Lambda Aloha Tiny Gay Dance Party

I got home at midnight last night but went straight to bed so this morning I still have residual fire-engine red lipstick, a waxy paper "bud light" arm band, a wrist stamp, and several tiny french braids above one ear for what the internet assures me is an "edgy faux side shave."

Heh, edgy. Not really the first descriptor I'd pick for myself.

But it's mildly gratifying to wake up with these little relics of A Night Out.

This is a tiny, sleepy island. Restaurants shut down at 9.  Nights Out are few and far between.
And I am a person who would really, truly, whole-heartedly prefer to stay home and listen to BBC Radio Drama, with Clive Merrison as Sherlock Holmes. (No really, they're great.) So usually I'd pass the chance to Go Out because it's not really what feeds my soul, ya know?

But my friend Yuki asked me, so gently, so politely, so ready to be disappointed. And look at this earnest little promotional website: So eager!

And plus I've missed Pride and I was curious what kind of showing the QUILTBAG (yes that's a real acronym, isn't it cute? Not sure what the U is for...) aka the LGBTQIA* community would make in Kapaa, Hawaii.

I'm married to a guy, I've got two kids and I'm 6 months along with my third. So although I identify as queer and live right smack in the middle of the Kinsey scale, I don't really ping peoples' gaydar. But I long for the community. I have "passing privilege" which is another way of saying "bisexual erasure," and I need a little more gay in my life.

So I said yes to my polite and earnest friend Yuki and put on my red lipstick and a confused outfit--what does one wear to a lambda dance in Kapaa? I went for Geek Chic: Tardis space skirt and a black tanktop with a giant goldfish and Mycroft Holmes quote "I am living in a world of goldfish." Because I subscribe to the Nerd Shirts Are Mating Calls philosophy. I met up with Yuki at her friend Ruby's house (clean simple rooms, art on the walls, instruments and surf boards propped up against the wall, evocative of a different life) and we applied blue eyeshadow and smudged dramatic eyeliner around for awhile before heading over to the resort.

We did a slow drive-by first, peering into the ballroom windows. Is this the place? Flashing lights, but terrible balloons, people standing around... acting gay? Looking gay? Nope, everybody looking just like people. There were some guys standing outside smoking-- Ruby rolled down the passenger window and asked: "Hey, is this the gay pride dance?"
The guys answered: "Yes, of COURSE! Can't you tell?" And laughed, mock-swishy.

So in we go. I've been to this ballroom before-- for a coworker's child's wedding, for a county-wide teacher union event. It's a cavernous, stodgy rectangle carpeted with big paisley patterns, sea-shell chandeliers on low ceilings. Last night the flashing strobe lights sparked against the windows, and around the room giant screens showed soft-core music videos-- hunky and busty models straining lumpy packages against their... um, somethings. I forgot what I was saying.

Anyway!  Two hotel workers were stationed outside the ballroom to check our IDs and give us little beer bands. My friend Waiulu was one of them! It was a relief to see a familiar face-- I gave her a hug and ribbed her for using her English name on her hotel name tag. We chatted in Hawaiian for a bit-- she teased me-- You've finally come out? She and I have already had this conversation, so this was not new information for her. I told her to come in and dance-- she said, no, she has to get home to her NEW girlfriend. I made an impressed noise and asked her what happened to her face-- her nose was blushing to blue and she had scratches all over her face. She said she and her girlfriend got into a fight. I asked her-- Seriously? She nodded. Dude. Take care of yourself! And then we went through into the ballroom. When I went out later to find a drinking fountain, she had already gone home. It seemed like an unfinished thread...

Inside, Yuki shout-introduced me to the folks she knew over a frenetic techno beat-- angular and coiffed femme-women in their 40s. The names immediately disappeared from my brain. We got drinks-- a soda water with lime for me-- and then hit the dance floor to the obligatory Lady Gaga "Born this Way" super ultra techno heavy remix. The dance floor was small -- only maybe forty feet long and fifteen wide. Yuki joked that we'd double the dance floor if we went out-- so we did. Joined a guy in gold lame skinny jeans and black stilettos, two girls wearing black buckles and leather and silver studs, and a guy in a faded button-down polo shirt and a tiny pink tutu and "sh*t-kickin' boots." Yuki is nearly six feet tall and willowy in sheer white, and was wearing a bright blue wig. There were a handful of people in their 20s looking very young and energetic, passing out rainbow colored glow bracelets. The rest of us were ordinary-looking people, most over 30, looking shiftily at each other, not quite fully extending our arms as we danced, not taking up too much space, mostly marking the beat with our feet and bobbing heads.

I like loud music and dancing... but with a healthy amount of self-mockery. Really, cutting loose to Weird Al parodies and Harry Potter Pop in the living room is really my scene. And I swear I can dance. So I had to really pretend I was just in the living room getting down with my kids in order to cut loose. But honestly, dancing with two fearless kids in dressups to raps about Hip-hop-oppotamuses is way more fun than with a dozen self-conscious adult strangers. I can see, with the heavy relentless beat and the lights and the effort of getting dressed up, alcohol or stronger would be absolutely necessary to enjoy the event. My soda and lime was not going to silence my frontal cortex nearly enough. Ruby disappeared outside with a friend.

I lasted all the way to like, TEN THIRTY, which is basically 3 am Kauai time. When we sat down to catch our breath, we looked back at the now totally deserted dance floor and the sparse tables around the room, Yuki said, "I'm not sure why I thought it would be different. I mean, it's Pride! I was just picturing throngs of people! I guess this is just all of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people in Kapaa?"

I looked around. I said, thinking about Waiulu at home now with her scrappy new girlfriend, "Maybe it's all the white LGBT people in Kapaa." It was a lily-white crowd. It's not that there's no non-white queer people on this island--in just the tiny social circle of my work, I know a surprising number of LGBT folks. Local culture is pretty tolerant about gay and lesbian and non-gender conforming relationships. Honestly they tend to have more in common with local straight culture than with mainstream American queer culture. The other day I ran into a former student, a mere 21 years old, with her 35 year old girlfriend and a grocery cart full of step-kids. Most of my former students, just graduating high school since 2013, are involved in serious relationships that look a lot like this, young kids with older partners, with kids and stepkids already in the mix. Whether the relationship is same or mixed sex doesn't seem to make a difference in the shape these relationships take: founded early, family-oriented, prioritized above school and career, and (from the outside) painfully all-consuming-- thinking of my friend's broken nose and my student's full grocery cart, and the way both of their community college degrees are languishing.

Someday I'll think and write more about culture and queerness, how culturally narrow the rainbow flag can be, and how sometimes cultural constructs of gender and sexuality are cherry-picked and decontextualized in the service of a privileged white story about what queerness signifies.

I dropped Ruby off and exchanged numbers, and drove home-- happy to have Checked the Social Boxes. I dressed up! Wore make up! Met new people! Bought a (non-alcoholic but still) drink! Danced! And with relief tore off towards home, shrugged out of my clothes and into bed with the soothing tones of Clive Merrison as Sherlock Holmes at last.


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