By Daniel Borgen, PQ Monthly
Portland’s nightlife is a gorgeous queer kaleidoscope; anyone who says our city doesn’t have a “scene” simply doesn’t know where to look. Even in this crazily diverse landscape, though, two names regularly stand out. Katey Pants (Roy G Biv) and Mary Charming (Mr. Charming) — who also happen to make the sexiest power couple — have their names all over Portland’s most exciting night-out adventures. We chatted with them about Gaycation, the end of Bent, the state of queer nights — a whole array of topics.
PQ Monthly: I hear from queers (especially dudes) all the time that they’re sad we have fewer bars and more queer nights now. What’s your take on the state of homo dance parties and clubs? Have we simply outgrown them?
Katey Pants: It’s funny to hear that from dudes, mainly because I can name at least five spaces in Portland less than four miles away from one another that are implicitly or tacitly queer-dude-only spaces. There are no spaces explicitly for self-identified queer women. And many of those queer dude spaces have made it clear that queer women are not welcome — which sucks.
It’s hard to say what I think about the dissolution of explicitly gay/lesbian bars because those spaces are so complicated. On one hand, they give queers on the margins actual space to hold and that space is important and necessary. On the other, these clubs are often gross to be in, tacky in design, totally transphobic, and it feels like a liquor ad threw up on you — which also sucks.
The large prevalence of queer nights all over town is because of the failure of the gay bars to provide fun/affordable/safer spaces for all kinds of queers, but also because party planning and DJing doesn’t just belong to highly-paid promoters and club owners anymore. It belongs to a lot of broke queers now, too. However, I do want to see a small, visually-appealing, hella queer bar on the north or east side of Portland. So if anyone wants to invest in me and Mary owning one — let me know.
Mary Charming: Queer nights are the only option I have in this town because there aren’t any queer or lady bars. To me, hosting a queer night is a way to create a space where we can come together, dance, and not be too lofty — but maybe forget about the rest of the shitty straight world for awhile.
PQ: When did you start playing? What was your first gig?
KP: My first gig, party, working the door — anything — was Bent. I had no idea what I was doing. I have a little bit more of an idea what I’m doing now. When I first started, I only owned the music I was playing, which I had been collecting for about 15 years. I didn’t have any equipment and was borrowing someone else’s computer to play music on software I only researched. I think I even borrowed the cords from my girlfriend for a good year before I had my own. After I realized people were actually going to come to Bent, I put my computer and controller on layaway for a year and taught myself how to DJ.
MC: 2004, 2005? I first starting putting on a night called Snatch at the Doug Fir, with Aubree Bernier Clarke, when they first opened. That was when I learned to DJ. About six months later, we got the opportunity to start a night at Holocene and that was the beginning of Gaycation.
PQ: Mary, seven years of Gaycation? Is that real? What’s the secret to your party’s success?
MC: Yes, it’s real! I can’t believe it sometimes. We’ve been fortunate to work with folks at an amazing venue, Holocene, and they’ve always given us great support. I’ve heard from so many people that Gaycation was the first gay night they came to when first moving to Portland, so while we definitely have regulars (that we love), there’s always new faces. Oh, and I think Gaycation is the first time I’ve had perfect attendance for anything. I should also mention that Feb. 16 is our seventh anniversary and we’ve got quite a night in the works.
PQ: Katey, you recently said goodbye to Bent at what was probably the most fun dance party I’d been to all year. Why did you feel like it was time to bid it adieu? What’s next?
KP: Three years is a long time to do a party and I want to be doing other things. So, instead of being half-checked in to my party and turning out something that could potentially be garbage, I decided to be intentional about ending it so it could remain well-loved. I was really grateful for that space and could not ask for better people to work with — the folks at The Foggy Notion and the hardcore Bent fans. When I started Bent, there wasn’t another queer party in N/NE Portland (Fruitcake was taken from us too soon), and now there are more than I can count. I love those monthlies but I do not want my work to be absolved into being just another party. I feel deeply committed to curating affordable, creative, nasty, feminist, body-positive, safer, hotter, sweaty, better spaces with — not for — my greater community.
I’m working on a quarterly queer dance party I’m hoping will be more of an experience than just a party. It’ll seek to blend local talent with international talent, visuals that are fun and silly, photography that documents the uniqueness of our community, music that is danceable and has a lot of depth to it. It’s called Control Top and the first one is Saturday, March 23, at White Owl Social Club. Our special guest is JD Samson (MEN/Le Tigre), with locals Bruce LaBruiser, Mr. Charming, and Deya Card. Control Top will also be taking over Pride June 15 — stay tuned.
PQ: Katey, you’re rarely seen without your lover (and every gay boy’s wet dream), Mary. How is it living together and often working together?
KP: It’s objectively awesome. It’s a lot of work. It’s just what we do. I’m consumed by my work and am very controlling over my creative projects. I don’t believe you can have a quality anything without a mechanism of relentless and constant planning, reflection, and criticism — which I do for myself pretty well. Mary is a constant well of talent, wisdom, support, love, temperance, and is genuinely a nice person. She is also pretty much the only person I trust enough to relinquish creative control over any project I do.
What it looks like professionally for us is setting boundaries, being humble, working really hard, being really kind to each other, and not getting drunk before midnight.
PQ: Mary, that running joke about gay dudes all over the city crushing on you — yes, I said crushing — does it ever annoy you?
MC: Nope, not one bit.
PQ: What’s your go-to drunk — or hangover — restaurant?
KP: Home. I am tired of poor quality, over-hyped, two-hour brunch waits in Portland. Plus, me and my crew are loud, annoying party girls. It’s probably a blessing to all that we’re not at the table next to you.
MC: I like cereal at night and huge breakfast sandwiches in the morning.
PQ: What’s your favorite guilty pleasure TV show? Album?
KP: Well, I like to create spaces where people don’t feel guilt or shame about their tastes in almost anything. But I like lots of things that are considered not feminist enough and not cool enough. It’s no secret that “Ice Loves Coco” is one of my favorite TV shows and I listen to a lot of classical music and classical jazz in my spare time. Other shit I like that’s really not cool: mainstream rap (which isn’t playing on any Portland radio station), all mariachi music (it reminds me of home), and hair metal (because it’s so good). Things I don’t like that are considered feminist and cool: Riot Girl music (I find it culturally significant, it’s just not my jam), Rihanna (girl sounds bored all the time), Robyn’s album “Body Talk” (seriously people, there are other songs out there), and most poetry.
MC: “That’s So Raven” starring Raven Symone — who, if you recall, was outed last year. About that: it was a Saturday morning and I was in the shower when Katey comes running into the bathroom holding the computer and said, “I was going to wait until you got out of the shower but I knew you’d be mad if I didn’t tell you right away: Raven Symone is GAY.” I screamed, “I knew it!” for the next five minutes.
PQ: If you could fix one thing about queer Portland, what would it be?
MC: Having a lesbian bar.
KP: Queer Portland needs to learn to talk about racism and white supremacy outside of cultural appropriation. Queer Portland also needs to have some good learning around transphobia. This is hard work, it’s not going to be pretty, and sometimes won’t feel good, but it has to be done. I’d like to see real, earnest work that isn’t shit-talking and call-outs on Facebook and instead is fighting the real power in the streets, educating each other, and building strong communities of care and interdependence. I’ll knock it off with the armchair activism now.
Follow Katey and Control Top at www.facebook.com/bentpdx. Find Mary by searching “Gaycation” on Facebook.