Subcultures occur within our society as a reaction against the cultural climate. It’s undeniable that the ugly mood that washed over Britain in 2016 created a grim atmosphere that needed to be filled with something positive. Current Conservative party politics seem to negatively affect pretty much everyone who isn’t privileged. With enormous cuts to the arts, disability and mental health services combined with increases in university fees, Brexit and Trump, it’s obvious why another colourful movement of protest and vitality is emerging in our clubs.
Like the teddy boys, flower children and punks before them, drag queens and club kids seem to be a natural reaction to the bleak conservatism and close-mindedness that marred 2016.
Newton’s third law (of equal and opposite reactions) can be applied to culture: the noughties have been a decade of increased tolerance, kindness and liberal attitudes, and the reaction to this acceptance seems to have been a massive swing to the right, with Victorian ideals of gender and poverty re-emerging. Trans people and those with identities that oppose the heteronormative ideals of mainstream society are invalidated, and gay people are told there is no need for pride parades as they are now ‘equal’. Millennials are constantly berated and any explicitly liberal views are deemed to be the pitiful whines of ‘libtard special snowflakes’, ‘feminazis’ and the ‘liberal elite’.
This pressurised political environment affects us all, and our collective cultural responses have been interesting. In the queer community, drag is the quickest tool to grab in these trying times. It may seem like a frivolity, but engineering a bold, colourful outfit that reinstates your identity to the world is a hugely powerful thing in a time where “lazy” millennials are expected to sacrifice their time and happiness to work a zero-hour contract for wages that have not increased to match the price of inflation. It’s no surprise that young people are disenfranchised and depressed, so it seems only natural that we have sought out a nightlife that is intimate, community based, and rewards individuality after most of us have been slogging away in an ugly retail uniform for a shitty wage. What better way to remedy feeling like a cog in a corporation or a huge retail machine than by donning some glitter and entering a space where your individuality is commended and ‘appropriate’ modes of behaviour are thrown out of the window?
All over the country these pockets of queer futurity are emerging, with home-grown nights like ‘Cha Cha Boudoir’ and ‘The Library’ in Manchester, ‘WUT? Club’ in London, ‘Suck’ in Glasgow, and ‘GLITTERSHIT!’ in Birmingham to provide inclusive spaces where you can find everyone from gender-bending club kids to fetishists in their gear who find their identities welcomed. This communal act of sheer joy and togetherness -the act of dressing up and dancing together- fulfils something primal in us all. Costume and dance are as old as fire, and to achieve that level of validation in an intimate, personal space seems to be in direct opposition to the ‘real’ world, where conforming to traditional gender roles is encouraged. Like the old ball scenes of America, you leave with a sense of empowerment. I can, I am, I matter, I am a part of something. This is such a necessary message for young people, who are constantly told you have to achieve, you have to be useful, you have to be respectable, you have to be employable.
This wave of bland conservatism will only get worse judging by the swift and cruel policies implemented by Trump in the first eight days of his Presidency, and the socio-political environment will feel even more harsh, grey, and inhumane. The vast majority of us are going to get shat on, particularly those of us belonging to minorities. But the silver living is that counterculture is inevitable, these spaces for alternative modes of thought and expression will multiply across the country and youth culture will be enriched by it.
No matter where you are on the planet, the next four years will be tumultuous. But we will survive and overcome these years, and the way we show our resistance will contribute to that. Be selective with your money, don’t contribute to any businesses or venues that don’t correlate with your ethics, especially not nights that use the ‘queer’ label as a trending buzzword to generate the pink pound. Be kind and accepting – even if you don’t understand something. Make art, it will last longer than your words will. And always, always, seek out your tribe, and go out dancing.
Images: Jack William Hope Walker