JD Samson is a living legend in the community, having been a part of the feminist, queer, post-riot grrrl electro-pop trio Le Tigre and following that up with the aptly titled group MEN. As a musician and DJ, JD has been throwing parties and brought in for special events, like a fundraiser for the new LGBT-inclusive gym Everybody in Los Angeles happening this Saturday, around the world over the last two decades.
(Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images for Women in Art Benefit)
Based in New York City, JD has been a part of some of the city’s best-loved and attended queer parties, especially those for women. (Her monthly party PAT is a Brooklyn favorite.) Last year, she hosted Broadly’s short doc on The Last Lesbian Bars, detailing the loss of women’s spaces and a celebration of those that still exist, including Manhattan’s longest-standing dyke bar, Henrietta Hudson. Now JD will be moving her successful Scissor Sundays party from The Rusty Knot to Henrietta’s, a weekly free event that is open to all and with a steady line-up of women DJs like Amber Valentine and JD herself.
We spoke with JD about the venue switch and what trends she’s noticed in LGBT nightlife, especially as it pertains to lesbians and bisexual women.
AfterEllen.com: Having been a part of queer nightlife and throwing parties for LGBTs for a long time, what has changed for better and for worse?
JD Samson: Queer nightlife changes all the time. The music, the fashion, the venues, etc. I feel like it is hard for me to be critical of why things change, and just try to embrace the change and do my best to stay true to my goals as a person. For the most part, I have always been drawn to creating a space that is open to everyone, safer for everyone, and accessible to everyone. That part has been easy. The complicated part is that you can never expect who will show up and inhabit that space. Having no expectations is much easier for me than trying to force something that may or may not happen. I do my best to create the most mixed events I can, as I think there is much power in being together. And for the most part, I have always been drawn to creating free parties, even if it means I make less money or no money at all, I want to create a space for people to enjoy themselves and when they do, that feels like better payment than anything.
AE: The last time you played in LA in Hollywood, my friends and I were talking about how only you can bring people from East LA to the West Side. It seems you able to straddle the mainstream gay/lesbian and more underground queer scene, your music and crowds reflect that. Do you agree? Why do you think that’s true for you?
JS: I remember in high school being the person in my class that constantly shifted friendship groups at lunch. Sometimes I sat with the nerds, the jocks, the freaks, the goths, or the popular kids. I’m not sure what that says about me as a person, but in a lot of ways, it has translated to my adult personality of trying to “bridge a gap” or create peace. I want people to be happy and enjoy themselves, and I’m really not that obsessed with what’s cool or fashionable, to be honest. I’m just sincere and present with my goals to create a space that people feel good in, and to try to be political with my decisions about taking up space and creating safer space. In the past few years, I have appreciated the incredible political power of hiring people and curating events that create more visibility for women/poc/trans/queer/ DJ’s and artists. If you want to be around good/kind people that enjoy good/kind music, then this is the place for you.
AE: Tell me about your new party at Henrietta Hudsons. Henrietta’s has been around for so long and yet my NY friends never want to go there when I’m in town. What has your experience been with the bar and what are your hopes for Scissor Sundays?
JS: I used to go to Henrietta’s in the ’90s a bit, but my real stomping grounds [was] Meow Mix. I spent almost every night there before it shut down. I had my first kiss with an ex at Henrietta’s around 2004 or so, and ever since then, I have had a new love for it. The bar had always seemed more mainstream to me, but now that it is one of the few lesbian bars in the city, it means a lot more to me than it ever has.
Scissor Sundays was supposed to be a lesbian-focused mixed party but after about a year, it became a real sausage fest–I mean packed to the gills with cruising bears. It was great, in a lot of ways, and I am happy to have shared so many years with the incredible staff and the guys that appreciated our music and vibe, but I started to question my intentions and what made sense for the future of the party and my career as a promoter. I started realizing that it was important for me to make more political decisions around the party, and in general.
Along with some complicated sound restrictions at the Rusty Knot, I became interested in moving the party somewhere else. Because Henrietta’s was so close to the old venue, I thought it could work to bring all the awesome guys together with the queers and the women dancing under a great sound system and supporting a queer/woman owned business? Dreams come true, right?!
Well, we have only had two weekly parties thus far and see a depressing trend in that men seem to be afraid of the lesbian bar, or afraid of change. This move has brought up a lot of feelings for me, and it has been difficult to face the inherent misogyny of our community and our society in general. The party was taken over by men, which made women not want to go, but now men don’t want to support a women-owned space. I don’t like to jump to conclusions too early, but I definitely imagined a much more mixed space, like we have at PAT. I guess only time will tell.
AE: Loved the Broadly video you did on the loss of lesbian bars. What kind of conclusion did you come to after talking with people about these spaces disappearing? Do we still need lesbian bars?
JS: Each bar in the doc had their own personal reasons for closing, and it felt good to represent a lot of those stories in the piece. Whether it was about socio-political or socio-economic conditions in each town or just personal decisions, it was important to talk about change and what kind of a space is important to us as a community at this point in herstory.
I’m not sure if we need lesbian bars, per se. I think we are in need of whatever we need. I know that sounds silly, but it’s true. I like the idea that the world is shifting and that a “queer identity” that is more inclusive is becoming more of the norm.
AE: Inevitable Le Tigre reunion question here.
JS: Haha! There is no plan for a Le Tigre reunion at this time. I’m doing a lot of visual art work right now as well as hosting, like the lesbian bars piece, which I happen to love! I have a music project called Sharer with Nick from Young & Sick; lots of party promoting and event curating and DJ’ing all over the world. I’m super busy which is great!