Illustration by Emily C. Bernstein
One night, around 2 AM, I found myself at Ostbahnhof, a queer afterhours party that happens in various warehouses in Downtown Los Angeles. I was there with a friend of mine, Derek. We wandered through the party, dancing and checking out hot guys, before entering the dark room.
The music was pulsing, techno, but groovy. Not dark. The kids were high off the night, and all around us the party moved like a river of energy and sound and light.
Inside the dark room we were surrounded by people fucking, making out, touching, exploring: cis and trans men and women, nonbinary, gay, straight, and the places between: there are no limits to what is allowed and encouraged at parties like Ostbahnhof. Derek pushed me to my knees while a group of guys surrounded us. After I’d sucked him for a few minutes, he bent me over one of the many blow-up beds in the space and fucked me: the two of us putting on a show for the guys watching us.
Standing on a crate in the middle of the room was one of the most glamorous people I have ever seen, wrapped in flowing silvery white satin, with long radiating white hair to match. They raised their glass, and cheersed the room. “To all the gorgeous fucking, and the children, to being queer, to being alive! To the music!”
The room exploded with claps and cheers and dancing.
After, we went back to the dance floor. Derek and I danced and made out, we fell in the lights and the music, the push of the people, and then went home, driving through the city as the sun rose; the world bursting into flame.
Parties like Ostbahnhof, or Lights Down Low are becoming LA Cultural Institutions. Places where we can come together as a community, to dance and fuck and be queer, spaces where we are not only allowed, but encouraged to be as fabulous and as brave and as beautiful as possible.
“It’s the feeling of community that drives me to throw parties like Ostbahnhof in LA,” Michael Kessler, one of Ostbahnhof’s founders, tells me. “Of course sexuality factors into it, but the music, the artistry of the people’s looks, the performers and designers who contribute to the project… all of this elevates our simple venues into an incredible yet fleeting cultural experience. It is one night a month where we are more than just our bodies; we are more than just our oppressed category. We are artists, thinkers, lovers, and players sharing space together before the sun rises again.”
There is something rebellious and utopian that happens late at night, when we all come together inside these spaces, to dance and celebrate. There is a sense that we are taking something back from a world that can often feel hostile and fascist. That we are demanding that we be seen. That we are refusing to be denied our sexuality, our sense of self and gender and identity. Our freedom.
“There is no other place on earth right now like Los Angeles,” says Richie Panic, one of the two founding members of Lights Down Low, another queer friendly warehouse party that happens monthly in Downtown LA. “[Downtown is] a big, sprawling, mess of a town where high meets low and there is everything in between. Everyone has some fascinating part of themselves they are trying to show and at night it really shines. Corey, my business and creative partner, and I, both left San Francisco for LA because the culture, the variety, of San Francisco was being edged out by the bland technocratic dullards. In LA we found our kindred spirits again in all walks of life and every persuasion and that’s what inspires us and drives us in what we do.”
My friends Stephen and Alan and I try to always go to the monthly Ostbahnhof parties. Stephen is 60, Alan 46, and I’m 50. We aren’t the normal, queer, club kids. Stephen loves to dress up in outrageous outfits and dance: once he wore an outfit he swore was based on a type of samurai body armor known as a dō (though his had a lot more leather and exposed ass than I think the samurai had). Alan and I follow a basic outfit pattern: black pants, black T-shirt. We leave the fashion to Stephen.
And we dance. We are always welcome. That’s the thing about these parties—everyone is welcome. Stephen is African American, Alan and I are both white guys. We are older than 99 percent of the party. But in these spaces we have all come together for a reason: to be with family, to be with friends, to be with Our People.
One late Friday night, while walking through a party, I was struck again by this sense of inclusion and safety, by the radicalness that is created inside these spaces. A group of women were dancing together, topless, three guys were making out, everyone was moving to the music. Jockstraps and dresses, leather and glittery velvet, all of us being elevated, pushed forward together. A young man grabbed me and started to kiss me. His eyes sparkled with glitter and makeup. He held my hand and led me up the stairs and onto the rooftop. Together we watched as the sun rose over Downtown.
“It’s so beautiful,” he said. “I’ve never been anywhere in my life where I felt I could just be me. Where I was allowed to be beautiful.”
And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t? Spaces for Us. Spaces built on tolerance and love and acceptance, rather than fear and gender-racial-queer-religious phobia. Spaces where the Other is Us and we are all celebrated and loved and desired. Where we can dance and fuck and fall in love, make out, be as loud and as queer and as open as possible.
Sometimes having a space to just be who you are is the most radical thing in the world. And in Los Angeles the afterhours scene is creating some of the most radical spaces I’ve ever seen.
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