On Thursday, September 4th, I headed out of my home long after the sun had set. Like a young Mr. Harry Potter, I entered the train depot alone, unsure of what awaited me. Maybe I would find my Ron and Hermione on this Red line trip to the Northside of Chicago, I thought. Of course, that’s about where the fantasy hit a wall. The Chicago Transit Authority is nothing like the Hogwarts Express. Instead of food carts full of magical treats, a man attempted to sell me a bag of Fritos from his backpack, and I am willing to bet all my Famous Wizards and Witches Cards that the H.E. does not have the unique odor of the CTA, a particularly pungent cocktail of urine, baseball fan sweat, and overly perfumed club-goers.
I was headed to “Hogwarts, After Dark” a queer dance party presented by Formerly Known As (FKA) at Big Chicks bar. Over Facebook, I chatted with Nako Okubo and Ali McDonald co-producers of FKA about the event. They told me, “FKA was started in December of 2006. Prior to that, Ali had a party called TransMission that kicked this all off. TransMission was a bi-monthly party at the now non-existent Stargaze that was in Andersonville. Ali decided to move away from that partnership and approached me about starting a new party with the same mission: to create a dance party that, first and foremost, welcomed the entire spectrum of the queer and trans community. Chicago certainly had quite a few events for the ‘LGBs’ at that time, but not too many that explicitly celebrated the ‘Q’ and the ‘T.’ And we knew the community needed more of those spaces.”
These queer dance party events are always something to look forward to and the pictures on their Facebook page afterward prove that FKA knows how to get a party going. When asked how they always provide such a great time, they told me,”We’ve said from the beginning that the secret ingredient has been luck! For whatever reason, we ended up with some of the nicest, most down-to-earth people who attend the events to have earnest fun. If we were to guess why that happened…. it may just be the tone that we use to get the word out. We’ve never been about being ‘scene-y’ or ‘seen’ in a nightlife sense. And we certainly don’t take ourselves too seriously. And I think that helps bring in people who feel similarly about what they’d like from a night out. Our themes might be anywhere from absurd to peculiar to nerdy…but a lot of our love for the themes is actually in earnest. So maybe some of that comes through and resonates with FKAers too.”
It was exactly September’s nerdy theme that led me to write this article. Harry Potter is a household name, but also continues to deeply resonate with the self-proclaimed nerd/geek crowds. The last book was released in 2007, and the last movie entered theaters in 2011. Publishers continue to re-release the books with new covers, Pottermore has been a successful ongoing entry into the digital world for the series, and this Halloween there will still be a large ratio of Harry Potter costumes.
Okubo and McDonald definitely tapped into something people are still deeply interested in, “Ali and I are big Harry Potter fans, and we just happened to realize we hadn’t done an HP theme yet. It was shocking, and I don’t know how we’ve gone almost 8 years without it. And clearly, based on the response from FKA fans, it’s never too late to do anything HP related. It was one of the biggest responses/reactions we’ve gotten on a theme.”
The night of the event I was running a bit late to the event, which I thought would play into my cool factor of arriving at a fashionable hour. The biggest reason for my tardiness was my inability to find the right outfit. I was not sure how many people would get super dressed up and how far I should play into the theme. What I finally pulled together was this:
As a Slytherin (simply because all of my clean clothing was dark), I kept it simple with a black and white dress, but pulled my house colors in with my emerald loafers, hoodie, and this badass snake scarf. I asked the organizers what they thought the absolute best costumes would be. McDonald said: “I would really love to see someone dressed as a golden snitch.” Okubo’s answer: “A couple dressed as young Dumbledore and Grindelwald, of course. And then can bring along Fawkes, too. I bet he’d be great on the dance floor.”
Even though I was late (for me, my weekday bedtime is normally around ten) people were still just arriving. There was a mixed crowd of people there for the bar and people there for the event. In some instances, it was very clear who had come out for the HP experience, and who was just hoping to have a drink. Harry Potter was getting down on the dancefloor to some of great mixed tracks with a Hedwig attached to his shoulder. In order to fully partake in the festivities, I ordered myself one of the super appropriately named “Patron(us)” shots. It was funny to order, and I started to feel a little like someone had cast tarantallegra on me.
When I discussed this event with my editor, Ginnis Tonik, she wrote back, “I would be interested in why the theme, considering the lack of overt queerness in HP and also how people reinterpreted HP through queerness.” McDonald and Okubo responded, “Fun question! We’ve never really chosen themes based on whether or not there is overt queerness. The sad reality is that that wouldn’t leave us with much to work from. But, we get the most enjoyment out of seeing the queerness that is brought TO these themes. When FKA people dress up, anything goes, and we live for those interpretations. People have taken themes like Friday Night Lights, Spring Break, Greek Mixer, Country Club—to name a few not-queer-at-all themes—and added their own queer layer to it. We’ve all grown up with and continue to be up against all these rules about who we can or can’t be…so people really take it upon themselves to break whatever rules they can in spaces like ours. Which is just plain…awesome.”
This led me to thinking more about bringing queerness to events and fandoms, I think it is something a lot of individuals have read into comics over the years. AutoStraddle had a great article about just this idea right before the last Harry Potter movie came out. In my world of queer geekery, this is something I seem to navigate a lot without even thinking about. Slash fiction is one fun byproduct of this, and the queers celebrating Harry Potter was definitely another.
The night was as fun as any Hogwarts ball, and I was impressed by how welcoming everyone was toward me. The Patron(us) shot(s) really hit the spot, the costumes were rad, and no one laughed at my squiggly arm dancing. Thank you FKA for making nights like these possible and for picking a theme that pulled homebody geeks like myself out onto the dancefloor. FKA has events once a month, so Chicagoans have something to look forward to through the long winter ahead.