses reach Christopher Street. At Cowgirl [519 Hudson Street, 212-633-1133, cowgirlnyc.com], just about everybody and their mother (seriously—there’s a huge PFLAG contingent in the parade) congregates for much-needed margaritas, while the nearby Rubyfruit [531 Hudson Street, 212-929-3343, rubyfruitny.com], Henrietta Hudson [438 Hudson Street, 212-924-3347, henriettahudson.com], and Cubby Hole [281 West 12th Street, 212-243-9041, cubbyholebar.com] are packed with revelers joyously toasting LGBT unity.

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The End of Public Sex

On the night before Memorial Day last month, several hundred men were packed into the top floor of a building in the meatpacking district. A DJ spun in a corner while bartenders frantically poured vodka into paper cups. A few of the men—most of them older—had checked their clothes, but the younger ones were keeping theirs on. In a few darkened corners, there were a few guys giving blowjobs and some ass play; overall, however, the scene could have passed for a typical holiday weekend at any East Village gay bar.

What was most notable about this party wasn’t that a few people were—somewhat desultorily—playing around. Rather, it’s how many didn’t seem to evince the slightest interest in a hookup of any kind. Despite the heat (no fans, let alone air conditioning), the naked go-go boys and the alcohol people seemed content to make chitchat. And whatever little sex was going on, most seemed oblivious to it.

In 2002, I wrote the Voice‘s cover story for the Pride issue on “The Return of Public Sex.” I chronicled the explosion in sex venues, from clubs to private parties to backroom bars: “After years of AIDS anxiety and government repression, gay public sex is bigger and better than ever,” I wrote.

What a difference six years make.

The city has shut down all but two bathhouses and every known sex club in Manhattan, as well as citing bars, clubs, and private parties where inspectors find any men-on-men action. The few entrepreneurs still out there complain about apathy and different priorities among younger gay men.

Daniel Nardicio, the promoter who put on the Memorial Day–eve event, sees himself as a veteran of the battle to bring sleaze to the masses. He’s perhaps best known for TigerBeat—underwear parties held at the Slide on the Bowery, where everyone had to check his (or, occasionally, her) clothes. The city shut down TigerBeat in 2004 by orders from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, citing complaints about sexual activity.

Since then, Nardicio has been a nomad, exploring various venues. He’s had bathing-suit parties at a Turkish sauna on Wall Street; organized a road trip to Atlantic City; and tried out a Chinatown photo studio, other Lower East Side bars, and, most recently, the meatpacking-district loft space. His themes always brush the far end of good taste: For Memorial Day, he gave out Fleet Enemas. So he doesn’t blame the authorities for the lack of sexual license as much as a fundamental change in the attitudes of gay men themselves.

“These things are ending because people don’t want them anymore,” he says. “People are spoiled, petulant, uninteresting. I’ve been throwing outrageous parties again and again for years, but the only time I was busted was at the Slide.”

Like everyone else these days, Nardicio blames the Internet for the lack of public engagement. Even so, he adds: “If people wanted dirty, raunchy parties in New York, it would happen. But people don’t want it.”

If there’s a generational shift between post-Stonewall gay men and their younger counterparts, it’s that the latter are more interested in fashionista kiss-kiss cocktail soirees like Hiro at the Maritime Hotel and Beige at B Bar: “People are so obsessed about how they look,” Nardicio complains. “Everyone wants to pretend they’re an A&F model.”

For some, this new attitude may mark a healthy and normal progression—from the generation that had to fight for its right to party to a new breed fighting for the right to marry and serve openly in the military. Today, it’s easier than ever to come out, and people are doing it in high school or even before. Coming out so early in life, they don’t feel as alienated from straight women—or, increasingly, men. Rather than facing discrimination and alienation, they can look forward to marriage and children: “They’re not feeling as marginalized,” Nardicio says. “Young guys are not as interested in a gay-only scene.”

Even on the Internet, young guys are at least as interested in social- networking sites like MySpace as hooking up on Manhunt. “The 21-year-olds are interested in dating,” Nardicio notes. “There’s a lot less self-hatred.”


Still, there’s no question that Mayor Bloomberg’s administration hasn’t exactly been sex-positive. Rumblings about the city’s policy came to a boil in January, when a reporter at the local newspaper Gay City News obtained a copy of an internal memo recommending that the city’s health commissioner move aggressively to monitor sex clubs more closely or shut them down altogether.

Since the memo was leaked, city officials have been talking out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand, public faces for the administration like Dr. Monica Sweeney—a top official working on AIDS prevention and services—have been attending public forums where, in Sweeney’s case, she patiently explains over and over that there is no organized pogrom against public sex: “There have been no plans at all in the Department of Health to close commercial sex venues,” she stated at a heated meeting at the LGBT Center in February.

The city’s actions, however, tell a very different story. Manhattan’s three best-known sex clubs—El Mirage, the Studio, and the Comfort Zone—have all been shuttered: El Mirage two years ago, the other two much more recently. The Wall Street Sauna was closed in 2004, leaving the city with two bathhouses, the East Side Club and the West Side Club. Bars like the Cock, the Eagle, the Slide, and Boysroom have been cited for various violations. Mr. Black, perhaps the most popular hangout for the city’s younger gay set, was shut down last year for alleged drug dealing on the premises.

One of the last remaining owners of a Manhattan sex club tried to play ball with the city: He contracted with Positive Health Project, a local AIDS-information service known for its outreach, to give safe-sex demonstrations, lectures, and offer HIV testing. Condoms in bowls were everywhere, as were safer-sex messages. None of that satisfied city inspectors, who then raided the club for alleged building-code violations.

All of this leaves a few vocal gay men outraged—most of them older. Eric Rofes, the California academic who wrote extensively on the positive aspects of gay sex before his death in 2006, spoke passionately at the LGBT Center two years ago about the need for random interactions and meeting places in the age of the Internet. He decried the “disappearance or diminution of sex-site premises,” such as gay bookstores (where men can have sex in semi-private stalls), and the “privatization of sexual cultures,” such as the leather and S&M scenes—all dismissed as tired or played out by the next generation of gay men.

The site of Nardicio’s party was emblematic of the fundamental changes that have taken place in the city: Much of Cruising, the infamous Hollywood version of rampant gay sex in the ’70s, was filmed there. Portraying a man dying of AIDS in The Hours, actor Ed Harris threw himself out of one of its windows. This is where the Hellfire Club once hosted S&M parties for straights, gays, and everything in between; now, moneyed Europeans and Wall Street traders dine on raw meat of a very different kind.


To be sure, people are still having sex. But compared to the bad old days of 2002, it’s a movable feast and ever more underground. A recent issue of HX, a local gay-party weekly, listed 24 private clubs, from the New York Bondage Club to Foot Friends (foot fetishists), Golden Showers of America (water sports—i.e., piss), Bear Hunt NYC (fans of the heavy-set and hirsute), and Thugs4Thugs (exclusively blacks and Latinos). And those are only the ones listed; other clubs, such as New York by Night, which meets monthly in a Hell’s Kitchen apartment, and NYC Jock Party, in Brooklyn, limit themselves to e-mail lists and references.

Those who defend such parties point to isolation and fear as the prime causes of HIV infection. Shutting down places where people can have sex, they argue, is like shutting down bars because people get drunk. Prohibition proved that didn’t work, and neither will pretending that all gay men will go to California to get hitched if they’re denied group sex. Perry Halkitis, a professor of psychology at NYU, compares such attempts to the arcade game Whack-a-Mole: “You hit the mole, others pop up,” he said at a public forum earlier this year.

Others, however, just stay down. On a nondescript side street in southern Hell’s Kitchen a few weeks ago, a former sex club held an unusual “yard sale.” Items like an industrial-strength sling, leather outfits, and sex toys were being sold by the owner (who asked that his name not be used). He says that he provided condoms and lube for his patrons but couldn’t—and wouldn’t—turn his staff into sex police. “If you go to a club and there are condoms supplied for free, isn’t that better than going to someone’s home where there are no condoms available?” he asks. “People take a handful when they leave. When we close down, these people will still be having sex with each other. They’ll just have to look harder.”

Among the scavengers at the yard sale was Daniel Nardicio, buying some theatrical lighting for possible upcoming parties. He’s moving on, however: He’s got an Internet radio show, a fast-growing East Village–oriented website (DList.com), and even plans for an apparel line—underwear imprinted with the wearer’s phone number.

