Scene: Chicago

Scene 5: Queer Fest Midwest
Pulaski Park Fieldhouse, Aug. 25

As one of the founders and organizers of Queer Fest Midwest, I feared that the day of the festival would be crazy and stressful and I wouldn't be able to enjoy myself. Fortunately, my worrying was for naught — somehow the entire day of music and art went smoothly.

The festival was held in a fieldhouse owned by the Chicago Park District, making it an all-ages, alcohol-free space. The huge main gymnasium, where the stage was located, echoed with excitement. Local sex shop Tulip hung art on the walls, and clothing retailer Dykes in the City had a table next to the bands' merch set-up.

Pink tape on the floor led through the hall and up the stairs to the art room, which was air-conditioned and calm, as opposed to the concert space, which was both raucous and hot. Upstairs, visitors found work from artists such as Sadie Benning and Bruce la Bruce, ranging from video installations and photography to a sculpture of an anus.

The day kicked off with Chicago trio Stiletto Attack. The drummer is also known as DJ K.T., a popular, out DJ who spins at dyke nights in the city at places like Déjà Vu and Spot 6. Other local bands who played throughout the day were Office, a major label-signed ensemble; Actor Slash Model, a pair of FTM guys who play bluegrass and inspired a roomful of couples to waltz; and 8 Inch Betsy, a punk-rock trio that aims to "rock your pants off."

During Seattle-based hip-hop duo Team Gina's memorable performance, lesbians crowded to the stage to dance and laugh at their honest tunes about lesbians dating each other and their exes. Gina Bling and Gina Genius came together under the shared experience of their names both being Gina — plus, they wanted to mix some hot lyrics and beats to be socially conscious and hilarious at the same time.

I cornered the girls after their performance and asked them about their influences, which include "Shane McCutcheon, J.D. Samson, k.d. lang, My Little Pony and Ellen," among many others, most of whom are women performers. With their matching outfits and quirky choreography, they said they aren't afraid of not being taken seriously, and their writing process for songs such as "Butch/Femme" is more about having fun than anything else.

"It's funny! We try to top each other with lyrics," Gina Bling said as we sat in the fieldhouse's outdoor corridor. "We sit around and giggle!"

The Ginas were still wearing their matching striped shirts and green hot pants from their set, and they finished each other's sentences as I spoke to them. They both said it's important to them to play events like Queer Fest because they want to check out other queer performers and see what they have going on themselves. Since they're from the very queer Pacific Northwest, the Ginas are used to being part of a queer arts community, which they said is totally supportive.

"We play with straight bands, and we play with other gay bands," Gina Genius said, listing off reasons why their location is ideal for queer artists. "One of the reasons I moved away from New York is that it wasn't supportive. Seattle has a great, supportive community."

One of the day's co-hosts, Kristen Kaza, said that Chicago has a similar energy, which is why a festival like QFM is needed. "Chicago has a thriving queer scene, and that's why we need to bring people here and show them that there's a space for queer art and music in the Midwest," she said.

Kaza — a friend of mine and a wonderful hostess, I might add — shared the stage with local out comedienne Cameron Esposito. The lovely lesbians chided the all-ages audience and each other between acts, many commenting on Kristen's vintage 1970s Gap overalls that she wore especially for the occasion.

“When you told me you had a collection of overalls, I said, ‘No one has a collection of overalls,'” Cameron said. “But now that I see you wearing them, I don't object.”

It was a great way to end August and summer in the Windy City, which isn't as barren as some might believe. It's an ideal place for lesbians, but even more ideal for queers not looking for labels.

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