When one thinks of the threshold of queer cities, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York tend to be what most readily come to mind. Queer people, more often than not, have a predisposition to flock to larger cities in pursuit of community. It’s a time-honored sojourn: I too have journeyed east, braved the frigid winters, the even more frigid personalities, and I have returned with a handful of wonderful New York friends and the appreciation of the warmth of the desert sun and desert queers.
What I have learned is there is a particular community magic that exists in a city that is perfectly sized, such as Albuquerque. When I sought mutual aid assistance, I knew exactly who to talk to and where to look. When four different friends all freakishly had their cars stolen in the span of a month, each car was located due to community vigilance. Those things are rarely bound to happen in a city that is too big (mutual aid organizations outside of state welfare can become scarce and the cars will disappear into the night) or too small (absences of funds, absences of immediate community). The queer community in Albuquerque takes care of itself because we are large enough to have resources and intimate enough to know when someone needs resources. Many of us ventured out in the name of teen angst, of getting out of your shitty town and making a name for yourself, and many of us realized that nothing holds you like the community that has held you since you were young, and so we return.
A common occurrence within smaller towns is the realization that there are not enough creative resources (read: jobs) within that town, causing this venturing out as well. Queer people and the arts have been in a symbiotic relationship since time immemorial. What is beautiful that I have noticed amongst my peers here is that many of us moved to Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, New York, wherever the queers and the arts were most resplendent, learned their craft, and eventually returned to Albuquerque to solidify talents in the culture of Albuquerque rather than seeking it elsewhere. Albuquerque has always been replete with queer culture– now it is able to exist in the mainstream.
Jonah Salazar y Tafoya, who co-organizes and creates installations for Cénit, and Justin Cristofer, curator and DJ for Throttle, returned from Chicago and Los Angeles respectively to create queer and BIPOC-focused intentional spaces. Others have always been here to carve out spaces within Albuquerque for themselves and others like them. And while there remains contention about the gentrification of Albuquerque, there are many wonderful queer people like Jack Lay (Electric Funeral), Sue Sunday (Dyke Night), and Allison Saint (Saints Ball) who come to Albuquerque, see the cultures that blend into one another here, and contribute to the mix in a meaningful and admirable way. To be queer in Albuquerque means acceptance, love, and support in a way I have not seen elsewhere.
These main tenets of creativity, acceptance, and fun are highly exemplified in Jonah Salazar y Tafoya, Jordan Magnuson, and Bobby Claudio’s energetic and immersive parties, created under the moniker of Cénit. “Cénit is an emergent property of wanting to liberate people,” says Magnuson. A typical Cénit party is rife with emerging-to-mid-career DJs who span genres, coupled with installations designed and created by Salazar y Tafoya. “My intention for it was just to be a place where someone could go to just release. Queer brown people have to deal with so much stuff and to be able to just go to a space and just let loose and I don't know. I just think a lot about queer and brown joy. That's what I am hoping that people are getting from that.” Cénit is not just a set night– it’s a whole production of art, music, and community. And they take the community element seriously. Relying on a culture of calling-in, Magnuson, Claudio, and Salazar y Tafoya curate a space where black and brown queer people can thrive, turn looks, and dance the whole night away. The next Cénit will take place on, somewhere beautiful, and information can be found here.
Queer black and brown people were historically at the front of the development of house music, and that is a tenet that Justin Cristofer maintains at the forefront when curating Throttle. His ethos is to put cutting-edge, innovative queer and trans DJs on the local map. Starting out with a residency at Side Effex, Cristofer made the decision to expand his set to allow other newer DJs the opportunity to play in an inherently queer space. “Expect to hear the most recent and queer-forward music. I always work to incorporate artists who I know are openly out and are proudly queer, trans, and non-binary. And now that we have a good list of these artists who are doing that, it's really easy to create the atmosphere with the music, even if sometimes it's not what you would hear in one of the clubs that are around there.” He encourages other DJs to not confine themselves to solely house music or electronic or dubstep– a wide variety of vibes are accepted and desired! “I would play things like SOPHIE in the club, and the resident DJs would be like, ‘Why are you playing that? This is not the place for that.’ And I would just be like, okay, okay. I'm just going to go find that song but remix it into some house version and we're just going to play that. But then I created Throttle, and that was when I was just like, okay, well, I'm going to play whatever I want to play, and it's not going to be what you guys are playing in there. So, always expect that. Something different.” Throttle takes place every month at Side Effex – check here for details and dates.
