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Explore NYC’s Underground Queer and Trans Rave Scene in “Raving”

Let Mckenzie Wark take you raving.

Full disclosure: I’ve never actually been to a rave. Honestly, I have no intention of ever going to one — it has always seemed far too overstimulating for me. But I’ve always admired the ways in which people describe raves, how transcending they sound. One time, this punk classmate of mine in my undergraduate Expository Writing class described how he felt his cells and tendons enmesh with the sonics, sweaty bodies, and vibrant lights of a rave he went to. That formed my ideas on raving. Wark takes it to a whole new level.

Raving is a part of a series of books, Practices, edited by Margret Grebowicz for Duke University Press. The series showcases “those who engage in pursuits out of sheer love and fascination.” From the way it’s structured alone, you can tell Wark poured her soul into this work. Her writing is phantasmagoric, vivid, and sharp. There are endnotes, a bibliography, and glossary. It ebbs and flows through different genres; it refuses to be placed in a single category. In the first chapter, Wark explains that her writing is layered with autofiction and autotheory. She never tells you whether something is completely made up or real, if the things happening in the book are occurrences she’s found herself in or merely stories told to her. Wark challenges reality, conjures something into reality, exposes reality in all its harshness — all at once. Moreover, raving is contextualized in queer theory, situationism, epistemologies, and emerging concepts birthed from the scene.

The concepts dissected in Raving are a bit of a mindfuck and may require you to take time in order to understand them. A whole separate Autostraddle post can be dedicated to going in-depth on all the definitions Wark introduces. However, you’re not supposed to make complete sense of them or explain the concepts with reason. They’re meant to be felt, experienced, danced, and fucked through. Xeno-euphoria is an amalgamation of varying bodily wellness forms, only achievable through external agents. But simultaneously, there’s this strangeness that’s welcomed. Time is also endured differently; it becomes “sideways.” No linearity, no cyclical motion. It could be said that time finds its transness. Wark is able to embrace her transness and escape the challenges it brings through this state of being (or not being):

This is the need: that for a few beats, or thousands, I’m not. Not here. Not anywhere. In the place where there’s usually me, with all her anxieties and racing-racing thoughts and second-second guesses, there’s just happy flesh, pumping and swaying, tethered only by gravity. A trans body homing in on its own estrangement, losing itself, in these alien beats, among this xeno-flesh. Trans—the crossing—toward—the stranger’s gift—xeno. This body that doesn’t dance very well but loves to be gone anyway in the sway. Or so I imagine. I’m not there to notice. It’s what I feel, or rather felt, happen. After it’s gone.”

Enlustment is when the mind melts into the body, and there’s this primitiveness that breaks down the Anthropocene. This is both a result of raving and component of what makes a rave. The body overflows, the body travels outward and presses into another body. It becomes rhythm. Every invisible barrier imposed on the body is broken down, and it gets fucked by everything in sight. It’s glorious and messy and wonderful. Wark forces readers to examine how their own bodies operate in the world and what radical, infinite possibilities they hold.

Something I appreciate about Wark is her effort to hold herself accountable and criticize the culture she’s participating in. Readers are constantly reminded that so much of what makes white-dominated raves comes from Black culture. Techno, the main genre of music Wark walks us through, is Black music; it is “dreaming of a future beyond the structural failings of a post-industrial collapse in the late twentieth century.” It’s been colonized, repackaged, and totally removed from its origins. Also, rave culture is noted to contribute to gentrification. The book is set in Brooklyn, the New York City borough notorious for being a hotpot of gentrifiers. White ravers want to be in close proximity to rave venues, raise the rent of buildings close to them, and displace working-class BIPOC. Ultimately, “the white language of queerness became a dialect of gentrification.” Wark doesn’t briefly discuss race in a single paragraph of one chapter for the sake of not getting cancelled or obtaining points for being woke; she continuously reminds us of her whiteness and the white spaces fashioned from Black creatives she is navigating.

Another aspect of the book I loved was the small moments of inter-community care in it. During fluid bodily movements alongside harsh beats, Wark is still conscience of checking in with her friends, stopping to ensure one is hydrated and the other isn’t strung out on shrooms or ketamine. They go to the rave together and leave it together. They lift each other up during rejection. It’s not at the front of the book, and it’s something that can be found in a lot of queer and trans content. Still, the found family cultivated in this scene is magical, and clearly a key to liberation.

Wark stresses that raves are not “queer utopia.” Problematic shit happens in inner-circles, and there are outsiders that make it less of a safe space than desired. Nevertheless, raving has the potential to be one of the things that brings us there; the dancefloor is a portal. Wark opened my eyes to a brand new world, and I’m sure she can open yours too.

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Lily Alvarado

Lily Alvarado is a queer Boricua whose heart was born and sings in The Bronx, New York. Her titles include grad student, educator, decolonial feminist, breaker of generational cycles, and lover of reptiles.

Lily has written 22 articles for us.

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