New York, he sighs, has fallen behind other world cities: “Everywhere is more sexually happening,” he complains. “I love New York—I can’t live anywhere else. The problem is, it’s so unmotivated, so uptight right now.”

Mike Peyton, a promoter active in the fetish scene, believes that there’s still a desire for hot sex, whether in public, in private, or online. “We pioneered it; we rivaled everybody,” he says. “It’s not just sex—it’s erotic expression. When the meatpacking district was in full swing, there were tranny hookers, clubs like the Mine Shaft, the trucks. It’s sad to see that go. New York was once the bastion of freewheeling sex. Now it’s lost.”

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Gay Nightlife: Parties With a Boy Flavor

Color me cynical, but when Pride season rolls around every June, I can’t help but feel like that gay rainbow blends into a few predictable shades. God knows I love my Chelsea boys, with their physical perfection and enduring love of Erasure remixes. But Pride involves more than shirtless wonders tearing up the dance floor.

The gay “community” (ironic word in this context, no?) is way more diverse than that—and so are our parties. Where are the club freaks? The rock ‘n’ roll fags? The bears, daddies, and leathermen? Where are the homies and banji boys? And where are those elusive post-gays? They’re celebrating Gay Pride, too. (OK, maybe not the post-gays.)

No one gets turned away from a Pride party because of the color of his (or her) skin. But don’t some of those big mega-parties seem, well, white? Way uptown, Pride looks a whole lot different—mostly because Bronx Pride [June 21, Barretto Point Park, Tiffany Street and Viele Avenue, 12 to 7 p.m., free] provides its own dance events. The borough boys and girls will be turning it out with flava. Uptown queens Lorena St. Cartier and Tyra Allure-Ross host a full day of live performances, featuring freestyle music legend Cynthia, Jiggley Caliente, vogue Evolution Dance Co., and the Step Team for Social Justice, among many others.

Back in Manhattan, Escuelita—the midtown casa for flava hunks and hot papis—is throwing an old-school ball. At the NYC Rumble Ball 15: Proud and Serving [June 22, Escuelita, 301 West 39th Street, 212-631-0588, 10 p.m., 18+], future legends and up-and-coming children will serve up fierceness in categories like “Realness Thug,” “Vogue Fem Dramatic” and “Female Figure Face,” all in the colors of the Pride flag. Netflix Paris Is Burning and learn a thing or two, ’cause this shit is gonna be majah.

If you really want to work, hightail it further downtown to Club Ultra, where KissMyBlackAss [June 26, 37 West 26th Street, 212-725-3860, 10 p.m., $10] makes its triumphant return after a several-month hiatus. Brothas and their lovahs will be dancing the night away to the sounds of KMBA resident DJ Quentin Harris, with an opening set by James Andersen. Like the name says, if you’re lookin’ for black ass, come by and pucker up.

Since Giuliani’s reign of terror, ass-kissing (of the non-political kind) has been harder and harder to find in our town. New York’s fetish scene has gone underground—but isn’t that part of the fun? Homos and hets take to the streets in broad daylight for Folsom Street East [June 22, West 28th Street between Tenth and Eleventh avenues, folsomstreeteast.org, 2 to 8 p.m., $10]. This all-day leather extravaganza is like the illegitimate child of a street fair and fetish party, with 50 community groups and vendors. The queen of raunch, porn director Chi Chi LaRue, emcees the wickedness, with performances by porn stud turned pop star Fredrick Ford, our own Trai La Trash, and many more talented pervs.

NYC’s 21st-century gay-fetish scene continues to find new venues. Mike Peyton, a party promoter who caters to the “Levis/leather/fetish” crowd, says that as the fetish scene has waned, gay leathermen have transformed themselves into what he and others call a “guy scene.” (Think men in their thirties and forties in jeans, T-shirts, and facial hair drinking beer instead of cosmos.) “I won’t go so far as saying ‘straight- acting,’ ” says Peyton, “but that’s certainly the posture and personality most take.”

Call it post-fetish, post-bear, post-daddy, or post-post: Where do these dudes hoist their brewskis during Pride? The first stop on your city-wide burly-boy tour has to be SPIT [June 25, Uncle Ming’s, 225 Avenue A, second floor, 212-979-8506, 10 p.m., $5]. Host Paul Short and DJ Mike Grimes bring you a night of sexy, sleazy fun for queer skinheads, butch boys, and everyone in between: “It’s not a glamour crowd by any stretch,” laughs Short.

On Saturday, June 28, butches and bears gather at the Highline Ballroom for Bob Mould and Richard Morel’s popular DC import, Blowoff [431 West 16th Street, 212-414-5994, blowoff.us, 11 p.m., $20]. It’s a huge daddy crowd, all bald heads and facial hair, so bring your Oedipal issues and take your problems to the dance floor.

Don’t miss the march down Fifth Avenue, but catch a disco nap before Sunday night’s Supersnaxx [June 29, Cielo, 18 Little West 12th Street, 212-645-5700, 10 p.m., $25], with daddy-darling DJs Rich King and Gustavo and fuzzy Chelsea fave Josh Wood. Then crawl your way over to XXL NYC’s Pride Masked Ball [June 29, Webster Hall, 125 East 11th Street, 212-353-1600, xxl-nyc.com, 11 p.m., $40–$60], where DJs Hector Fonseca, Tony Ruiz, and Corey Craig will be spinning for the big boys, bears, cubs, and chubs, with Heloise and the Savoir Faire performing.

On the other end of the masculinity spectrum, the post-gay, sexually ambiguous hipster boys will be headed downtown on June 21, when bi’s, real girls, trannies, and rock ‘n’ roll faggots shake at Theo Kogen and Michael T’s monthly Rated X/the Panty Party’s Fifth Annual Gay Prom [Don Hill’s, 511 Greenwich Street, 212-219-2850, 10 p.m., $7–$15]. Sweaty, sleazy pop and glam rock lead up to Peppermint Gummybear’s infamous hot-body contest.

“There’s a strong subculture of unbridled you that finds the notion of choosing one sexual preference over another both damning and a chore,” says DJ Jess of TRASH!, a weekly pansexual new wave/glam rock party at 40C. On June 27, TRASH! celebrates Pride with its first annual Pretty Gay Masquerade [40 Avenue C, 212-466-0800, 10 p.m., $5–$10], with an open bar courtesy of Zygo Energy Vodka till 11 p.m. and giveaways from Kill Shop Kill. Enjoy a night of riotous sexuality sans prefix where, as Jess says, “we care less about who’s in your bed and more about who’s on your iPod.”

We’re such a big tent, there’s even room for those who get up every morning and go to a real job. Meet your future ex-husband on the Human Rights Campaign Greater New York Steering Committee’s annual Pride Cruise [June 25, $86, check greaterny.hrc.org for location].

So who have we left out? Oh, right, the hot muscle crowd. There’s plenty for them to do, starting with circuit stars Peter Rauhofer and Offer Nissim’s Work Pride Special Friday [myspace.com/worknyc], or jungle master Victor Calderone’s Evolve: Pride 2008 on Saturday [Pacha, 618 West 46th Street, 212-209-7500, 10 p.m., $30].

Men from around the world will be rubbing muscle at Ric Sena’s Alegria [June 28, Webster Hall, 125 East 11th Street, alegriaevents.com, 11 p.m., $90] and the Saint at Large’s Champions [June 29, Pacha, 618 West 46th Street, saintatlarge.com, 10 p.m., $50–$60].

But the one party that brings everyone together is the capstone of the Pride March, Heritage of Pride’s Dance on the Pier [June 29, Pier 54 in Hudson River Park, 13th Street and West Side Highway, 4 p.m., $55–$125]. It’s the main event, with a secret superstar (we’re talking Whitney, Mariah, J. Lo, Janet) and fireworks over the Hudson. Because, in the end, we’re all here together, and we’re all beautiful.

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Three Dollar Drinks and a Plush Banquette

Ladies, it’s time to tell the truth. We love Pride because it’s the perfect excuse to party until we can’t move anymore and engage in make-out sessions as if it’s our last week on Earth—but, who can blame us?

And why not start the frenzy early? On Wednesday, get to mingling at the new Vagina 1 party [9 p.m., China 1, 50 Avenue B, 212-375-0665, free]. If the name alone doesn’t do it for you, I don’t know what will. Cushy, red-accented lounges named after various female nether regions (Ovary is one, Labia another) offer secluded nooks for getting to know your neighbors. Screaming Orgasm shots ($3) and door prizes from Babeland increase the chances of naughty goings on—just try to remember you’re in public.

