Subject to Change anniversary highlights West Chicago’s ‘Queer Explosion’

Varisco with DJ Swaguerilla, at Subject to Change’s ‘Hocus Pocus’ Halloween event
Varisco with DJ Swaguerilla, at Subject to Change's 'Hocus Pocus' Halloween event Kiam Marcelo Junio
Varisco with DJ Swaguerilla, at Subject to Change’s ‘Hocus Pocus’ Halloween event
Varisco with DJ Swaguerilla, at Subject to Change's 'Hocus Pocus' Halloween event Kiam Marcelo Junio

Subject to Change anniversary highlights West Chicago’s ‘Queer Explosion’

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Varisco with DJ Swaguerilla, at Subject to Change's 'Hocus Pocus' Halloween event (by Kiam Marcelo Junio)

This Wednesday, Logan Square’s Subject to Change dance party celebrated a milestone. January 31 marked one full year for the queer gathering, which takes place at the Burlington Bar on the last Wednesday of every month. Organized by Huffington Post Chicago editor Joseph Erbentraut and queer activist Lindsey Dietzler, the event seeks to give queer Chicagoans a safe space in which to express their identities, while also fundraising for local organizations.

In the past, Subject to Change has donated to About Face Theatre, El Rescate and Broadway Youth Center, bringing together Chicago’s activist and party scenes. Call it dancing for awareness.

As is STC’s way, the group kicked off another year with a clever theme. STC held their first Mx. Queer (U)SA pageant, whose proceeds benefitted the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, a statewide non-profit that “promotes safety and support for LGBT youth in Illinois schools and communities.”

The event was hosted by Joe Varisco of JRV MAJESTY Productions and co-curator of local zine, Chicago IRL. Previous events have been hosted by local queer luminaries like drag artist D’Juana Cyber, who Zac Whittenburg of Time Out Chicago called “one of the most exciting things to happen to Chicago drag in years.” True to the STC aesthetic, D’Juana often performs with chest hair and a beard on full display—as a way to challenge the boundaries of gender presentation in drag. At Subject to Change’s “A Merry Misfit X-Mess,” Cyber performed as Mrs. Claus.

Part of West Chicago’s “Queer Explosion,” Subject to Change is just one of many dance parties and events that rethink the boundaries between performance and community, trans* and cisgender, queer and straight. Mx. Queer emcee Varisco also hosts LEX·IC·A the last Monday of every month as part of Jane Beachy’s Salonathon series at Beauty Bar on Chicago bringing their interest in collaborative performance work to a public space after getting started two years ago under the tutelage of former Northern Lights host Nicole Garneau and Shits & Giggles’ Trandroid.

Northern Lights recently celebrated its two-year anniversary, and Trandroid Presents: Nuts & Bolts, which takes place at Township (on California), will come back from a one-month hiatus with their first anniversary in May. There’s a lot of celebrating going around.

What unites all of these events isn’t just a shared interest in queer people (a less cumbersome and more inclusive label for the LGBTQQIP2SAA spectrum) but a revision of how that community operates spatially in Chicago. Events like these purposefully shift the center of the community away from the north and east—to show that queer Chicago is greater than the Andersonville and Boystown neighborhoods.

For Subject to Change co-founder Lindsey Dietzler, it was “important for [him] to seek alternative spaces that were affirming and welcoming of [his] trans* identity.” While out in Boystown, Dietzler was often read as a lesbian, and in Andersonville, he met “resistance about [his] gender identity,” often told he “was betraying femininity by starting testosterone.” Dietzler stated:

“What I experienced was this growing desire and need for…queer spaces that challenged mainstream gay culture, opened up dialogues about community and identity, and that most importantly, felt safe. Chances, Subject to Change, and Nuts & Bolts…offer a bolstering community full of understanding and acceptance, not to mention the ever important: gender neutral restrooms. These spaces also open up an opportunity for dialogue with folks outside of our community and the chance to educate about our identities and community needs. We create the spaces, the conversations and the connections not just to better understand one another, but to build relationships with future allies.”

Dietzler’s co-organizer, Joe Erbentraut, particularly looks at events like STC and Chances, one of the longest-running queer gatherings in Chicago, as a way to seek out “untraditional” spaces in Chicago. Discussing our reactions to the divisive Jezebel piece, “Get Out of My Gay Bar, Straight Girl,” Erbentraut noted that one of the strengths of these events is that they take place in bars that whose patrons are predominantly heterosexual. According to Erbentraut, doing so “breaks down the bubble of our communities and moves the dialogue past a shouting match that always devolves into awful, misogynistic hate mongering.”

If Subject to Change is going to create a space for the “misfits”—as Erbentraut puts it—they should create an inclusive space for all of them:

“One of my favorite aspects of doing the Subject to Change events is the reaction of people who came to The Burlington not expecting a queer night. It has, without exception, been a positive experience and I think that says a lot about the space we have worked…to carve out on the West Side. I can’t think of a way to describe how amazing it feels to have a bar-goer who came to the venue for the noise-metal band playing in The Burlington’s back room stopping by the DJ booth to both compliment the Janet Jackson-Kate Bush transition and also ask about our event, which provides an excellent and unique education moment.”

Nico Lang blogs about LGBTQ life in Chicago for Follow Nico on Twitter @Nico_Lang or on Facebook.