By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
After a previous location closed, the women moved their weekly dance party to the Lab after a five-week hiatus. "When we had our grand opening, almost two years ago, the fashion trend had changed dramatically. Our grand opening night we had 650 females. Half the crowd had on 'do-rags and the whole thug look going on."
Kimmeee and Madison call their weekly party at the Lab Friday Night SinSations. The DJ, playing a mix of old-school hip-hop and reggae, jumps on the mic to incite the crowd.
"If you came in here to steal another chick's bitch, let me see your hands in the air!" The dance floor turns into a sea of five-finger flags. "If you want to fuck tonight, let me hear some noise!" The hands are replaced by whooping yells and screams.
"Look at these so-called aggressive girls and how they act and carry themselves," says Rutgers adjunct professor Stacey Patton. "You see the hyper-masculinity that's been adopted by them. I don't know if it's conscious or not, but I think hip-hop has its influence."
The day after a Friday night at the Lab, Siya is contemplating whether to check out LoverGirls, a Saturday night party at the Millionaire's Club in the Financial District that caters to an older crowd. The elevator in her Bed-Stuy apartment building is broken and the hike up and down 13 flights of stairs has put a damper on her mood.
She lives in a three-bedroom apartment with her grandmother, who has raised her since she was 11. Siya was born Michelle Sherman in California. Her father is black and was a military man. Her mother is Hispanic and was addicted to drugs. Her father left when she was young, but after hearing what horrible conditions his daughter was living in, packed her up and sent her to live with his mother in Bed-Stuy's Eleanor Roosevelt Projects. Two years later she came out of the closet.
"My aunt was doing my hair and she was trying to put it in a girly hairstyle," says Siya, who is sitting on top of a dresser in her meticulously organized bedroom. Behind her hangs a photomontage of her in Times Square with girlfriends. "I got upset and flipped. 'I hate this. I want to wear my hair braided. I like girls!' " Her family took the news well. "My grandmother is real cool, and I think in a way my being gay meant she didn't have to worry about me going out and getting pregnant and bringing home more kids for her to take care of."
But school officials weren't so thrilled, she claims. She says that she and her friends were made to feel that they were a gang. "They kinda forced me to drop out," she says. "I left high school in junior year."
At 16, she began rapping about being a lesbian. It's won her a small following, but also held her singing career back, she believes.
Ky, the Monroe College freshman, is also nursing a budding rap career. Majoring in criminal law, she says that she's often mistaken for a guy. But she doesn't mind.
She attended an all-girls Catholic high school and played basketball on the school team. For several years, she had a "cover-up boyfriend" while seeing girls. But a girlfriend outed her at 14. "My boyfriend tried to commit suicide after he found out," she says.
Ky kept her secret at school until her team traveled out of state for a weekend basketball tournament. "Girls were running around the hotel pulling off towels, throwing around basketball shorts," says the 18-year-old. "It was just mad gay, and it was open. I was having fun, and I thought when I got back I could talk about it, and relive the experience, because it was open for me. This was the first time I could actually touch a girl and she laughed and liked it, and everybody else knew." But when she returned to school and began telling her classmates about the team's lesbian romps, she was shunned by teachers and her teammates.
Both Siya and Ky, after difficult starts, are trying to manage an existence as rappers and party promoters. AGs have had only limited success in music marketing. Ruin, a rapper from Richmond, Virginia, managed to chart on Billboard in 2005 with her maxi-single "Be Me/Stop Trying." But masculine lesbians have a tough path to success, says Erik Parker, director of content for hip-hop news site sohh.com.
"Female rappers are marketed to sell sex, and their target audience is largely men. And the males in hip-hop, or outside of hip-hop for that matter, find femme lesbians appealing, rather than a more masculine female who challenges their personal ideals of masculinity."
Ruin is touring clubs, but larger success eludes her. "Every executive that I sat down with has said the same thing: 'You hot, you got something different. We want to work with you here, we want to do this and do that, but is there any way we can put you in tighter clothes? Can we put you in a skirt; can we put you in heels?' "