For those whose style is more chaste, the Jewish Community Center’s Caribbean Pride Party [7:30 p.m., JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave, 646-505-5708, $20–$30] takes things down a notch on Thursday with an evening that’s perfect for locating wifey material— particularly nice girls a mom would love. Dinner, cocktails, and live steel drumming sets those U-Haul dreams floating.

On Friday, Shescape gets back to the debaucherous with the Kick-Ass Kick-Off [10 p.m., Rush, Sixth Avenue, between 15th and 16th streets, shescape.com, $15]. DJ Francesca Magliano spins dance music galore for hundreds of sophisticated women there to eye go-gos and get sloshed. If you’d rather be the dancer on the podium than one in the crowd, Showstopper [10 p.m., BLVD, 199 Bowery, myspace.com/showstopperparty, $15] is where it’s at. The venue’s havinga “So You Want to Be A Showstopper” contest for any girl who thinks her pastie twirl is the best. The winner pockets 100 bucks and gets to dance with the cabaret-fashioned Showstopper Girls at next month’s party. Pop singer Kirsten Price emcees.

Brooklynites lazy about leaving the borough can walk over to regal hostess Aja’s Cirrah Friday [10 p.m., Cattyshack, 249 4th Avenue, 718-230-5740, $10] with DJs Mark James and Reborn spinning hip-hop, house, Afrobeat, and other boogie-friendly tunes. It’s a white party—which means prizes and free drinks for anyone dressing the part.

On Saturday, the action moves to Heritage of Pride’s first big official dance for women, Rapture [from 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., Pier 54, 13th Street at the Hudson River, 212-807-6421, $25–$35]. The party takes the carousing outside, bright and early (or at least what counts as early when you’re nursing a hangover), offering views of the Hudson and thousands of lovelies on the dancefloor. This year, DJ Kris Kono takes over the turntables with pop faves while songstresses Ultra Naté and Sylvia Tosun bust out dance-y house music. Gingi Medina and Melissa Hayden from the new surfer reality series Curl Girls also show the ladies love.

If you’re sick of hanging out with teenyboppers, you’ll relish Lovergirl NYC’s A Taste of Honey II [10:30 p.m., Copacabana, 390 11th Avenue, 917-881-6259, $20–$30]. Leave the sneakers and the athletic duds at home for this 25-and-up fete that’ll include daring erotic performances by DC’s Oohzee and Sweet Goldie, and a show by r&b singer Monifah. Lovergirl NYC also lives up to its rep for having one of the city’s leading hip-hop (not to mention most libidinous) parties with the Annual Pride Extravaganza [10 p.m., Rebel, 251 West 30th Street, 718-654-5833, $25–$30]. The Wire‘s Felicia “Snoop” Pearson hosts as countless out-of-town erotic dancers get down on the stage. DJs Mary Mac, Trini, Missy B, and Tease light up the ones and twos.

On Sunday, pretend you never drank all of those Long Island iced teas, and slip over to
Henrietta Hudson
[11 a.m., 438 Hudson Street, 212-924-3347, free] for breaks from the Pride Parade. The bar is packed from noon ’til who-knows-when with hundreds of women bumping and grinding. It’s a nice spot to meet the flirtatious-and-ready if previous nights have proved fruitless. The best place, though, for a last-minute tryst is Snapshot’s trusty Proud As F*ck [6 p.m., Bar 13, 35 East 13th Street, snapshotnyc.com, $9]. Only a few blocks from the parade, the rocker-ish party has girls rolling all over the place with five DJs booming house, new wave, hip-hop, and more on two floors. Take breathers (and cigarette breaks) on the roof deck, ’cause it’s your last chance to get lucky.

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Where Gay Doesn’t Play

Faith, a 20-year-old transgender woman, celebrated her local gay pride the same
way the rest of the Bronx did: on the down-low in the barrio. On the borough’s Pride
Day there were no crowds of people waving rainbow flags, no politicians leading the parade past Yankee Stadium. Instead, the borough held a subdued gathering in a
park on the Hunts Point industrial peninsula, not far from a landfill where the city wants to build a jail. It was the only the second time in seven years that the Bronx has marked Pride at all.

For Bronx Pride organizers, the June 16 celebration in Barretto Point Park is an
example of the complex relationship the borough has with its LGBT population. According to organizer Lisa Winters, simply finding a site was a challenge, because so many queer Bronx youth did not want to march in a parade down the Grand Concourse or any other major thoroughfare. Many gays aren’t out to their friends and family, and certainly not to the local street toughs who would harass them. Some Bronx LGBT youth cannot square their homosexuality with their faith, which teaches them that being gay is sinful.

Sage Rivera, who works with homeless LGBT youth at the Bronx Pride Community Center, said that when he sees the kids from the community center in their neighborhoods, he quickly turns away for fear of inadvertently outing them. Rivera said the kids frequently change clothes in the bathroom at the center or in the train station before heading home. Makeup and accessories disappear and mannerisms change before they return to their disapproving parents.

“They’ve grown up with a punishing God,” Rivera said. “It helps to contribute to kids having low self-esteem.”

When she was living at her mother’s home, Faith was constantly harassed. Her brother disapproved of her being gay, let alone transgender. Her mother was constantly under pressure from Pentecostal relatives who frequently advised her to straighten her son out. “They would probably throw holy water on me,” Faith said.

Faith heeded her sister’s advice and adopted the uniform of local youth, wearing baggy khakis, a white T-shirt, and a white ‘do-rag. Faith has her own apartment now; it’s still the only place she feels safe enough to wear makeup. Even at the Bronx Pride Community Center, she wears her street costume. She fears being outed and attacked, even killed. Growing up, she faced intimidation and death threats in school.

Fear of violence hasn’t been the sole problem for Bronx Pride. When Winters took over as executive director of the Bronx Pride Community Center in 2004, she was amazed to find that the borough had not had a Pride parade since 2001, and that no one seemed to care. After transforming the center from a tiny operation with a two-person staff into a fully functioning social-service agency for the LGBT community, Winters turned her sights on trying to get a real Pride celebration off the ground.

That was easier said than done. In 2006, the parade was almost canned after city officials dragged their feet on issuing a permit. Winters hailed an intervention on the part of Council Speaker Christine Quinn of Manhattan in getting the go-ahead. Not a single Bronx politician appeared to step up that year—or this one.

“Every step of the way there’s been an obstacle to get a park this year,” Winters said, in the weeks before the festival. Organizers wanted to have the celebration at Crotona Park, which would have horrified Faith, who lives in that neighborhood. However, parks officials told them that security was too stretched by other events that day.

The huge open field of Van Cortlandt Park in Riverdale was another choice, but organizers were told that construction in one corner of the park made the site unacceptable. Pelham Bay Park, considered the Central Park of the Bronx, and Orchard Beach were off the list because each was having an event on that same day.

A little help from local leaders might have smoothed the way. “Is this a borough that wants a Gay Pride celebration?” Winters asked. “Why do we have a lack of support from elected officials here in the Bronx?”

She said the vast majority of elected officials show little—if any—support for the LGBT community. At a fundraiser gala for the center in April, Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson was the only elected official besides Manhattan Councilmember Rosie Mendez to attend. Winters counts Johnson and Congressman Jose Serrano as the only pols to openly back the center. Serrano has earmarked money to help fund its programs. The Bronx Pride Community Center did receive $5,000 from Borough President Adolfo Carrion. By contrast, the center received $50,000 from Council Speaker Quinn for capital improvements.

“The Bronx still has a culture of machismo, coupled with religious communities, and these fan feelings of homophobia. Being visible is petrifying,” Winters said.

The interconnection of religion and politics in the Bronx has indeed proven intimidating to many. One outspoken enemy of LGBT rights is State Senator Ruben Diaz. The Pentecostal minister openly opposes gay marriage and is against the city Health Department’s policy allowing transgender people to change the sex designation on their birth certificates.

“If their sex is woman, why would they believe they are a man?” he has said. “I believe in what God created: man and woman.”

Diaz, who has been serving as state senator since 2002 and heads the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization, believes most of his constituents support his views. He doesn’t see why his positions should fuel violence or fear. “I don’t hide my position on traditional values or moral values,” he said. “I don’t believe in gay marriage. That doesn’t mean intimidation or homophobia. I don’t believe in abortion. That doesn’t mean that I’m anti-woman.”

