THE JOY OF FEMMEPREMACY
June 13, 2019
Anyone who knows the history of contemporary club culture — especially the one that began in New York City — knows it as a space founded for, and based on, the safety of gay and queer patrons, especially Black and brown ones. We built all that — from the DJs to the balls to the bashments. Yet it is also not an exaggeration to say that, despite the political and social oppression of our time and the ceaseless violence that society inflicts upon us, we are living in a golden age of queer and trans parties. You certainly can’t fight that sort of evil from a safe dancefloor, but it is a place to find the solace and the strength and the strategies.
Over the past five years, New York’s FEMMEPREMACY has become an archetype of the best version of such gatherings. It self-describes as a safe QTPOC party/workshop/event space centering Black and POC femmes and the beautiful folks that love them. Not just a place of ritualistic dance and celebratory collaboration (though, yes, it’s very much that too), FEMMEPREMACY loudly advocates and affirms the visibility of Black and POC femmes. It is, above all, a place of community, where support can be physical, emotional and even financial; most recently, the party began SWOON, a speed-dating aspect to the gathering, prioritizing all types of relationships, not only romantic.
Each FEMMEPREMACY event prioritizes safety and intentional feeling, an unfortunate concern when queer folks (especially those on the intersection of race/gender/and sexuality) come together with the intention of being intimate and taking up space. One of the things that differentiates FEMMEPREMACY is a regard for what happens to attendees before and after the party. So FEMMEPREMACY incorporates safety plans, relying on community members from different boroughs as point-people to link up with folks in their area and come to the party together, and instigate community training to ensure the continued safety of the space.
The next FEMMEPREMACY takes this weekend in New York, in the middle of Pride month; and its musical guest is Batekoo, a Brazilian trans party crew who will also be gracing the DJ deks at AFROPUNK Brooklyn in August. (In fact, the overlap between FEMMEPREMACY and AFROPUNK’s taste in DJs is STRONG.) And as we love spotlighting the wonderful and important things taking place in our community (#AFROPUNKWeSeeYou), we thought this was a great moment to ask a few questions of FEMMEPREMACY’s founder and curator, Shayna Janelle about the party and the community.
Who and what is behind Femmepremacy?
Community birthed and sustains FEMMEPREMACY. The day-to-day is run and curated by founder, Shayna Janelle. But it’s growth and reach has been due to the labor, love and assistance of various contributors such as artists Kendal Smith, Sal Muñoz (The Femme Project), Odera Igbokwe (Melanin Mythologies) and most recently and consistently our artist in resident Emulsify (Love Notes for Friends & Fam). Photographers like Julieta Salgado and Crystal Waters have captured the magic, innovation and love that runs throughout our community. And many amazing DJs have blessed us with sets like Dame Luz, Boston Chery, Mursi Layne, Ushka, Tygapaw, TNY Fox, Jadalareign, SWUNE and so many others! We’ve also had the honor of collaborating with collectives like bklyn boihood and BUFU.
Why did you start the party?
A need for more safe and creative community cultural spaces for and by black queer people started the party. Any expression of black joy has always been policed by those outside of our communities who insist on seeing that joy as violent or rowdy. Creating space that embraces that joy in spite of those dangerous and harmful stereotypes has always been at the forefront of the FEMMEPREMACY mission. Safety has always been at the forefront since inception. The need to take up space and feel safe to do so has been a priority from jump. We’ve had vibe checkers and point people in each borough to travel with so vulnerable community members could get there & back together safely and more.
What were the previous party experiences that led to starting Femmepremacy?
As a third-generation Black queer native New Yorker, I found myself unsatisfied by the lack of Black queer parties. If there were queer parties, they were inconsistent or overwhelmingly beige – which showed up in the musical selection, making them feel more like networking events for queer transplants and academics, than the types of parties I experienced as a youth growing up here. None of those parties were for folks like me — unapologetically Black, femme, hood, with a love for music that represented folks from all over New York City. You know, the music you and lowkey your momma both get down and sweat to, deep house, reggae, dancehall, Afrobeat, salsa, hip-hop. I knew all the queer spaces were needed, but wanted to create something that showed up consistently Black, hood, femme and safe without negotiating any part of myself.
Were there any party models that the founders did follow?
When I think of possibility model, bklyn boihood immediately comes to mind! Black, fun and queer af! I’ve been going to their parties since they were house parties. Not only have they served as models, but they have shown up as comrades on more than one occasion providing resources, bodies for community security and even collaborating on events with us. I’d also like to share the spotlight with Joss and Mckenzie who are married and run metaden, a QTPOC-centered healing incubator in Brooklyn. They allow so many folks to create accessible events by allowing free use of their space. We’ve been using their space for our SWOON, our QTPOC speed-dating series, and they have been beyond supportive and affirming.
Where was the first Femmepremacy party? Where have they been held?
The first iterations of FEMMEPREMACY were held at venue called Nola, Darling, in Chelsea on 22nd Street between 6th and 7th avenue, which was a full circle moment. Not only has Chelsea served as a home and oasis for so many queer folks, but I’m from “pre-gentrified” Chelsea – think POSE. Me, my sister and even my momma ‘nem grew up in Chelsea when it was poor, Black and Brown were holding it down, and very queer! So it was a full-circle moment being able to throw parties there. I rented the space from now-curator of MOMA PS 1, Taja Cheek. We talked, I told her my vision and she let me negotiate having the space for free! She kept the bar and didn’t take any other door, which allowed me to keep the party accessible with a $5 entry! The price combined with the location made it accessible for more community members to show up, as it was equidistant to a lot of trains and not in Brooklyn where the bulk of queer parties take place. A lot of parties don’t take into consideration that a lot of native NYC queers have been pushed up north to Inwood, Washington Heights and especially the BX, so those BK parties aren’t as accessible to the people they are supposedly for.
Is there a specific music vibe(s) to the party?
The vibe(s) to the party is a blend of everything from soca to salsa to trap to afrobeat. There’s something for everybody.
Talk a little the musical guests you’ve had?
The art of DJing has been on the decline, with people choosing their playlists over talent, and FEMMEPREMACY is committed to bringing in talented Black queer femme DJs who help the audience explore music they sometimes haven’t been exposed to. Que Sera of Streetlight Boutique brings sounds across the diaspora that will have you arch your back in anticipation all night long wondering what’s coming next! SWUNE brings playful, booty bouncing cuts that make you drop it low without hesitation. Boston Chery pumps energy into any room, moving you with her own remixes to your fave songs!
Tell us why you booked Batekoo, and talk about the party’s connections to QTPOC communities outside the city?
We booked BATEKOO because their mission aligns with FEMMEPREMACY. Like us, they are Black, queer and aim to empower and provide visibility to low-income LGBTQIA+ youth, all while unapologetically taking up space! Batekoo is also in alignment with our mission to further connect Black folks in the diaspora. Collaborations like these have always been so important to FEMMEPREMACY’s goal of making international queer black connections through our events which is ultimately our healing.