For over 20 years I have attended balls. The balls I attend aren’t the ones seen in old movies, with rich white ladies in gowns and rich white gentlemen in tuxes, sipping champagne and listening to the unlistenable. That’s not really me and I’m never really invited to those except when some misguided publicist thinks I might cover their charity soirèe. The balls I attend are the balls thrown by the houses sometimes referred to as the voguing houses. I was honored to be a judge at an Xtravaganza Ball a couple years back. This culture became popularized by Madonna with her song "Vogue." The world learned to pop, dip, and spin, and the balls were never the same. In reality, balls and this culture have been around for a century. I am a regular at the annual Latex Ball which is now turning 21. This ball is presented by the GMHC, now in its 30th year of helping educate and support people with AIDS. Education helps with prevention. Despite a very relaxed attitude by the general public regarding this scourge, HIV and AIDS are still killing people.
The 22nd Annual Latex Ball at Roseland Ballroom this past Saturday was more than it ever was. It was packed to the rafters with a mixed crowd of Ball community regulars and voyeurs for the voguers. There were strangers of all types in this strange land usually reserved for the Ball culture and LGBT community. I saw more straight women at this affair than in years past. Tourists and first-timers were everywhere. There were times in years past where I felt like I was the only straight, white guy in a room of thousands. That has changed as more and more people of different races and preferences have come to realize the importance of what is happening at the Balls. This culture is eons ahead of the world outside of it in terms of our sexual journey as well as its acceptance and celebration of differences. It lives in a reality that TV is almost ready for. The "virgins” I brought with me, one of which included photographer Lela Edgar, had a hard time believing that “she” was a “he” and they were that and such. They can be excused as realness was everywhere. Lines were certainly blurred. The thing about blurring lines and perceptions is that it makes you go with your feelings, and I have a feeling that if we could just let go of the ancient rules that suppress us and went with our feelings, we would feel a lot better about a lot of things.
No one was disappointed – except maybe those who came in 2nd or 12th place in the fiercely contested competitions. The GMHC Latex Ball serves as the Olympics for a community that has lived on the fringes for decades. It is an event and a mindset that celebrates fabulous fringes, flowers, lace, ribbons, and serious designer labels. Categories like Butch Queen Sex Siren, Women’s Face, Legendary Performance, Realness with a Twist, and 20+ other contests were fiercely competed in. Trophies and cash were awarded after a panel of judges ruled. The GMHC has thrown this bash for 22 years. It serves as an educational reminder that the epidemic is still upon us and is still killing and taking prisoners. I can’t spend time explaining the Ball culture to those who have no idea what I’m talking about except to reference the flick Paris is Burning, the song and famous video "Vogue" by Madonna, Myballroomlife.com, YouTube, Wikipedia, or links to past articles I have humbly offered.
There was an energy in the air Saturday night, a feeling I get when I look to the past for fond and warm and exciting memories. Those feelings reared their wonderful head as creativity, love, and acceptance of each other blurred all lines and screamed that there was indeed a way back to a world of relevant nightlife by going forward with what I clearly saw Saturday. It was a eureka moment, like in that silly flick Avatar, when the light is extinguished and the hero sees that the jungle itself is lit up. When I got home at 7am, I posted this on my FB page:
"latex ball completely over the top. the need for mixed fun nightlife created and curated by creative people will soon be apparent as the boredom of black cards and bottles implodes that scene. the edge will be sought again."
The ball had me high on its energy and the fabulousness of all involved, but I believe in that statement, and tomorrow I will outline the possibly-inevitable rebirth of club culture as I know it or, more likely, a retooled version of it. I, we have been blind and accepting. There are hundreds of great nights and events all over this town which have burgeoned to include a vibrant nightlife culture outside of the moated confines of Manhattan. Bridge and tunnel is now a good thing.
Creativity on a grand scale will return to nightlife as a business decision. Creativity is hard to extinguish. It has thrived on the street and in the subways, cave walls, in prison, and in societies that have repressed it. It has reared itself at advanced ages. It has given those seemingly impaired a way to the light. It has channeled the beasts and the fears within us and brought them to survivable places. Creativity will be embraced by the bean counters because it will be useful to separate their bean machine from the others. More on this tomorrow.
Today, my throat is still sore from screaming encouragement and worship; my eyes are dry from joyful tears; and the dancing of sugar plum fairies and other mythical creatures still hold sway over my feeble mind. The 23rd GMHC Latex Ball will surely be next August and will surely be at Roseland. Congratulations to all that came, served, and carry this night and the life it represents in their slightly larger hearts. Start thinking about next year’s outfit now.