"Scene" is AfterEllen.com's monthly (usually) series of articles focusing on the lesbian happenings in a town near you. For previous installments, go here.
When most East or West Coasters think of the Midwest, they imagine a cluster of homophobic rednecks sheltered from society. But right in the middle of the United States is Chicago, with its skyscrapers, Lake Michigan and a surplus of gay women all over the city.
Scene 1: Formerly Known As …
Chicago has several regular dance parties for the city's queer crowd, but one that aims to be the most inclusive is Formerly Known As. The monthly themed get-together started out as Trans-mission, a celebration of trans men and women in the community. It was hosted at Andersonville's only self-proclaimed lesbian bar, Stargaze, until there were issues with the bar's anti-trans sponsors. The party then moved to Uptown's Big Chicks, and it has only grown bigger and better with guest DJs and imaginative themes (librarians, the future and alter egos, to name a few).
Lesbians and queer gals attend FKA in droves to show their support. There's always the promise of a good time, whereas other dance parties in the city (Chances Dances, Outdanced) can be hit or miss.
Despite the name, Big Chicks is much more of a gay men's hangout on regular nights. It's connected to Tweet, a hot brunch spot. The actual bar is long and crowded, with smokers put off by the “No Smoking” signs on the dance floor (myself included). Lesbian and feminist art hangs on the walls, and an ironic movie plays on the television.
A few tables and stools are scattered about, but the room is usually so packed for FKA that it's easier to maneuver if you move with the crowd or squeeze yourself against the bar.
Big Chicks' bartender, Brown, is a hot butch who's serving up $2 Rolling Rocks, but getting her attention can be difficult. But once you do, you can head out to the patio (weather permitting) if it's before 11 p.m. Otherwise, you'll have much better luck with breathing room on the dance floor, a more spacious area with a stage that everyone should occupy at least once (I do every time).
This month's theme at FKA: jocks vs. geeks. Most attendees went with sporty attire (perhaps it's already part of their wardrobes, or maybe just plentiful in the city's thrift stores), but everyone was able to party in unison.
Not a huge fan of dressing for themes myself, I always do my best to throw something together before I head to FKA. This time around, I wore a sweater vest and a pair of my girlfriend's glasses. Fortunately, I wasn't the only slacker, and no one else cared.
FKA's co-organizer Nako Okubu is always taking the theme to the extreme. She wore a bright blue football jersey complete with shoulder pads and yellow player's pants. Popping around to take everyone's photos as usual, she also made time to jump onto the stage and physically show her appreciation for the music that DJ Reganomix and guest DJs spin.
"We've been thrilled that our crowd has expanded to include so many representations," Nako said. "FKA exists because there was a need for more support and visibility for the trans community. The overwhelming support we have for FKA emphasizes that most are ready and eager for a more cohesive Chicago."
A passionate promoter, Nako is also a bubbly, single queer whom girls ogle as she passes. She's also a drag performer and dancer, and her positive energy is infectious.
I asked about Chicago's community in general, as it tends to be separated. Those who frequent Girlbar and Circuit (house music fans looking for ladies dancing in bras and not much else) vary greatly from those who attend Sunday's Stargaze karaoke (older butches playing pool and young baby dykes singing along to Salt-N-Pepa), and they would most likely never venture to something like FKA.
"Chicago does its best," Nako said. "As with many things, there is a lot to work out. Sadly, it's common to have disconnect and conflict, even within the communities that are intended to be in it together."
Nonetheless, FKA is the only regular party in Chicago where you can find representation from every letter in LGBTQ, plus some of their straight friends in tow.