Where the Bois Are: Bklyn Boihood is the Future

In order to truly understand the momentousness of New York’s Bklyn Boihood and the impact it stands to make on our community, first you need to get with this rapidly-growing “queer collective” concept.

See, New York City is a pretty gay city with a lot of gay players, but you’ll find a lot of lesbians whining that the only thing for lesbians to do here — or anywhere — is drink beer. We have the resources and the population here, but many still feel we lack Something.

Something that could provide a greater sense of togetherness, some kind of decent and focused hub where queers-in-the-know can go.

Something more wide-reaching and accessible than the three bars for lesbians. Something more consolatory than the occasional jolts of ubiquity induced by a dyke nod on the subway. Something more comfortable than dropping the gay bomb to future roommates found on craigslist. We’re lucky to have an LGBT center planned and built with community-building in mind, but it’s more of an open venue than a place for queers to just drop in and hang out.

Luckily –when the mainstream fails to meet the needs of a growing population, the underground emerges.

It’s a force, this underground, because our people tend to have a lot going on. Queer collective and communes are springing up with greater verb, mostly in the Bedford- Stuyvesant (“Bed-Stuy”) neighborhood in Brooklyn, a name which non-New Yorkers may recognize from Spike Lee films like Do the Right Thing and Crooklyn and lyrics from Notorious B.I.G, Jay-Z and Mos Def.

Now Bed-Stuy is quickly becoming the “new” gay neighborhood, blowing the tourist-gays West Village right out of the water. Victorian houses-turned-queer-living spaces like The Glitter House and The Marilyn Mansion are sprouting up as places to throw parties, host workshops and basically get everyone into one room together to start planning shit. Every January those houses participate in Quo Rum, “a ten-day extravaganza of knowledge, skills, and talents for the purpose of creating and supporting sustainable community projects,” with events like Dismantling Racism and Classism in Queer Communities, Trans Jewish Punk Polka and Fisting to the Heart. It was makeshift to the point of nearly being anarchist in spirit. It was awesome. This is what we can do here, and we’re doing it.

And this brings us to another vital queer collective- Bklyn Boihood.

Bklyn Boihood’s seemingly abstract aim is to “provide visibility and empowerment to masculine-presenting queer and trans people of color.” Ryann tells me this before hopping up for a coffee at the Bed-stuy café where she’s squeezed me in between MBA classes along with her co-founder, Genesis.

As Genesis tells me about how awesome it is to be a high school math teacher, I just nod as it’s occurring to me that they have day jobs and have accomplished all this stuff in the off-hours most of us spend watching L Word on Netflix. Also, Ryann and Genesis are even more gorgeous in person, which contributes to the awed nodding reaction.

 

RYANN AND GENESIS

Ryann returns with the story of how it all started — the modest, yet inspired beginnings of a very Big Thing:  “Back in 2009, we were just hanging out at Genesis’ place. We’d been talking about how we don’t really see ourselves represented in a lot of ways. We didn’t see ourselves at the parties we were going to, we didn’t see ourselves in the organizing world, in any sort of medium.”

Genesis nods in agreement.

“So I was thinking, ‘Okay, visibility, what’s something we can produce? What kind of project could we do that would be fun, that we have the resources for?’ And I was like, ‘Yo, we should do a calendar!’”

bklyn bois calendar, shot by Rebecca Emmanuelle Photography

But a calendar snowballed into a lot more. Bklyn Boihood hits all the key elements of a progressive, powerful and young community — politics, volunteering, art-making, blogging, opinion-voicing, socializing, alcohol, parties, pictures, dating, and positivity — and then some.

Ryann explains that they’re about “giving exposure to people through blogging, giving exposure to issues that don’t get talked about, fashion, we hope to get into film projects this year. And we host really dope parties.” (All of these ideas are neatly organized and consolidated on their website.)

But first there was a calendar: A bold, glossy 2010-2011 calendar featuring members of the collective — all of whom are masculine-of-center queers-of-color.

behind-the-scenes of the calendar shoot, all photos by Al J Hamilton

Genesis shakes her head, “There was a type of magic that happened on each set that it’s truly difficult to put into words.”