Diaz stressed the need to provide services for the LGBT community as for any other constituency. However, in 2004, the minister and his clergy organization led a huge rally on the steps of the Bronx County Courthouse, in the shadow of Yankee Stadium, to oppose gay marriage and demand a constitutional amendment preserving the “sanctity of marriage.”

Queer people in the Bronx saw the move not only as red meat for the senator’s congregants and constituents, but also as intimidation.

“People think you’re messing with God’s design,” said counselor Tyra Allure Ross, who runs the transgender program at the Bronx Pride Community Center. “Parents beat their children until they become straight.”

Hoping to counter the rhetoric and to bring religion back to the Bronx LGBT community, Reverend James Dusenbury began In the Life Ministries, the borough’s only openly tolerant church catering to the LGBT community. Despite his message of inclusion and acceptance, the congregation has so far drawn only older lesbians. Gay men, young people, and the transgendered have been staying away. The pastor believes they are afraid to be seen by their neighbors.

Dusenbury, who grew up in Queens, understands. When he came out, his mother took him to church to try to change him. When that failed, his mom threw him out of the house. After being raped in a city shelter, Dusenbury took to the streets. He said it was safer for him to work the streets as a drug-addicted prostitute than to spend time in a shelter.

After getting clean, Dusenbury came to terms with God and realized that he wanted to create a house of worship that accepted him and other LGBT parishioners. He now wants to work with Winters to create a homeless shelter for gay youth. “God didn’t make an error. He made me this way on purpose,” the pastor said.

For now, Winters and her staff are attempting the delicate work of trying to help LGBT youth and drum up political clout without generating a backlash. To reach the center, young people like Faith endure the gauntlet of 149th Street. They sprint past numerous storefront churches and faith-based social centers, as well as the hostile characters on the corner. They do it because the center is one of the few places in the Bronx where they feel accepted.

“It’s a good place for youth to feel comfortable with their sexuality,” said 19-year-old Mikey Liriano, who attends the Bronx Pride Community Center daily. “The community tries to put us in a corner. People see us as a threat. It’s not a choice. It’s who you are.”

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The Queer Agenda 2007

ITEM 1: HEALTH INSURANCE TAX

Currently the IRS treats gay and straight partners differently when it comes to health benefits. Married employees don’t get taxed on the value of dependents’ insurance premiums or health benefits; if you use domestic partner coverage, you do get hit with the extra tax. Together with the bite from Social Security, federal, state, and local levies can amount to almost $5,000 a year—all for trying to take care of your queer family.

The Tax Equity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act of 2007, introduced by Washington State representative Jim McDermott in the U.S. House at the end of March, would remedy this inequity for gay and unmarried straight couples alike, by excluding the value of domestic partner health benefits from gross income. Employers benefit too, since their payroll taxes are higher when the value of health benefits are included in salaries. Senators Gordon Smith of Oregon, a Republican, and our own Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, are expected to introduce the bill in the Senate soon.

ITEM 2: IMMIGRATION

Sylvia Makresia represents a different aspect of the current debate over immigration, and not because her parents came to New York City from Greece. Her partner of the past 11 years is a Spanish woman without a green card, so they must split their time between here and Madrid—where same-sex couples can legally marry. “It’s a constant back and forth. You never know where you’re going to be. It takes a toll financially and emotionally,” Makresia says.

On May 8, New York City representative Jerrold Nadler and Vermont senator Patrick Leahy introduced legislation that would allow American citizens like Makresia to sponsor their same-sex partners for immigration purposes. Like other binational couples, they would have to prove that they have financial ties and get friends and family to sign affidavits. The bill is called the Uniting American Families Act, and Makresia thinks it’s overdue. “I have rights in Madrid, and I wish I had the same in America.”

ITEM 3: SAFE SCHOOLS

Ten states have “safe schools” laws, which specifically prohibit bullying on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation. That’s the second most common cause of bullying. Some studies show that places with these laws have 25 percent less violence, name-calling, and intimidation. “I don’t think these anti-bullying programs can stop bullying, but I certainly believe it can lower the level,” says Christian Fuscarino, president of the gay-straight alliance at Columbia High School in South Orange, New Jersey. “If the topic of homosexuality is brought up between two people, usually it’s the closed-minded person who ends up opening their mind.”

A “Dignity Coalition” of over 100 organizations, including teachers unions and gay-straight alliances, has been lobbying to bring a safe-schools law to New York. For seven straight years, the measure has passed the State Assembly yet failed to come to a vote in the Senate. ” Iowa passed a law this year,” says a disgusted Kevin Jennings, executive director of GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. “We’re supposed to be the cutting edge here in New York and we’re behind Iowa now. It’s incredibly frustrating.” But, he vows, the Dignity Coalition is in it for the long haul.

ITEM 4: JOB DISCRIMINATION

Over half of all Fortune 500 companies currently have official policies in place prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But in 33 states it is still legal to fire someone for being gay, and in 42 states you can fire someone for being transgender. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), introduced by Representative Barney Frank in late April with bipartisan sponsorship, would for the first time make sexual orientation and gender identity protected categories under federal employment law. Among the bill’s supporters is the head of the Transport Workers Union of America—representing over 130,000 pilots and train conductors—who compared discriminating against gays and lesbians to barring redheads or lefties from employment.

ITEM 5: TRANSGENDER RIGHTS

Gender identity and expression stand at the rapidly advancing frontier of queer acceptance. In the past year alone, Colorado, Iowa, Oregon, Vermont, and North Carolina have passed laws with transgender-inclusive language; ENDA, the antidiscrimination law now in the House of Representatives is being updated to be transgender-inclusive and will then be introduced in the Senate. “I think we’ve reached a tipping point,” says Lisa Mottet, who works on transgender issues for the Gay and Lesbian Taskforce. “It’s been a great year for transgender rights.”

But at the local level, June Brown at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project sees an enforcement gap. Her clients are often poor people of color facing multiple levels of discrimination from landlords, bosses, even the state. “People do come through these doors in need of basic, basic services,” Brown says. “One in five transgender people have experienced discrimination from a social service provider.”

[

ITEM 6: DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL

Rhonda Davis gave up her career for the truth. Last June she put on her Navy uniform, went to a Marriage Equality New York rally, and told a reporter for 1010 Wins that she was there to stand up for her right to marry the love of her life, a Korean woman. “I’d done a lot of soul-searching and decided I don’t give a crap what I have to personally lose to make people understand this is wrong.” Now the award-winning military broadcaster and public-affairs officer is turning her communications experience toward ending “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” the Clinton-era policy that bans being out or actively gay in the armed forces. The Military Readiness Enhancement Act, introduced in February of this year by Massachusetts representative Marty Meehan, replaces “Don’t ask, don’t tell” with a nondiscrimination policy. It already has 109 co-sponsors and the support of a group of retired generals. At a time when our military is stretched thinner than ever, and badly needed Arab-language interpreters are being tossed for their sexuality, most Americans in polls support allowing U.S. policy to match those of 24 of the 26 other NATO countries. The other holdouts? Portugal and Turkey.

ITEM 7: HATE CRIMES

On May 20, 1978, Kenneth Decker’s first love was beaten to death at 17 by three men in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. That “devastating experience,” he says, shaped his life as an activist working with gay youth. A quarter-century later, Decker was driving near Newington, Connecticut, when he was pulled over by three policemen. “They roughed me up a little,” he says. “It was mostly really rude and obnoxious verbal threats and harassments. They called me a ‘fucking faggot’ and a ‘goddamned queer.’ Today, Decker lives in Virginia, the closest state to New York without a hate crimes law protecting LGBT people. The federal Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed the House on May 3 and is currently before the Senate, as the Matthew Shepard Act. The bill expands federal authority to investigate and prosecute hate crimes, which would be especially important in states like Virginia where there is no state law. And for the first time this federal law specifically defines hate crimes based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender or gender identity. “A lot of the importance behind it is symbolic,” Decker says, adding that education must tackle the causes of hate head-on.