The multidimensionality of queerness has countless facets – there are too many to consider, or to categorize. One piece of knowledge to always hold in your heart as you navigate through this world is that if you dream of it, you can make it happen with enough push and heart. That is how Allison Saint, of Saints Ball fame, brought her weird, horrifying, and delightful drag troupe out into the public eye of Albuquerque. “We started because there was a need for a different type of drag in Albuquerque. The weird girls weren’t getting hired so as the main general of weird here, I decided to fuck up the system because we are here… we need to be present and to have a lot of trans brown and some white people perform in such a diverse cast of themes. It’s so amazing what happened and how it could bring a community together.” If you were to ask me what happens during a Saints Ball show, we would have to sit down and I could walk you through each performance I have seen, each one radically different from the last. I have seen the immaculate showgirl Terria, affiliated with but not a part of Saints Ball, perform as Akasha from Queen of the Damned. I have seen Kayla Chingada serve you sex on a plate covered in blood. They choreograph group numbers to perform in tandem with Rocky Horror Picture Show midnight mass viewings, they’ll give you Charli XCX in one moment, and Mindless Self Indulgence in the next. “People can expect pretty much anything from the parties. We’ve had gym routines, we’ve had people fucking fight, beat raw meat and even throw mole at people and eat burgers, we’ve had just everything and that’s what I love about it! You have a theme and your goal is just to be that. With your art and creativity, just go for it! The sky's the limit with Saints Ball,” says Saint. Horror, filth, and glamor can easily be rolled into each performance and done so with such reverence and love that you know these performances are not merely a gimmick but their true artistic expression. They support the community at large with fundraisers and donation collections, assisting others to make ends meet, or to continue their gorgeous parties. “The queer community is brighter than ever and we’re not gonna let anyone dim our light. The community that’s been fighting keeps me hopeful, so if anyone starts to dim your light and your future… baby pick up that brick! For Sylvia and Marsha.” To catch the next unmissable Saints Ball party, follow them here for more information.
If you were to ask me who is the beloved saint of Albuquerque’s metal scene these days, I would immediately and unflinchingly say Jack Lay. Lay, who also goes under the moniker Uncle Chair, was a Sister Bar mainstay for years, usually the first person you would see before entering the wood-paneled haven. Nowadays, he can be spotted at the heaviest of shows, right in the front of it, thrashing with a tequila-pineapple in hand. As Uncle Chair, he has been putting together a metal vinyl party, called Electric Funeral after the Black Sabbath song. He curates each show on the basis of sludge, black, doom, and death metal, alongside some local mainstays like SOMNILOQUIST and Liłith. Coming up on ten years, Lay has curated Electric Funeral to not only be a metal/DJ night combination but also a community event with a lot of heart. “Right off the bat you're gonna see the coolest people in Albuquerque having a good time. Metal shirts and battle jackets, boots and leather! Of course there is no dress code and everyone is encouraged to come party and have a blast. Headbanging, moshing, dancing, and camaraderie are always on the menu.” The last Electric Funeral was thrown immediately after the dissolution of Roe v. Wade to raise funds for Planned Parenthood, with Lay on the decks and local bands interspersed throughout the night. Collectively, over $2000 was raised for the reproductive and sexual healthcare non-profit. Overarchingly, Lay holds the queer community close to his heart. “We are likely to find ourselves together at every kind of event (not just queer events or venues), and we do a good job standing up for each other. I'd say it's very creative and inspiring. Lots of people are willing to share their spaces, tools, and knowledge.” There are no upcoming Electric Funeral parties yet, but keep your eyes open on Instagram.
To say there has historically been a limited lesbian scene in Albuquerque is understated. From high school to about a year ago, I could not tell you where the public lesbian parties were, where I would feel unanimously comfortable as a bisexual nonbinary person, or that I had even been to a party that was geared specifically towards lesbians. Thankfully, Sue Sunday, Toni Maestas, and Isa Vita conjured up one of the best queer parties in Albuquerque: Dyke Night. “Dyke Night is inclusive as fuck,” says Vita, a tattoo artist currently living in Santa Fe. “The first Dyke Night was the first time since we reopened after the pandemic that we had to hold people at the door because we reached our capacity, and we had to lock people in as people were coming out,” added Maestas. Dyke Night is entirely gender-inclusive, the subheader to the party reading: for dykes and those who love them. Everyone is invited to Dyke Night but it is, specifically, for the dykes. You can truly find anything at the party, hosted at the Albuquerque Social Club, where Maestas is the general manager, from cross-stitch to tattoos to boot-blacking. “I think the intimate nature of this city actually makes it easier to access community. And there's a warmth here. And so what I have been finding is just a lot of generosity of warmth and engagement with people, even if we're not going to be best friends, even if we're in different special interests, in general, we're going to smile, and share some kindness,” says Sunday. Each Dyke Night has featured a different DJ with different set-ups but consistently with a bar, a dance floor, and a low-stim room. “It's a low-stim and mask-mandatory space, but you can sit in the lounge chairs, and hear the music from a distance. You're not on the dance floor, you're not even in the separate lounges. You are in a space that is made just to dampen it down a little.” Each Dyke Night takes place the first Tuesday of every month, with the next party being on July 4th if you didn’t catch the Pride party!