Reclaiming the Rave: The Politics of Space on the Dance Floor
By Wafa Ktaech
May 1, 2018
Illustration by Wyatt Carroll
When I first started going to raves in Toronto, it felt really special. Having just moved to the city from the suburbs, I felt lucky to have found a group of kind, queer POCs who loved dance music too. But, as in most microcosms of society, I quickly became aware of myself as a femme-presenting cis-woman, and for the first time, actively thought about spatiality and its connection to privilege, gender and capitalism.
I used to think it was all in my head—that if I wanted to have a good time, I could. Even if my personal space was constantly being violated, usually by white cis-men. At raves, femme, trans and non-binary people are told that it’s okay if a man grabs your shoulder to move you out of the way while they’re walking through a crowd; that it’s okay for men to stare at you while you’re dancing; that if you’re fucked up on drugs, it’s normal for men to get closer to you, to steal more of your personal space, because you’re fucked up. Or worse, that I deserved to lose my space because of my identity.
I soon began to understand that the allocation of both public and personal space is based on privilege, and raves are not exempt from this. Eventually my idealistic approach became more materialistic, and I began to recognize space as a social construct that ultimately benefits those who are more privileged.
Many cis-men at raves have never been told that they take up more space than they should. Social space is political, and if they claim to be an ally, they should actively seek to give more physical space to femme, trans and non-binary people. Unfortunately, most cis-men can’t be bothered to recognize their privilege, but we, like other activists, have the power and determination to reclaim our physical space as people of color, femme, trans, and non-binary people.
There are a number of organizations that exist within feminist and anti-oppressive frameworks that are actively working to combat these issues head-on. PLURI in Montreal, for example, has a goal of reducing harassment on dance floors by offering staff trainings to venues on how to recognize and intervene on harassment from a survivor-centric perspective. They also offer trainings to promoters on how to make their events more inclusive and have outreach workers that go to festivals, raves and clubs. Their volunteer bank called "Party Support" allows members to attend DIY events or festivals for free in exchange for remaining sober and performing minor interventions. Their mission, reflected in written signage, reads:
These signs help. As a femme-person, I feel safer knowing that the promoters believe that these community guidelines are important to state publicly.
Image courtesy of PLURI
Toronto promoters such as Work in Progress and It’s Not U It’s Me also utilize rave-safe volunteers who act as the eyes and ears of the party. They make sure everyone has water, take care of intoxicated people and are trained in administering Naloxone to prevent an overdose if necessary. Most importantly, these volunteers make sure everyone’s right to space is being respected.
In addition to these harm-reducing practices within parties, several organizations have adopted door policies that actively seek to promote intersectionality and filter out attendees that could cause potential danger to queer, femme, trans and non-binary guests. Katie Rex’s party called BOUND in NYC has a strict door policy to keep the party safe for everyone. In an interview with Lomography, Rex explains:
Yellow Jackets Collective, Discwoman and BUFU recently hosted a Lunar New Year Party in NYC, posting the disclaimer “Please remember to center queer femmes of color. There will be ABSOLUTELY NO TOLERANCE for antiblackness, appropriative garb, Black face, yellow face, harassment, anything nonconsensual, stuff that makes us feel bad. NO TOXIC MASCULINITY, (YOU WILL BE REMOVED BY OUR QUEER FEMME COMMUNITY SECURITY)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” on its Facebook event page. For this party, the organizations also employed a sliding scale at the door for QTPOC and an increased fee for cis-white men.
Lagom, a Montreal rave collective, promotes their events through an email mailing list. This practice helps to keep the party between friends and prevents the information from spreading to strangers online that could potentially cause harm to others. Sustain-Release in New York operates on an invite-only basis—past attendees can invite one guest only and are completely responsible for their guest’s actions. If a guest acts poorly, it results in a loss of membership. Similar to the previously mentioned door policies, these practices work to filter out harmful attendees before they even arrive.
For promoters who are looking for ways to implement anti-oppressive politics on the dance floor, the best resource we have is each other. Reach out to collectives, promoters and organizations such as PLURI to learn about how to implement them at your parties. Other organizations offering resources include TRIP! Project which provides Toronto's electronic music communities with safer sex and drug information, supplies, peer support and mental health resources including direct referrals to harm reduction counselors. Noise Against Sexual Assault (NASA) also focuses on providing support and resources to help combat sexual assault at parties.
An important first step is creating and implementing a written door and dance floor policy, one that is posted online before the party and as physical signs in the space itself. When it comes to charging white cis-men more money, I think it’s worth experimenting with this policy initially. It’s difficult to alienate an entire group of people when most promoters are personally financially liable for the party, but I think you’ll find that the extra money you charge for cis-men will make up for those who don’t attend as a result. These two tactics alone help to create a safer environment for all, but it’s one thing to post a policy and another to actively enforce it. I believe that if we really want to fight against the notion of those with and those without, actively practicing and enforcing policies like these should be a top priority.
Dance floors are sacred to me and my friends. I refuse to hand over space to those who feel entitled to threaten and occupy that of others. Through empowered policies, actions and allyship, we can take back our public and personal space at raves and create environments that are safe for those most marginalized.
︎︎︎ABOUT WAFA KTAECH:
Wafa (she/her) is a cis-gender, queer woman of colour living in Toronto (Tkaronto), Canada and working in the tv/film industry. Her experience in activism, love of electronic music and pride in her femme friends who make music was her inspiration for her radio show Femme Noise on IstolethesoulFM — a podcast about femme, trans and non-binary artists in electronic music. Wafa is a proud rave-safe volunteer.
You can follow her on Instagram and listen to episodes of Femme Noise Soundcloud.
Additional contributions and editing by Wyatt Carroll, Thomas Giardini, and Steph Smith.