ITEM 8: CIVIL UNIONS

In a June 4 survey by the Human Rights Campaign, all eight Democratic presidential candidates came out in favor of providing same-sex couples willing to seek a state blessing the 1,138 federal spousal benefits they now lack. (After some flip-flopping, it looks like Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani is sort of standing behind civil unions as well.) On the state level, civil unions had their best legislative session ever this year—between December and April New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Oregon passed civil unions or domestic partnership laws. Today, about one-fifth of the U.S. population is covered by such laws. On the other hand, according to the Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 41 states have anti-gay marriage and family measures. And interestingly, some gay-rights groups are moving the target. For example, the “Beyond Marriage” coalition seeks access to government support for families, relationships, and households of all kinds, whether joined by love, kinship, or friendship. Terry Boggis, for 20 years the director of the Center Kids program at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in New York City, says, “The right to marry is not the be all and end all for me personally. I’ve seen way too many families that would not be protected by privileging couples.”

ITEM 9: ADOPTION

The right of gay parents to form families through adoption is a state-by-state crapshoot. Utah, Nebraska, Mississippi, Michigan, and Florida have laws specifically restricting adoption by gay individuals and/or same-sex couples, while courts in Ohio and Wisconsin have ruled against second-parent adoption. Overseas, countries like China and Guatemala have banned adoption by gay couples; closer to home, doctors in some conservative states refusing to help lesbian couples conceive. In general, though, with the new Democratic majority in Congress, the number of bad parenting bills has gone down while the good laws are trending up, says Kara Suffredini, the legislative lawyer responsible for adoption issues at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Colorado joined the short list of states (California, Connecticut, and Vermont) explicitly granting second-parent adoption. Statutes are important to save families from being at a judge’s mercy, Suffredini adds. “When you don’t have laws that specifically say that couples of the same sex can adopt, you have patchwork protection.”

ITEM 10: 401K REFORM

President George W. Bush can be credited with one great achievement on behalf of gay American couples and families. It’s been little noticed to say the least, and it’s not clear that W. even knew what he was doing, but victories are victories. On August 17, 2006, Bush signed the Pension Protection Act, a 907-page law that includes two key provisions affecting any couples who can’t legally marry. As before, you can designate your domestic partner as a beneficiary on your 401(k). If you were to die, he can now transfer the funds into an IRA account and draw them down over time, avoiding tax penalties for early withdrawal. Alternatively, if he were to face health or financial problems, you can now take “hardship distributions” from your retirement fund to get through the rough patch. “Americans who spend a lifetime working hard should be confident that their pensions will be there when they retire,” Bush said as he signed the Pension Protection Act of 2006. Indeed. And they should be confident that their partners will be able to share in that security. Now we just have to get the word out.

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Six Days on the Pink Team

For all the joys of pressing the flesh—or merely lusting after it—at the annual Pride parade, sometimes an urban queer longs for a rainbow week that’s not quite so, so, so . . . .

Luckily, Pride week wears many colors, not all of them shades fit for a disco ball. See the following listings for a taste of what’s out there, and then check out the Voice Choices calendar for even more picks. And remember: It’s your party. Spend it just the way you want.


WEDNESDAY June 20

[Show]
Will Sing for Food

Really now, you can’t go just anywhere to hear a live rendition of a song with a name like “Nice Jewish Boys,” followed by one named “Fagnet.” You can get all that and more (like a couple of smooth drinks and an awfully sweet date) at Mel & El: This Show Rhymes. Having conquered the midtown theater scene, Melanie Adelman and Ellie Dvorkin are taking their act straight—OK, directly—to one of their most loyal audiences. At 7 p.m., The Duplex, 61 Christopher Street, $15 with a two-drink minimum. Part of the proceeds to benefit the Food Bank for New York City. See canneryworks.org for more scheduled performances.


THURSDAY June 21

[Exhibit]
Remembrance of Prides Past

These days, you’re lucky if you can get close enough to the curb to see the actual three- quarters-naked bodies sashaying along the Pride Parade route. But there was a time, not all that long ago, when taking to the street meant marching along with a small and determined queer platoon. See Suzanne Poli’s photo evidence of their courage, and of how good you’ve got it now, at A View From My Window: Christo- pher Street Liberation Day March 1970–1984. Hey, in the relative quiet, you might actually meet someone.
From 6:30 to 8 p.m., LGBT Community Center, 208 West 13th Street, free, gaycenter.org

[Outdoor Dance]
DJs by Moonlight

If you’re feeling as rich as the homophobes like to say we are, head uptown for the gala Lincoln Center Salutes Gay Pride. Host Jai Rodriguez and DJ Brenda Black get the crowd in motion, while an open bar and free appetizers round down the price. Dance lesson at 6:30 p.m., live music at 7:30 p.m., Josie Robertson Plaza, at Lincoln Center, Columbus Avenue between 62nd and 65th streets, $50 in advance, $75 at the door, lincolncenter.org


FRIDAY June 22

[Boat Race]
From the Left Bank

Set your course for adventure. The Fifth Annual Stonewall Sails Regatta blows through the Upper Bay, in full view of the Statue of Liberty, this afternoon. After the action, find somebody cute to ferry you—or take the PATH train—across the Hudson River for the big awards dinner and after-party. Races at 1 p.m., free dinner and party at 6 p.m., at the Newport Marina, Jersey City. Further details at ksa-nyc.org/racing/2007/stonewall/nor.php.


SATURDAY June 23

[Road Race]
Run for Your Life

Anyone up for hot quads in tight Lycra? The Front Runners Lesbian and Gay Pride Run kicks off in Central Park this morning. The five-mile race, led by the queer Front Runners Club and the utterly friendly folks at New York Road Runners, promises the best in cardiovascular conditioning. If you’re taking part, you’re bound to meet your target heart rate. If you’re just watching, the flow of sexy bodies might ?—just might—accomplish the same. Proceeds benefit a range of LGBT causes, including HIV/AIDS and breast cancer. Limited same-day registration from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m., $25 for non-NYRR members. Race starts at 9 a.m. Course begins and ends near 99th Street and East Drive, nyrr.org.


SUNDAY June 24

[Dyke Drama]
Chicks, White Satin Take Stage

Billed as a love triangle with a twist, The Engagement: A Snatch of Life in 3 Acts follows the pre-nuptial contortions of a lesbian couple with enough exes, hangers-on, bystanders, and nutty family members to make a winning TV pilot. At 8 p.m., Wings Theatre, 154 Christopher Street, $25 in advance, $35 at the door. See snatchoflife.com for more scheduled performances.


MONDAY June 25

[Serious Stuff]
Help When They Need It

Mark your so-called recovery from the gleeful dissolution of Pride with
Harmony, Heart & Humor
, a music/comedy benefit for the Trevor Project. Since its launch in 1998, the nation’s only 24/7 suicide hotline for queer and questioning youth has gotten calls from 96,000 kids. Now you can help make sure there’s always someone standing by. This year’s event honors actor Nathan Lane. Reception and silent auction at 6:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m., the Hudson Theatre at the Millennium Hotel, 145
West 44th Street. $40–$80. See the trevorproject.org.

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Big Girls, Don’t Cry

At first glance, the scene at the Surfside Grill, with its windows overlooking the Asbury Park, New Jersey, beachfront, could be any high school prom. The 50 or so guests, wearing formal gowns and tuxedoes, have just finished a buffet dinner—salmon, pasta, and salad—and are taking pictures of each other in front of the restaurant windows.

On closer inspection, though, this isn’t your typical prom, nor are these your typical promgoers.

Just look at what’s happening under the rainbow-balloon trellis, where Theresa Meire, a chubby 29-year-old woman dressed in a tuxedo T-shirt and blue jeans, is selling raffle tickets. For five dollars, people can get a “body wrap,” and women happily come up to let her circle their breasts, or waists, in tickets. The catch: the greater the women’s girth, the greater their chances of winning one of the evening’s prizes, including sex products, a wine sleeve, or the title of Prom King or Queen. One woman, breasts spilling out of a bright red evening gown, buys four wraps and emerges with 10 feet of tickets.

Welcome to My Big Fat Queer Prom, a celebration of body size and sexuality. Here, the words “fat” and “queer” aren’t pejoratives, they’re statements of purpose. The prom-attendees’ ages range from the teens to the fifties and the crowd is composed almost exclusively of women. Everywhere you turn, there is soft flesh—large tummies and rolling cleavage—cheerfully on display. For some of the women, who’ve spent lifetimes ostracized for their size, or their sexual orientation, or both, tonight is an opportunity to experience the prom they never had. For others, it’s just a chance to have fun.

On the dancefloor, Sharonmelissa Robertson, wearing a top made of duct tape, grinds with Miasia, a burlesque dancer. Robertson made her shiny outfit, held together by string, especially for this party. Justin Timberlake blares on a boombox. The crowd jumps and heaves.

