As Bret Michaels says, "Every rose has its thorn, just like every night has its dawn." My feelings about the rock-turned-reality star aside, the song is not only a banger, but reminds me that even when something appears to be perfect or without problems, it's often not. Even if it may not feel like it in the moment, every terrible night will eventually shrivel when exposed to the sun of a new day — allowing you to grace the earth once again, stronger and kinder than ever before. Yes, even zodiac theme parties. The night I went to my first queer-only zodiac-themed rave, this generous interpretation of what may actually be a sexist '80s power ballad would have been particularly helpful.
Let that sink in: A queer-only, zodiac-themed dance party. Add in some hot wings and a pair of platform clogs and you have all of my favorite things on the planet. Sounds perfect, right? Best time ever? Lest we forget, every rose has it goddamn thorns, and every night thankfully has it's breakfast sandwich-infused dawn.
I was excited for this event in the same way a super-fan gets excited to go see their favorite sports team play. I was thrilled to have a space to be intentionally myself, to be amongst others in the LGBTQIA+ community. It was all of my interests combined: queerness, astrological compatibility, and dancing in public.
I'm not sure how if I first heard about the party — from IRL buzz around the queer community in Philly or an Insta posted from a queer archivist page. Honestly, trying to decipher its roots would have been like attempting to discover which came first: the queer chicken or the genderless egg. It was hosted at a house by generous queer folks who genuinely wanted to create a space for other queer people to hang. I was elated to go: All of my friends would be in attendance and my expectations were, well, high.
The night of, my friends and I got ready together and walked to the party in the dark, laughing and singing the whole way. It was freezing, but we were arm in arm, pointing out shops and restaurants we should make mental notes to return to. When we finally reached the house, we hoped to find music, lights, beer, and other queer people to share space with. Unfortunately, we opened the door to something I can only describe as akin to a frat party from the Twilight Zone. The lights were completely on. There was no music playing. There was no beer, punch, or snacks to munch on. A basket of blank name-tags sat on coffee table, with instructions to write down your name, pronouns, and "Big Three." That's astrology-talk for your sun, moon, and rising signs (in that order). Thankfully, there was indeed approximately 50 other queer people in attendance. There was even a glitter station (that you know I rocked the hell out of). And yet, I could tell right off the bat that something about the night was evidently "off."
So, there we were. Completely sober, fully backlit. The chatter of human conversation and finger nails on phone screens was the only background noise. I bopped around the party, speaking briefly to many different people, making eye contact with my friends across the room, who had all spread out like confetti. There were people there who I had met previously at concerts, a few friends of friends, and familiar faces from the general Philly queer community — something vast and vivid that I will never be able to fully describe to those who don't identify as LGBTQIA+.
The zodiac element added a playful backdrop to the whole evening. Bringing up your sign was an easy conversation starter, a way to connect with people who shared your placements and allowed for some cute, fun teasing about each different sign. Most attendants took astrology pretty seriously, but luckily, I didn't witness any major sign bashing or rejection. With the lights fully on, I found it hard not to people-watch. I had thought being surrounded by others with whom I had so much in common would turn me into a social butterfly. And yet, I found myself opting to spend most of the night alone, observing. I weaved between people making small talk. I took a lot of selfies.
After listening to a problematic conversation in which a white hipster boasted about moving to West Philly in 2010, "before anyone lived there" (there were 216,433 people living in West Philadelphia in 2010), and experiencing an influx of people touching me, my tattoos, and my dress without my consent, I had a revelation. Having my pronouns and my big three on a name tag at a party didn't guarantee my comfort or my wellbeing. And being in a space that claimed to be safer, femme-friendly, astrology-charged, and completely queer didn't come with the promise that I'd automatically have fun.
Desperate to turn the night around, I gathered my friends. One managed to scrounge a small speaker, while another ran out for some cheap beer. Like moths to a flame, party guests began to swarm towards Lizzo's sweet melodies. We danced like no one was watching, then called it a night. Together, we walked home much earlier than expected, completely sober, freezing in the cold. With our hands in our pockets, we discussed the extent to which we had built up the night, and why. We talked about how rare and beautiful spaces that let you be yourself — unapologetically all of yourself — truly are.
My friends and I tried to discern why the party was such an epic fail. Despite all the intentionality around making the space friendly to queers, it seemed as if the party hosts failed to consider creating a welcoming space for queer people of color.
Another friend shared their discomfort after reading a suggestive pin on someone's shirt that said, "If you're a girl, I want to kiss you." This accessory seemed void of consent, unaware of whether or not "the girl" in question wanted to be kissed, and seemed to place a lot of weight on someone's gender. Sure, at the party we were asked our pronouns — but it became clear through interactions like this that some harmful gender misconceptions still managed to sneak their way onto the guest list that evening.
I wondered then: What spaces do make me feel strong and seen? How could an intentional space built for queerness, astrology, and dancing still harbor icky dynamics? The truth is, safety, comfort, and enjoyment within any space cannot always be guaranteed for each individual. There's no such thing as a 'perfect,' all-encompassing space. A queer space isn't synonymous with a safe haven, and frankly, assuming all queer spaces are automatically unproblematic can put unrealistic expectations on the queer community.
Perhaps, the solution is to take personal responsibility for my own safety and enjoyment, as well as that of those around me. To make the people who I interact with feel like they belong simply by openly and honestly engaging with them. By not only scanning the room, but truly seeing each individual.
Above all, this night made me grateful for the company and support of my friends. This party taught me that sometimes "community" isn't 100 people in a room who, on paper, have a lot in common with you — no matter your astrological compatibility. Sometimes, community can look like the same five people you enter the party and leave early to share a bag of Cheetos with. The ones you gossip with the morning after. My friends, my chosen family, are the rose to my thorn and the dawn to my night. And getting ready with them will always be my favorite kind of party.