From the onset, New York was one of the states hit the hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. As such, Governor Andrew Cuomo was quick to ban large gatherings which brought all live events to a screeching halt. The decision made to slow the spread of COVID-19 also ceased LGBTQ+ safe spaces and parties throughout the state. Billboard sat down with three LGBTQ+ event producers to discuss how they pivoted their work in the time of COVID to continue to provide for both their communities and themselves during a pandemic.
Rimarkable has been a DJ for more than 20 years. Her business includes event producing, consulting on private events and her own monthly BIPOC, queer trans show Joy Party that averaged 700 guests per event in New York.
When everything shut down due to COVID, I took a week and a half to feel the vibration of what was shifting in the world. I was like, obviously the way things are moving we have to move virtually. I’m like, ‘Okay, eventually this is going to be over and I’m not going to be sulking someone in a corner. I’m going to be proactive because when this is over, I need to be working immediately.’ If I stay relevant, if I stay in people’s faces, if I stay in the conversation with my work then that will translate once this is over.
I honestly can say that I’ve been blessed in terms of work. I’m a lot better off than a lot of my colleagues. I have also written grants that have gotten funded. I’ve been blessed to receive an abundance from people all over the world that have donated to me, had my back for the work that I’m doing. It’s been tremendous and beautiful.
In the beginning, I was like, ‘We need to do something so people can feel nurtured. They need to hear from us.’ It’s one thing for people to feel like they’re in the middle of an ocean with everybody, but there’s something very specific about this community that sometimes needs some extra love.
Doing Joy Party once a week now is extremely difficult. I have to coordinate with my business partner. I have to make flyers once a week now instead of once a month, and getting the word out, setting up the room on top of the things that I have to do for my own business. I feel like I’m busier than I ever have been this time of year. Our weekly virtual Joy Party was extremely successful and not just in terms of attendance, but effective in the offering of healing it created. On the zoom call you could chat. People were hooking up with each other. People were making friends. A couple of times families would be on there.
Now we do it once a month cause we are transitioning to what would be our normal season in order to not overwhelm ourselves. This is a form of self care, but we all need to take breaks. Just the work of getting up in the morning was hard or has been hard during this time. It has been hard to navigate through all this murkiness and certainty. Part of my job also is also to hold so much information, so much emotion. And I use that to inform the work that I do. So I have to pay attention to what’s going on in the world so I can make it make sense for people to release. I don’t have the income I used to have, but I’m alive and I’m blessed and I’m figuring it out. I’m super proud of myself. This could easily have taken me out.
Drag Queen Rify Royalty has put on Straight Acting, a sexy, sex positive party for all, every month for more than five years in New York and hosts various other events around the city.
Literally a week before quarantine, I had just gotten back from Australia. I had been booked there for their Mardi Gras, which is at the end of February. That’s kind of their Pride in Sydney. It was my biggest dream to go to Australia because that’s really long distance and someone would have to be really committed to getting me there to pay all that money. It confirmed that people are interested in my career and what I’m doing.
I had just signed a new deal to do a brunch at Soho House in Dumbo, the Dumbo house and I was doing Drag Race season 12 viewings at Metropolitan in Brooklyn. I got back from Australia Monday and had two gigs on Thursday and Friday. Even the last show I did was kind of bizarre, people were on edge. I remember Lysoling the tip bucket and the stage and the mic. Then by that Sunday all the bars I worked at said they wouldn’t be open for a while. I was like, “Okay, we’ll be closed for like a couple of weeks,” but I didn’t know that it was going to be months.
I did a few drag shows for other queens on Instagram live and I even did my own. At the beginning of quarantine, I did one Straight Acting virtually with a bunch of queens from around the country. We all attached our Venmos and I think everyone probably made like $170 per number. My conversations with other people who have been doing a bunch of shows or virtual things is that they’re noticing a shift in the way people are tipping from the beginning of quarantine to now. I think as quarantine went on both nightlife and not nightlife have been getting laid off, so they had less money to give.
Before quarantine, if you wanted to see drag, it was like an event. You would get dressed, you go out to the show. You were making a night of it, even if they were just going for one drink. Whereas now you’re like in your own home and there’s not much of a desire to watch drag from your phone while someone’s performing in their bathroom or something. People got overwhelmed with the options.
I’ve taken a break from virtual shows just because it’s not really what I wanna do. I want to be on a stage and Pride for us is very lucrative. Pride for us is very important because it is a sense of community, and people are looking towards queens and DJs and nightlife people to provide that community for them. It’s a blow to not be able to provide that for people, but it’s also a big financial loss for us. I had booked gigs in Chicago, Amsterdam, Portland, Pittsburgh throughout the Pride season. So it’s unfortunate that we were not going to be able to do those gigs, but I understand it’s for public safety.
In the meantime I’ve figured out other ways to utilize my queerness and my knowledge of social media to navigate what I’m doing next. Starting in April, I started doing Only Fans, which I considered doing before but I guess there was no financial urgency to do it. Only Fans is a site where people can market themselves. A lot of influencers use it and porn stars use it. It’s a site where you would go and promote new photos of yourself or new videos and new content or whatever. I don’t know if it was intentionally intended to be that, but I think over time, the gays got ahold of it and figured out a way to monetize being sexual. I think it’s a good platform for people who do sex work or sex work adjacent things. Fans can subscribe to content of me and other people that I filmed before quarantine. I have close to 36,000 followers and so I thought this would be a good way to cash in on my followers who have enjoyed my drag and what I look like. I shifted the energy from posting things of me in drag to posting things of me that are a bit more thotty, thirst-trappy. I got a little over 400 subscribers, which is pretty great. It’s a nice little piece of security.
Chef Alex Koones runs Babetown, a moving pop-up dinner party for queer women and trans and non binary people, offering an evening of food, wine and gayness in a series of private homes.
Babetown is essentially a house party with food. I only take 40 to 60 people at each party cause it’s meant to curate intimacy. There’s only 40 of you at this party, so you’re kind of encouraged to talk to each other in a way. This is not a party where you’re going to bump into like Oprah’s cousin or whatever. This is a party for everybody else. A party where the everyday person can go and feel special and feel like they can connect with the community and feel like they’re really taken care of.
Most of them are hosted in New York at Brooklyn. I did start hosting them throughout the country. That was going to be the next step. I was hoping to expand. I took Babetown on tour about a year ago and I have thrown Babetowns all over the country.
When COVID started, I was offering donation meals. I had two Babetowns that I had to cancel and I had a whole bunch of food leftover. People were very generous about not requesting their ticket money back immediately. I made a bunch of sandwiches and pasta salad. I delivered them donation-based and I was really just like shocked at how much it was needed. Nobody could get food deliveries at that point.
I also had meals for purchase and that was unbelievably successful. The orders were pouring in for months. That was really an incredible honor. I put those deliveries on hiatus. I want to be able to focus all of our attention, all of our resources on the Black Lives Matter movement. I’ve just been trying to take the resources and the abilities at my disposal and what I do and what I’m capable of and constantly changing that to try to accommodate exactly what our community needs more than what’s going to be best for the Babetown brand.
I’ve gone to a lot of these zoom parties and there’s like 50 million people and someone playing music and that makes me feel more lonely than ever. So what I am doing are virtual potlucks. I will only take like 10 to 15 people at each potluck. We offer a list of black-owned restaurants and food businesses. If you bring a dish from one of these restaurants, or you can make a $5, but if you, if you want to make your own, bring your own meal or do your own thing, it’s a $5 donation to participate and all of that money will go to The Okra Project or a similar group.