My Big Fat Queer Prom is a benefit for NOLOSE, formerly known as the National Organization for Lesbians of Size. For NOLOSE members, fatness is an identity to be redeemed, celebrated, and flaunted. Let the rest of America panic over the obesity epidemic. For this new wave of radical queers, fat activism just makes sense. “Previous to the last 10 years there were other struggles,” says Chelsey Lichtman, a member of the Fat Femme Mafia performance group. “Now, fat is another identity that queer is making OK.”

It’s common knowledge that Americans are getting fatter. We’re reminded of this by an endless parade of media reports and medical statistics. According to the most recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control, two-thirds of Americans are overweight. Of those, one-third are fat enough to be fully obese.

Even as official concern about obesity grows, the so-called “size acceptance” community has organized its own countermovement. Since the ’60s, groups like the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance have been fighting “fat-phobia” and advocating for fat people’s rights. In 2001, San Francisco passed legislation making it illegal to discriminate based on body size, and in academic settings, fat studies—a close relative of queer studies—are gaining popularity. In 2006, the first Fat and the Academy Conference at Smith College attracted nearly 150 participants.

Lesbians, in particular, have good reason to concern themselves with fatness. In a study published in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health, researchers from Boston University and the University of Western Ontario claimed that lesbians are more than twice as likely as straight women to be overweight.

“We don’t have the data to find out why that is,” says Ulrike Boehmer, an assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences at Boston University and an author of the study. Lesbians seem to be at higher risk for a wide range of health problems, ranging from depression to polycystic ovarian syndrome and some forms of cancer. But Boehmer says it’s hard to get funding for research into what’s causing the diseases or their effect on lesbian health.

Surely some, if not most, of the obesity among lesbians is the direct result of eating too much and exercising too little. And what of it, say the fat activists. As an outgrowth of the feminist movement, lesbian activism has often questioned conventional body politics, embracing butchness and fatness more openly than straight culture. “The fat movement is an extension of the queer movement,” says Lichtman. “It’s about fighting for the rights of people who live outside the bubble of normal.”

But while many fat, hirsute gay men have found acceptance in bear culture, queer women are now only beginning to organize a female equivalent. The bear community, which rejects the conventional gay male aesthetic of buff, hairless bodies, has traditionally favored a scruffier, heavy look. Bears have a thriving bar scene—with bear bars like the Dugout in the West Village and Big Lug on Avenue A—but the subculture operates primarily as a social group.

[

“Gay male communities that center around fatness tend to be apolitical,” says Kathleen LeBesco, Marymount Manhattan College professor and author of Revolting Bodies? The Struggle to Redefine Fat Identity. “Whereas lesbian groups tend to be highly politicized.”


On a Thursday night at the Delancey, seven blocks
south of Big Lug, a different form of fat expression is on display. At midnight, the dancefloor is packed. Drag queens, rail-thin Williamsburg hipsters, and downtown professionals are sweating to the Scissor Sisters’ “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’.”

Above them, on a low stage, Glenn Marla, one of the party’s go-go dancers, strikes a pose—lips pouting, arms raised, legs akimbo—and stares across the crowd. Marla is a sight to behold: 300 pounds of curly-haired androgyny, slathered in pink glitter and makeup, and clad in a ripped T-shirt, fishnet stockings, and a pink, bouncing strap-on dildo. His considerable belly extends unashamedly over a rhinestone fanny-pack.

New York’s self-proclaimed “Hottest Fat Queer Go-Go,” Marla, who was born female, does fat-themed performances at venues around New York City. For a recent Hanukkah-themed show at the Cock, the 23-year-old lit a candle in his ass and cajoled the crowd into doing the hora.

Marla wasn’t always this comfortable with his body. Growing up in a Jewish enclave in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, he has battled an eating disorder since his early teens. Eventually, his weight reached 500 pounds. Auditioning for theater school in Manhattan, he knew his outsize size was on people’s minds. “I was too fat, even, to play the fat girl,” he says.

Daily life in New York posed other challenges. People on the street called him names. On the subway, mothers would point him out to their children and say, “If you don’t stop eating, you’re going to end up like that.” He dreaded job interviews. “I wouldn’t wish my experiences on anybody,” he says.

Then, in 2003, he stumbled on a call for performers at Jiggle-O, a cabaret benefit for NOLOSE. At the benefit, after dancing to “I Am What I Am,” by Gloria Gaynor, he stripped off his clothes and, for the first time, stood onstage completely naked. “It was like a second coming out,” he says.

After his performance, a few of the audience members approached him. “They were
like, ‘Oh my God, you need to come to NOLOSE,'” he says, and, that summer, with financial help from the organizers, he attended his first-ever NOLOSE conference. A weekend gathering of fat queers, with workshops, social events, and vendors selling fat-themed products, the conference set him on the path to becoming a fat- activist. “It was life changing,” he says.


Dot Nelson-Turnier founded the group that became NOLOSE specifically for fat queer women in 1999. The first conference, which took place in a New Jersey hotel, drew approximately 50 women—many of them “supersize” or disabled by their size.

These days, the annual NOLOSE conference attracts nearly 150 queer women and trans men from across the country and the group’s mailing list has 800 subscribers. Among the conference offerings are seminars on grassroots activism and workshops on belly love. “Loving your belly,” says Marla, “is a hard thing for people.”

For some, the NOLOSE conference offers a first-ever chance to feel sexy. “I was always more of a slob in school,” confides Meire. “I was never hot.” Now she’s a regular attendee, with particularly fond memories of the pool party. “Every year everybody gets naked,” she says.

Others are drawn by the politics. “I’d politicized just about any kind of identity, oppression or issue,” says Zoe Meleo-Erwin, one of the group’s board members. Then her ex-girlfriend encouraged her to attend a NOLOSE meeting. “It totally fucked up my mind,” she says. Now she’s one of five people planning the group’s first West Coast conference.

While some members of the group are critical of the very idea of “health,” claiming that it merely gives thin people an excuse to judge fat people, others argue that health and fat shouldn’t be considered mutually exclusive. “There are fat unhealthy people and there are skinny unhealthy people,” says Leah Strock, a former board member and a nurse practitioner in Manhattan, “but not every fat person is unhealthy.”

Tonda L. Hughes, a professor at the College of Nursing and School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has written extensively about lesbian health, thinks Strock has the right idea. “Some people can be overweight and healthy,” she says, “but not everybody.” It’s important for the community to accept different body sizes, Hughes argues, but also to remember that for many people obesity
carries real health risks, including diabetes, hypertension, and cardiac disease.

[

Some members of the queer community are also offended by comparisons between fatness and queerness. “That’s like saying the gay rights movement makes adultery or doing drugs OK,” argues Cyd Zeigler Jr., co-founder of Outsports.com, a gay and lesbian sports website. Zeigler worries about rising health-care costs. “Everyone has a responsibility to everyone else to stay healthy,” he says.

Many NOLOSE attendees, however, argue that queers have a responsibility to question the status quo. “I think that anybody who has faced discrimination should be a bit more sensitive to it,” says Strock. She wants to encourage doctors to start taking fat people’s medical issues more seriously, and stop tying all of their ailments—from in-grown toenails to stomach pains—to their weight. “Imagine you went to a medical appointment,” she says, “and they blamed everything on the fact that you were gay.”


Back at the Prom, Meire is about to announce the Prom King and Queen. People fish out their tickets, balancing long loops of them on their laps. When the winning numbers are called, they sort through their piles of paper, frantically shuffling. An awkward silence stretches on.

Finally, Bevin Bermingham, a bodacious blonde from Jersey City, comes up to claim her Prom Queen crown. As the crowd cheers, Bermingham gives a prim wave, and, moments later, in a strange coincidence, Bevin’s real-life fiancé wins the title of Prom King to a smattering of applause. They are two of the handful of straight attendees at the Queer Prom. It’s not a terribly radical way to end the evening—with a straight King and Queen—but the surprising turn does little to dampen the crowd’s mood. Soon people are dancing again.

Eventually, Meleo-Erwin hopes, NOLOSE will expand beyond the existing conference and the prom. It already runs the annual Fat Girl Flea Market, a plus-size clothing sale at the Manhattan LGBT Center, and is hoping to do more parties. But Deb Malkin, who organizes the flea market, is skeptical that their community will ever become as prominent as that of the bears. “The commodification of bear culture is pretty brilliant,” says Malkin, “but women just don’t do it that way.”