The end-result is an edgy magic-tinged work of art that personifies Boihood’s mission and lovingly highlights the beauty and strength of the kind of women we rarely see represented in LGBT media, let alone the mainstream.

“When they come to shoot, they’re the star,” Genesis tells me. “We’re like, ‘Yo, what is it that you jam to? What do you feel sexy in?’ We’re bumping down the street with loud music, our whole team, we got film crew, photographers, makeup, everybody’s on set having fun. Sip a little somethin’, smoke a little somethin’, chilling. Every model was very different and brought something different. It felt very spiritual.”

One model even teared up when a crew member told her she was “absolutely beautiful” — nobody had ever told her that before. There’s gonna be another calendar this year, which they hope to document in a behind-the-scenes video. The success of the calendar has their ideas churning really, really fast.

Listening to Ryann and Genesis talk about bklyn boihood feels like being in the center of a thing jetting towards a bright, inclusive future, moving at the speed of caffeine.

“We’re trying to further our presence. Which is being done in ways that have worked for us in the past- the parties, the mixers. We’re talking about possibly concerts, possibly art exhibitions. When the community makes it clear that these are things that are needed and wanted, let’s do it!”

Ryann and Genesis have a dynamic that is unsurprisingly dream-team-esque. Ryann is the strategic business-minded entrepreneur, and Genesis is the artist and it’s all very organic, although the “how we met” story comes out different from their two varying points of view.

Genesis says, “I met Ryann when she came to my desk at a job we were working at years ago. She was very sweet. I felt a pull from day one to look after her.”

Ryann starts cracking up — “I’ll tell you the real story,” Ryann holds Genesis’s hand. “Yeah, we met at work and shit. But after like two weeks, Gen was like ‘Yo, dude, you wanna keep this fucking job, you gotta come to work on time. It’s easiest thing anyone can do is come to work on time.’ And I’m like, ‘Who is this?'”

Genesis breaks in, “And I’m an assistant- nobody – no pull.”

Ryann continued, “She was like, ‘I could care less, but I know no one’s telling you that they notice that you’re late, but they’re noticing.’ So she looked out for me.”

Ryann returned the favor;  Genesis credits their friendship as the catalyst to her own evolving sense of comfort with her queer identity. Genesis’ personal evolution has helped her to understand what newly out gay kids are looking for when they turn to the city for queer resources. “I’m a late bloomer, if you will. I know what it’s like to be at a point where you want to get in the groove of everything but not knowing how to do so or who to talk to.”

Genesis & Ryan, photo by shotnnyc.com

Coming out and getting comfortable with your queerness is a long process fraught with all kinds of horrendous bumps in the roads and subtle complexities, but Ryann and Genesis clearly survived and emerged from the whole experience radiating genuine self-love. They’re comfortable with themselves, and this makes them ideal role models to younger queers.

“Once you find your comfort in yourself,” Genesis explains, “You want everyone to feel that way. I want everyone to feel as amazing as I feel.”

They hint that there’s some age-transcending in the future of Bklyn Boihood — a community project that’s still largely under wraps about which I’m only given the hint “inter-generational” and “folks that are older, younger.” I also receive a cryptic hint about another start-up: “bridging international gaps.” So think on that for a bit.

As for the present, I must now mention the parties. I can personally testify that Bklyn Boihood parties are already legendary. They’re different than the wildly promoted, glossy-flyer girlparties that happen in the basements of straight clubs because they happen in queer homes and, like only the best parties, they aren’t trying to be blowouts. They grow organically, with good music and BYOB and nice people.

“We usually drop the date a week in advance. It’s not too premeditated. The concept is to just provide the community with a safe space, allow them to let go and be themselves.” And even though they’re not trying to be blowouts, that’s generally precisely what happens.

These girls are right on the edge of something poised to change the queer community and provide those missing spaces we long for between happy hours and ladies night. They’re proud of what they’ve done and there’s so much more to look forward to in the future and you know how we love the future. There’s the next calendar, more parties, more blogging, and many, many, many plans still undisclosed or slyly hinted-at.

Before running off to class, Ryann tells me about a loft party coming up March 25th. I know I’ll be there; there’s going to be dancing at this revolution.

[ bklyn boihood website / blog / twitter / facebook / buy a calendar & t-shirt ]

 


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Profile photo of M.J.

