N.Y. Scene is a monthly column that chronicles lesbian nightlife and events of interest in New York. Grace Chu has come out of lesbian scene retirement to navigate the vast and ever-evolving New York City scene, so you don’t have to. Rebel Cupcake at Sugarland – May 6, 2010 Just a few short blocks from the lively strip of trendy bars and restaurants adjacent to the Bedford Avenue stop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn lies a desolate stretch of asphalt and unconverted warehouses that could have been used as a backdrop for scenes from The Wire. Within this concrete tundra lies Sugarland, home of artsy queer dance parties such as Hey Queen! and, now, Rebel Cupcake. The venue has a nondescript brick façade that blends in with its decidedly un-flamboyant surroundings, thereby camouflaging the unrestrained fabulousness that lies within. Queer parties at Sugarland often feature performers in the underground performance art, drag and burlesque scenes. Those not in the know simply walk on by, leaving the eclectic crowd of queers that frequent Sugarland to mingle, dance and produce playful and subversive live shows in a safe, accommodating space. As I was walking up North 9th Street, I noticed some movement in a doorway. Believing that I was witnessing a drug deal or a congregation of ne’er do wells in an abandoned building, I instinctively reached into my pocket and clutched my keys, Wolverine-style, just in case.
A reenactment of the Wolverine-inspired defensive key grip
Upon closer inspection, I saw a faded “221” painted above the doorway. Yep, this was it. Sugarland at 221 North 9th Street. I retracted my DIY X-Men blades and entered. The venue features a bar, a recessed lounge, a small dance floor, a balcony, and a stage enveloped by very shiny, very gold, and very gay curtains. That night Sugarland was host to the inaugural Rebel Cupcake, a new monthly queer dance party featuring a size-positive burlesque show produced by Bevin Branlandingham, an emcee, writer, drag king, burlesque and comedy performer who has performed all over North America and also hosts “Femmecast: The Queer Fat Femme Podcast Guide to Life.”
Performers Lola Dean and AfroTitty
“I wanted to create a fun queer dance party space that was explicitly body and flamboyance positive,” Bevin said. “When I moved to NYC six years ago, I didn’t really find a place that fit my dancing and going out needs without costing a ton of money, but when I finally found the Brooklyn queer hipster dance party circuit two years ago — at the time it was mostly Panty Hos — I was so excited about it, but didn’t see a lot of femme or fat presence. So I would rally my friends, send out e-mails and encourage them to come with me. Let’s be frank: Williamsburg is hipster land, and hipster-chic tends to celebrate the waify “I-haven’t-eaten-anything-but-Diet-Coke-heroin-and-cigarettes-for-a-month” aesthetic. Finding a hipster of size is about as easy as finding a nugget while attempting to pan for gold in the Hudson River, so it is no wonder that Bevin felt underrepresented while dancing in a sea of androgynous beanpoles. “I think Rebel Cupcake is an amalgamation of my efforts to bring folks like me to the other dance parties in town,” she continued. “It’s a party with fat femmes and flamboyant queers of all genders at the forefront, with our allies, friends, fans and folks who know we throw a fun party surrounding us.”
Gays and lesbians are not immune to the type of body policing that permeates mainstream culture. In fact, gay culture, most notably in the Chelsea boy scene, often perpetuates the idea that there is one — often unattainable — standard of beauty or body type.