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White Briefs and Jello Shots

If Halloween is Gay Christmas, then I guess Pride is, like, Gay Mardi Gras, right? The parade, the tourists, the hot drunk boys spilling onto the streets and out of their adorably ironic underoos—it all makes sense now! But this party’s so gras it needs more than just mardi. There are enough festivities to keep a homo happy jeudi through dimanche.

Kick things off Thursday night like the natives do, with one of NYC’s hottest weekly queer parties. James Coppola and his Unitard cohorts are gonna get you soaking wet as Unisex Salon [The Delancey, 168 Delancey Street, 212-254-9920, 10 p.m., $10] celebrates “The Pride Aquatic.” The Corrosive Mother, Acid Betty, emcees the 1 a.m. show starring naughty mermaids and mermen, before turning it over to legendary DJ Johnny Dynell. And if that’s not enough, the all-night open vodka bar will definitely have you shaking your tail flipper.

For something decidedly dirtier, try Daniel Nardicio’s Evening Service at the Cock [29 Second Avenue, 212-777-6254, 10 p.m., $20]. New York’s king of queer sleaze brings you a tribute to every faggot’s worst foe: the religious zealot. Father McTigger serves some burlesque blasphemy, while go-go altar boys shake it to the spiritual sounds of DJs Scott Ewalt and Aaron Elvis. Expect more temptation than even Ted Haggard could handle.

Friday night, the fellas will be in full force for Men Are From Mars’ Showcase: Pride @ Webster Hall [125 East 11th Street, 212-714-4519, 11 p.m., $20 ? ?–$25], a night of booty bumping for gay men of color and their admirers. Get your groove on across three distinct dance floors, with DJ Unknown spinning hip-hop, r&b, and reggae, Fred Pierce and DJ Sedrick pumping out house and classics, and Vijuan Allure delivering beats in the Runway Room.

If Saturday finds you a little worse for wear, never fear, a battalion of caped crusaders is just the thing to save your nightlife. Superheroes takes over Offer Nissim and Peter Rauhofer’s Work party at Stereo [555 West 33rd Street, 212-947-0400, 10 p.m., $30–$80] for a night of masked mayhem, heroic homos, and so much spandex-clad muscle you’ll think you’re at the local comic shop. Meanwhile, a few blocks south, one of the city’s most influential gay DJs is gonna be tearing it up at one of the city’s most influential gay clubs before the city tears it down next month. Junior Vasquez and Co. take you back a decade to celebrate 10 Years of Arena [515 West 18th Street, 212-645-5156,11 p.m., $55–$65]. Get one last look at this infamous space—whatever you do, don’t call it the Roxy!—as you relive Junior’s days at Palladium with special guests South Beach queens Power Infinity and Kitty Meow in a tribute to Kevin Aviance. Rumor has it a certain big-boobied blonde is slated to make an appearance (hint: It ain’t Amanda Lepore, but they could be islands in the same stream).

Sunday is all about the parade, but with no Pride Fest street fair to follow it up this year, what’s a party boy to do with his day? DJ Adam, Steve Sidewalk, and their crew have got you covered. Spend the day at a super-extended Pride edition of their weekly Hot Mess [Porky’s, 55 West 21st Street, 212-675-8007, 5 p.m., $5]. Your first drink is on the house, along with a free buffet ’til 7 p.m. So kick back, enjoy the beer bongs, beer pong, and scandalous go-go boys while Rainblo and Ladyfag entertain. Later on, Betty, Epiphany, Logan, and the rest of the House of Acid take over for a night of pop, rock, electro, and, of course, Jello and Super Soaker shots to get you hot and messy.

Of course, the purists wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere Sunday night without first making an appearance at the one and only Dance 21: The Dance on the Pier [Pier 54 in Hudson River Park, 13th Street and Hudson River, 4 p.m., $45–$150]. Breathe in the salty Hudson air, cast a condescending glance to Jersey, and bask in the glare of the secret celebrity guest performers. Ain’t that what Pride’s all about?

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Becoming Kevin Aviance, Again

Ever since he stole his mom’s makeup and clothes to perform “I Will Survive” in front of a stunned audience of fellow fourth graders, Kevin Aviance has lived for the stage. All grown up, at six-feet-two-inches, Aviance carved a successful niche for himself in New York’s downtown nightclub scene. If he hadn’t gained the wider fame of a RuPaul, he had managed to parlay his gender-fuck shtick—bustier, boa, six-inch fuck-me heels, shaved head and basso profundo voice— into chart-topping dance hits such as “Din Da Da” and “Rhythm Is My Bitch,” as well as an underground cult hit, his self-explanatory signature song “Cunty.”

When finally he made national headlines a year ago this month, it wasn’t for anything he had done onstage or in the recording studio. Beaten senseless by four young men in the East Village, Aviance found his image changed overnight from that of an oversize black man with an outsize drag persona to that of an invalid stuck in a wheelchair. Not only couldn’t he sing, he could barely talk through jaws wired shut. Aviance became a poster boy for acts of violence targeting gay men. It was the hardest gig he’d ever played.

“I asked myself, ‘Will I just be known as the person who was beaten in 2006?’ ?” he recalls. “It’s not like I was America’s ‘Idol’ or drag queen. I was the American black queen who got beat down. I was getting awards and honors—not for the music, but for that.”

What began as a reluctant parade through a new kind of limelight soon turned into a descent into the personal hell of drug addiction, followed by a hard climb into recovery. Tough as it was to grow up as Kevin Aviance, he is now having to do it all over again.

On the night of June 10, 2006, Aviance was walking on air. He had just finished a photo shoot for the cover of HX Magazine‘s Gay Pride issue and had been out celebrating with friends at the Phoenix, a bar on East 13th Street. Heading down the sidewalk at about 1 a.m., he heard someone shout, “You’re not Diesel,” a reference to action-film star Vin Diesel. Other voices yelled “Fucking faggot,” “Goddamn queer,” and “Who do you think you are?”

Aviance says he was dressed in street clothes: a shirt with a hoodie, shorts (“cutoffs but not Daisy Dukes”), and boots. He was carrying a bag with clothes from the shoot. “I just waved my hands,” he recalled. “I was used to these comments. I looked back and they were heaving trash bags at me.” Someone hurled a spray-paint can, leftover from an earlier tagging, and missed, then started pummeling Aviance. The others jumped in.

After that, Aviance says, his recollection gets hazy, but he does remember them “kicking me in my head over and over again. They were wearing [Nike] Air Force sneakers. I can still hear their feet in my head.” Later reports said that people saw the attack but did nothing. Finally, someone named Tim pulled him off the First Avenue pavement, yelling, “You gotta get up. It’s dark. You’re dark. A car’s going to hit you.”

Aviance couldn’t speak. Tim (the rescuer was never fully identified) left him at Beth Israel Hospital, where, dazed and bloody, he waited in the emergency room. And waited. And waited. According to Len Evans, Aviance’s publicist, “Kevin called me from the hospital on Saturday morning and said, ‘They’re not believing me. They’re not treating this as they should.’ There are a lot of homeless who go there. They thought he was trying to get a free room. They dismissed him and told him to go home.”

It was only after Evans alerted a reporter friend from WNBC-TV, who interviewed Aviance—via remote; the performer didn’t want to appear on TV bloodied and bruised—that the hospital took his wounds seriously.

So did the rest of the world. First the wire services picked it up, then the all-news cable channels. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn stopped by. Mayor Bloomberg expressed his outrage in an impromptu press conference at the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

“Then he started getting the VIP treatment, when they found out he was a celebrity,” said Evans, who added that the hospital tried to make amends by comping his room. With head trauma and a broken jaw, Aviance wasn’t going home anytime soon. Worse, this was Gay Pride Month, his busiest season.

It’s also the busiest season for gay bashings, according to Clarence Patton, executive director of the Anti-Violence Project. “We’re more visible,” he said, “and the warmer weather brings more people out on the streets.”

The police were initially skeptical of Aviance’s
story, but the next day they rounded up four suspects: Gerard Johnson, 16; Jarell Sears and Akino George, both 20; and Gregory Archie, 18.

[

It’s not clear whether they went out that night looking for a fag to bash. Often, young men are looking for respect, not trouble, said Cheryl Paradis, a criminologist at Marymount Manhattan College. “They need to show how macho they are,” she said. “What do they have? The respect of their peers, street cred, a reputation. It’s pretty fragile.”