Michele lives in Harlem where she conducts oral history interviews and is working on two novels. Her short stories have most recently been published in The Brooklyn Rail, Killing the Buddha, and Shelf Life Magazine. She regularly contributes to VelvetPark, Bend Over Magazine, Make/Shift Magazine and guestofaguest.com. go here! mjwriting.tumblr.com

M.J. has written 10 articles for us.

56 Comments

  1. Thumb up 0

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    I just got so excited when I saw your little shout out to Schmekel, the all Trans Jewish Punk Polka band! They’re a really awesome bunch of dudes. Just a little promo, I’m super stoked on their benefit show this friday night for Nogga’s top surgery: the Ta Ta Titty party @ Marilyn Mansion.

    Bkln Boihood sounds awesome, I’m looking forward to seeing more from them!
    Excellent article =]

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    Totally unrelated.

    I really can’t sleep. First night away from my boo in a while. I guess I’m missing some sexy lesbian energy beside me. I’ll just leave you open here for now.

    Good night Autostraddle.

    Mwa
    ..wake me up if I start snoring

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    These collectives are EVERYTHING I’VE EVER WANTED. I’ve tried starting one in Brisbane (for creative women) but the issue with Brisbane is that there’s often a lot of enthusiasm but not enough commitment. So it’s kinda dormant atm. Also the people I really connect with are all scattered from each other.

    But WOW. These are amazing. Want MORE. In fact, want:
    * A guide that lists such collectives around the country/world
    * Resources on starting a collective of your own (especially how to deal with being the only one that does anything)

    THANK YOU for this article. Could we have regular features on similar collectives too?

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    ok so i couldn’t sleep because i couldn’t stop thinking of these luscious ladies i know irl.. then i remembered this article from today (which by the way is SO awesome and exactly what i wanna read but that ain’t the point) and thought about pants. where can i get good pants?! for bois! do i get boy pants? maybe little boy pants i’m 5’1. where are the ideal pants found i need to know to get luscious ladies.

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        @kaylucia i just found out about this store in soho called uniqlo. all their pants are 34 length but they alter for free! they sell xs mens too(btw im 5’1 too and am always on the search for clothes that fit)

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        @kaylucia Also, there is this site called the boi’s department that’s starting up which might be what you’re looking for. I don’t think they have anything happening yet, but maybe in the future. They at least have a cool survey having to do with boi’s clothes. theboisdepartment.com

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        yah.. i live in pittsburgh so that doesn’t work too well. i also should have mentioned that i, myself, am quite the luscious lady, so real boy’s pants are just awkward- loosefitting in the wrong places!- and i wouldn’t buy them anyway. that boi’s department website looks promising. will keep my eye on it!

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    no shade. but, i just don’t buy it. isn’t this just a party scene that recreates a lot of troubling femme/butch dynamics. a butch woman with a thin, light femme drapped on her arm – i’m gagging over the creativity. in an effort to provide “visibility,” aren’t we just taking due shine away from the black masculine-identified who have been in BK and Harlem for generations. i think the presumption that this collective is breaking new ground is really an off-shoot of the kinds of narcissistic me-me-me that is troubling a lot of people everywhere.

    a party with $2 shots does not a movement make.

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      Did you even READ the article? Sure, black masculine-identified people have been in NYC/everywhere (note: not just Brooklyn or Harlem, um) all along, that shouldn’t devalue the boihood’s initiative – that’s something the people that have been here all along didn’t create. Look below to bani’s comment, if you think that free HIV testing & providing tangible support to other local groups is narcissistic then I can’t imagine what it would take to measure up to your standards of selflessness.

      Great article Michele.

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      What is wrong with butch-femme dynamics? Despite critiques of b-f as racially stratified (i.e. Audre Lorde’s Zami), it has been a valued (and primary) dyad within queer communities of color for ages, persisting while white lesbians largely condemned it during the ’70s and ’80s. Since b-f’s “comeback” in the ’90s, queer women have subverted heterosexism and normative gender and asserted feminist agency through femme and butch identities. Considering b-f “troubling” by default is a sad throwback to a time when this lesbian way of living and loving could get you kicked out of your consciousness-raising group.

