My Takedown of Gawker’s Takedown of the Black Party
Like swallows returning to Capistrano, you can be sure the vernal equinox will bring with it the Black Party and a young(ish) gay man’s Gawker post about it.
Realizing that a snarky gossip blog site’s purpose is to generate controversy, thereby grasping that light in a bottle, buzz, and its consequent hits, I still feel a need to respond since I take a personal responsibility in this annual New York mega-dance party’s notoriety to the wider world.
For decades, the Black Party flew under the radar of the general public. Without benefit of publicity, advertising or information of any kind save the often-controversial and always-bizarre poster (an illustration of an of a sweet little boy eating raw meat; a Photoshopped portrait of a badly beaten young man; a bound man in torn underwear, his head covered by an A&F shopping bag). As part of the "ritual" aspect of the party (this year called Rites XXXIV), it went out to a select few thousand gay men (and a few even more select with-it raver types or out-and-out freaky straight guys and gals) around the world. Upon seeing the return address, to a man, they eagerly tore open the envelope to discover that year’s DJ line-ups.
The party’s producing organization, the Saint at Large, happily thrived on the underground vibe. Then, in 2002, I "outed" the party to the general public in a Village Voice article. After I was called on the carpet at the Saint at Large’s agreeably cluttered Lafayette Street loft, the producers accepted the inevitable.
They began advertising in gay publications and even hired a publicist. Those steps probably helped ensure the survival of a party that, at 34 (about 95 in gay years), has survived and thrived while other big-room gay dances fell by the wayside.
It also invited in gay outliers who nearly always approached it not as a dance party but as the largest annual gay sex party in the country with the dancing as a side note. One year, Gawker even planted someone with a camera in front of Roseland Ballroom, the venerable giant, frayed dance-and-concert space in Midtown Manhattan. He asked attendees as they were leaving (mostly unsuccessfully) what was going on inside, which isn’t so much like catching a deer in the headlights as filming the poor beast while shooting (apt word) it.
This year, the task of detailing his first (and, I strongly suspect, last) Black Party fell to Rich Juzwiak, whose occasional Gawker take on gay life as it is lived -- or, rather, as he interprets it -- is aptly titled Pride & Shame.
In his defense, unlike his predecessors and assorted other newbie essayists, Juzwiak doesn’t dismiss "recreational sex" out of hand as an anachronism clung to by the last holdouts of the new normal. Annoying as it might be to read, I give him credit for assigning the men he discusses letters of the alphabet, ending his hot (he says, and I have no reason to doubt him) hook-up, "F." He definitely gets points for not name names, especially the famous. (Door security at Roseland even confiscates cell phones in an attempt at protecting patrons.)
That said, in a long -- I counted more than 3,600 words; by Gawker’s standards, "Oxford English Dictionary" length -- article, Juzwiak sticks almost exclusively to the relatively few men carrying on here and there. He mentions music and the dance floor three times: once, to dismiss the music as "percussive, loud, ugly, anti-melodic house (or tribal)"; once, to observe a group dancing "sexually without so much as touching each other"; and finally, when he hears a Whitney Houston song. Oh yeah, he finally "danced a little bit." But that ends abruptly after an incomplete pass.
The whole rest of the piece details his looking at, and very occasionally and always tentatively, joining in various levels of hanky-panky. The overall tone comes down on the sexual energy as half-hearted at best. Typical comments: One encounter is "about as erotic as being bitten by a mosquito"; another, "a pack of rats tweaked each other’s exposed nipples and struck curious poses."
it’s especially curious -- if telling -- that he puts down the dancers as "about as sex-provoking as five clones of Nicki Minaj half-heartedly jiggling." They’re dancing! What does he expect them to be doing? Tea bagging? Pole stripping?