Britt Minshall, a former cop turned inner-city pastor in Baltimore who has counseled young toughs, cites a “mob psychology” that can overtake older teens traveling in a group. “They’re like five or six Rottweilers,” he said. “They’re always trying to prove themselves in one way or another.”

Minshall said he wasn’t surprised that at least one of the men, Gerard Johnson, would float the classic “gay panic” defense. Johnson claimed that Aviance had called him a “sweetie,” setting off what amounts to a violent heterosexual alarm. He’s the one who apparently threw the paint can and missed. Johnson had lived with his mother in nearby Stuyvesant Town, where he reportedly had been getting into trouble ever since she died after being beaten in front of him two years before. He had a previous arrest for robbery and was allegedly a member of the Bloods.


Jarell Sears, who lived in Newark at the time of his arrest, was contacted in jail by a reporter for an interview. “What do you have to offer me? What can you pay?” he asked. With nothing on the table, he hung up the phone.

Akino George lived in the Bronx but attended Boys and Girls High School, a notoriously tough campus in Bed-Stuy, where he was on the track team. There were reports that he also belonged to a gang.

Gregory Archie used to live around the block from Johnson in a well-kept working-class tenement on East 21st Street. The head of the tenants’ association remembered Archie’s mother as having been “constantly at work” and said Archie got into trouble, some of it violent. Finally, he said, “We got them out. They moved to Jersey.” In person, Archie is shockingly tiny, oftentimes swimming in oversize T-shirts and baggy jeans that hang off his five-foot frame.

The police asked Aviance whether he’d press charges, and he asked them whether they would protect him if he did. His question proved a smart one.

Recuperating after surgery on his jaw, Aviance was visited by a young woman carrying flowers. As Evans tells it, she breezed past hospital security and “threatened Kevin, telling him, ‘Don’t press charges or we’ll kill you and your family.’ ?” Quinn and the Anti-Violence Project, which monitors gay bashings in the city and counsels victims, arranged to have Aviance moved to a hotel under 24-hour guard.

Meanwhile, Aviance was fielding phone calls from friends like Janet Jackson and Tyra Banks. Jack Fitzgerald, a fan, set up a tribute website where hundreds of fans sent notes. Others, like Atlantaboy.com, which held an eBay auction for a portrait of the singer, raised money to help cover his medical expenses.

Six days after the attack, he made an appearance at a rally protesting the beating. Through a jaw clenched shut, he told the crowd, “You can’t keep a good queen down. We can’t fight any of these people with arms and drama. We have to fight these people with love.”


As he was preaching love on the outside, on the inside Aviance seethed with resentment and shook with panic.

His jaw healed, but the intense pain continued. He had panic attacks. He crossed the street whenever he saw a group of young men. His memory went in and out.

Worst of all, he couldn’t perform. Instead of taking bows on the stage, he was being wheeled out for protest marches and demonstrations. “I live for applause,” he said, “but I was getting the biggest praise for this!”

For a natural entertainer like Aviance, being forced from his craft was sheer torture. Born Eric Snead in Richmond, Virginia, he was the sixth of eight children. His entire family had been supportive of his career. His dad, an electrical contractor, used to tell him, “Whatever you want to do, just be the best you can be.” His mother, to whom he was especially close, would just say, “My baby’s artistic.”

He met his second mother in 1989. Mother Juan Aviance was just then founding the House of Aviance in New York. It would grow to include more than 500 members from as far away as Turkey and Israel. After a brief sojourn in Miami, Kevin joined her in New York. Today, Mother Aviance calls Kevin “my first big daughter.”

[

Kevin caught the tail end of the golden age for Harlem voguing competitions. Paris was still burning, and every Sunday morning, the queens ruled the dancefloor of the old Sound Factory (subsequently Twilo, then Spirit, and now shuttered). DJ Junior Vasquez, with his pumped-up house beats, set the perfect ambiance for showing off moves in front of an eclectic crowd of Chelsea muscle boys and ravers.

From the beginning, Mother Juan Aviance recalls, Kevin stood out. “He’s a big guy,” Mother Juan said. “He doesn’t look like a girl.” One morning, he was lip-synching the song “The Pressure” on the dancefloor when he found himself literally in the club’s spotlight. Vasquez took him under his wing and started to feature him at his gigs. After a talent agent put him in Madonna’s “Secret” video, Kevin became more widely known. He opened for Cher at the Roxy and performed with divas like Lil’ Kim, Mary J. Blige, Whitney Houston, and Bette Midler. On Tyra Banks’s show, he judged “Transsexual Top Model,” a spoof of America’s Next Top Model, where he was also a guest.

To take the edge off the strain of nonstop performing—on and offstage—Aviance leaned on drinking and drugging. “I’d been doing drugs for a long time,” he said. “It was a way of life. I was able to have a career, wear the clothes I wanted, get high.”

The club scene didn’t exactly encourage sobriety.

“There’s a pressure there,” said veteran DJ Susan Morabito. “While you’re getting high, you don’t realize you have a problem because everybody is getting high. What’s ‘heavy’ use? We live in a drug culture. I’m not condemning that; it’s part of the gay dance scene.” Morabito would have a very public falling out with Aviance, after he performed at a party she was DJing on Fire Island and refused to give up the microphone.

Even now, however, Aviance insists that he was able to keep his indulgences under control—until the bashing. For the first time ever, he had unwanted time on his hands. His mother had died not long before. He saw the news a few months later about a young, gay black man named Michael Sandy who died in Brooklyn while fleeing men who used a hook-up website to lure him into a fatal robbery. Sandy’s death left Aviance feeling guilty that he had survived his own attack. And he was embarrassed that four smaller guys pounded him: “People kept saying, ‘Girl, you should have beat them!’ But if I had, I would have been dead right now.”


It was just too much. Eric Snead could no longer bear the pressure of being Kevin Aviance. “It got crazy,” he said. “I was drinking, drugging—shopping to sex to everything. I was trying to fill this void in my life. Crystal meth was the one thing that took me over the edge. I was doing it to keep myself going. I had to get outside my head.”

Aviance compares his experience to that of being raped, something Clarence Patton said makes sense. “It’s different from being mugged randomly,” Patton said. “It gets into your identity and your psyche. Hate-motivated violence digs much deeper into a person’s emotions than ‘Someone stole my wallet.'”


Fueled by alcohol and any other mood-altering substance within reach, Aviance went on crystal binges that got longer and longer, with “Suicide Tuesday” comedowns that grew worse and worse. Finally, his manager brought in an old friend, Dexter Phillip, to take over his client’s business interests. Phillip incorporated the name “Kevin Aviance” and signed a deal to design and distribute women’s high heels. Soon enough, he discovered he would have to take charge of Aviance’s private life as well.

A former back-up dancer, Phillip had opened a successful modeling studio in the Fur District and was bringing out his own line of cosmetics. “He didn’t belittle me; he didn’t whittle me down” Aviance said. “He said, ‘I want to work with you. But you need to think about this first: We can’t do anything until you do something.'”

In February, Aviance left for a clinic in Minneapolis, the city known as Recovery Central. He enrolled at a group home run by the Pride Institute, and now spends his days in meetings, in therapy, and on the phone tracking deals with businesspeople in New York.

He made his first trip back to New York City after 50 days of sobriety. By coincidence, it was the weekend of the Black Party, an 18-hour dance celebration of sexual (and other) excess held at Roseland Ballroom. For the first time since moving to New York 15 years ago, Aviance would not be part of the masculine mayhem. Instead, he performed at the far more sedate Gay Life Expo.

[

Aviance has returned a few other times—in April, to unveil his new shoe line, and again in May, to help open a West Chelsea nightspot. Last week, he performed at a benefit for the AIDS Service Center and hosted a party. He’ll be back for Gay Pride, once again aboard the HX float. He has managed to stay clean and sober throughout, even in the hothouse club scene. “It’s hard,” he said. “People come up to you with drinks and drugs. The devil comes in different colors and shapes.” Instead, he spends time visiting with his beloved Chihuahua, Lola Falana, updating his website (kevinavianceworld .blogspot.com), and taking it the proverbial one day at a time. He’s also recorded a new song, a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Working Day and Night”—an appropriate (if also ironic) choice for a workaholic like Aviance.

He says we can expect to see him sashaying across club stages soon, waving his arms in voguing mode and patter-singing. But this will be a mellower version of so many people’s favorite queen. “It’s time to let Eric Snead grow up a little more,” he said. “Kevin Aviance has to take a break.”