Queers in Space

DUMBA Takes Off

Feeling blah? Tired of Patriarchal Systems of Domination? Oppressive and Culturally Hegemonic imagery of dykes and queers as people with either steroid-enhanced gym tits or second date U-Hauls? Feeling locked up in a Commodified and Marginalized "lifestyle"? Sick of living in a world where, as activist Amber Hollibaugh once remarked, people "mistake having an identity for having a politics"? Normativity got you down?

There's hope, if not exactly an answer. Hop the F train to York Street in Brooklyn and head for a space called DUMBA. It's at a crossroads somewhere in DUMBO, at an address that— for reasons having to do with residential occupancy of commercial realty— it is probably safer not to print. Ask around. Say you're looking for an alternative "queer space." Mention the men and women of anarchic disposition and divergent sexual nature who're inhabiting a former photo lab and running a radical cultural collective. Stand on a corner and yell "Homocore!" Someone will surely tap you on the shoulder and politely direct you toward Jay Street.

"We found it through an ad in the summer of '96," explains Scott Berry, a student and filmmaker who joined six friends in sharing rent and also aesthetic-political decisions in a 5000-square-foot commercially zoned loft under the Manhattan Bridge overpass. "We wanted to live there, of course," says Berry. "But we were also aware of the lack of all-ages alternative queer venues in New York City. Since the loft was cut up for darkrooms and offices, it was very amenable to having events."

Promoting the "genital welfare": glory holes, peep booths, and a little spin-the-bottle
Sylvia Plachy
Promoting the "genital welfare": glory holes, peep booths, and a little spin-the-bottle

The events in question have ranged from sex parties to a Fuck the Mayor celebration to a once-yearly Gay Shame event, held while the rest of the city is caught up in Gay Pride. Each month DUMBA also hosts Brooklyn Babylon Cinema, a showcase for everything from experimental dyke porn to Jerry Tartaglia retrospectives to the oeuvres of such underground titans as Vaginal Creme Davis and Bruce LaBruce.

Last Friday, the DUMBA members staged Times Square Sin-Ema, a nostalgic-ironic theme evocation of the former sleaze intersection of the world. They imported drag kings, male and female lap dancers, installed a glory hole, built a peep booth, and scattered projectors around to play continuous loops of experimental films alongside Jean Genet's Un Chant d'amour and Wakefield Poole's '70s gay porn classic, Boys in the Sand. "In an effort to combat the forced sterilization of New York," says DUMBA's film curator Stephen Kent Jusick, "we the people, in order to form a more perfect city, reestablish justice, ensure somatic tranquility, provide for the common desire, promote the genital welfare, and secure the blessing of libidos to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this outpost of free expression." Whew! Who said the revolution would be succinct?

A former dancer, an HIV harm-reduction worker, several fine-arts and media students, and a temp, the DUMBA communards range in age from 20 to 37. In terms of gender affiliation, they're about equally dispersed. "A lot of us have radical views of sexuality," claims DUMBA dweller Laurie (no last name, please). "I identify as queer and have a girlfriend. But I'm not into lesbians having to act a certain way. How? Only sleeping with women. What if you're a lesbian dating a female-to-male transsexual? That relationship looks heterosexual, but basically, to me, it's queer."

Identity politics, says Scott Berry, are "fine as far as they go. We make no bones about having events that center around a queer lifestyle." Still, while the heavy thinkers are making inroads on hidebound notions of gender, DUMBA's at ground zero in Brooklyn, putting high theory into play. "Sometimes being queer feels like being an alien," essayist Gordon Brent Ingram once wrote. "Too many of the streets have no names, and there are not many friendly places to go."

Yet what could be more user-friendly than an at-home peep booth? "Fits two snugly," Berry dryly remarks. What could be more conducive to potential alien interaction— in these days when wearing a black trench coat automatically pegs you as sociopath material— than a nice evening of postpunk hardcore, of Bitch and Animal, Los Crudos, and the Butchies, or of drag performer Justin Bonds channeling Kiki, a washed-up 67-year-old lounge singer who covers tunes by Kate Bush and PJ Harvey along with Park Hill projects rap? (You haven't lived until you've heard Kiki snarling "Wu-Tang MUTHAFUCKA!" in a whiskey baritone.)

"People in the space wanted to present things we couldn't see elsewhere," explains Jusick. "We get all ages. I don't know these people or where they are coming from, but, in my philosophy, you don't have to engage in homo acts to be queer." Still, it helps. As DUMBA was being set up for Friday's surrealistic "First Amendment Extravaganza," Jusick said the group was "definitely encouraging that activity," meaning, uh, sex. "I want people to do it. I'm not gonna make them do it. But if people start taking their clothes off, that's fine." And they did.

 
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