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        I agree with you. Though for the most part I don’t like being defined as anything. If I want to dress like Victoria Beckham today, Mary Kate Olsen tomorrow, and a stylish nerd boy next week then I will. But I do agree that some vilify b/f dynamics, particularly in minority communities. While I’m not butch, or care either way what you feel comfortable calling me, I am Black so this subject irks me. I never understand why? I get if you don’t like labels, neither do I, but I also believe people are entitled to identify with what they want. I mostly think ‘feminist’ ideals equate heternormative GENDER identities as some sort of deterrent to their idea of liberal sexuality. But someone’s gender identity and their sexuality are completely non-related.

        At any rate I’m normally not attracted to boi/like chicas, but I am totally interested in one of these loft shindigs. Cool article. I just followed them on tumblr!

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    last time i went, there was free HIV testing upstairs. Ryann talked to me for a while about the radical POC queer & trans work they were involved with in the community, and they donate cash to local groups through their calendar. and the drinks were free, so.

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    “i’m a brooklyn boi, i may take some getting used to”

    all of this sounds so damn awesome. much love to everyone involved in this!

    i wish queers in the bronx would unite this way,

    damn man, brooklyn is always on the come up.

    i feel a party crash coming on…

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    I like what they do (and an excellent blog btw) and wish them all the best.
    First time I’ve actually felt comfortable at a queer poc event, i’ll make sure to attend the next gathering

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    @EsoMaya did you really have to impede on the fun? please take note of the term “future” in the title, smh.

    @no_shade but dear, it’s ALL shade. why would you even take time out of your day to discredit a movement, although obviously not similar to your own, that is empowering to queer POC visibility (i.e. folks that we don’t see on the L-Word or on talk shows like Ellen or in the mainstream period)? The fact is, the butch-femme dynamic is VERY real and full of love and commitment JUST like any queer dynamic is capable of being. Why don’t you get that? You sound like the ONLY one that’s troubled, and I sense jealousy. That’s ok, these cuties are used to it :)

    *heart* the bois! *muah*

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    A collective of queer women of color.
    Oh New York, how much I love thee. In NY, there’s even a great collective of Queer Fly Ass Nigerians just taking over…and i’m like, “Why am I settling in L.A. again?”

    If someone discovers a space for QPOC in L.A., pleeease let me know. Or else, I’ll return to L Word Land, where there’s angry ass tasha, whore-ish Papi, and bougie Bette…

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    This is a party scene.

    NYC’s last great scene ended in the mid-90’s, and now the city is overrun with yuppies sucking the life and color out of every corner.

    Is this a movement? A revolution? No. It is a party scene, and I hope everyone remembers that and doesn’t get lost in it, drugged up, and junkied out.

    Why does this matter? Because sexuality and gender expression are often brought out in the context of a party scene, and with parties come alcohol and drugs (not always, but often. And even if not now, eventually).

    don’t get me wrong – PARTYING IS FUN!

    Let’s just be real about what this is – a party scene. Let’s not throw around Audre Lorde, bell hooks, j-but and the like into this conversation, none of this is on that level.

    History has shown us what happens to part scenes; the era always ends with a tragic event. Find sober spaces, places to be healthy together as our queer selves. And then let’s talk about the books.

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    Don’t understand why anyone would hate on the bois. Is part of it a party scene? Yes.. but that’s not all that it is. And when a “party scene” actually has meaning, empowerment, and representation behind it it becomes something very different. All these fags cry about how we have nothing then we have brothers and sisters doing something very amazing to represent all of us and ya still cry.. I don’t get it! Love to the bois

    Eyeris

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    Yes to bbh! #allyalldoiswin

    And I thumb my nose to all those who are slamming the bbh collective without even an understanding of what they do. Y’all are dumb, forreal.

    Love this piece, love the bois, love BK.

    #bedstuy

  14. Pingback: April 26th – Queers Are Segregated. So? |

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    great article! just a question about language though. the article referred to the calendar as providing visibility for “the kind of women we rarely see represented in LGBT media, let alone the mainstream” but are we sure that everyone in that calendar necessarily identifies as a woman? the article is a great piece i would just love to see a consistent sensitivity to the diversity of gender identities that can fall under “masculine of center”

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