Play Parties: Cis Men Free Events as a Remedy for Amsterdam’s Queer Scene?

By Kama Wojtuszko

Collage by Sabine Besson

Have you ever seen someone hump a birthday cake in a club?

If you ask me about one of the most life-changing experiences, my answer would be the first Play Party, a queer event organised by Fite Qlub in Club Church. At its very beginning, my friends and I headed to the bathroom. While standing in the line, a person wearing a bright pink bikini asked us if they could go before us because their performance was happening soon. “Are you guys gonna come watch?,” they added after thanking us. We nodded, not really knowing what to expect. We found a good spot on the mezzanine. Their performance started casually, it looked like someone’s birthday party – they were carrying a huge cake with lit candles through the crowd. But as soon as they got to the stage and started stripteasing for the cake as if it were another person, my jaw dropped all the way to the floor. I had never seen anything so bold and beautiful at the same time.

Fite Qlub’s events never fail to disappoint me thanks to the amazing performances, which are experimental through merging art, sexuality, kink, bondage, queerness and more. Throughout the performances the audience just stands in astonishment and watches. “There is always this one part when everyone stops and is amused with the performances,” says Manoela Rutigliano, second-year Social Science major, who has been to all Play Parties that Fite Qlub organised so far. 

But those events are more than just an opportunity to explore your sexuality (and get astounded by the performances) – primarily, they are a cis men free, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour)-centred space that aims to create a strong community through intersectionality and decolonisation. This means that white people are welcome as long as they are aware of the space they are taking, both in its physical aspect and in terms of interactions. So far, Fite Qlub organised three Play Parties: the first one took place in April 2022 at Club Church, while the other two happened in September 2022 and on March 4th at Akhnaton. It is important to note that most events at Church are exclusively for men, besides Thursdays when everyone is welcome, with occasional exceptions such as the first Play Party or Lesbique. 

Being still new to the city, when the COVID regulations were dropped in September 2021 and places started opening up again, I remember looking up queer clubs on Google and trying to find something that would suit me. But whenever I found something remotely provocative or interesting (and other than Club NYX), there was the disappointing “men only”. 

Before the second Play Party in September, I was at a bar called “Prik” with my friends, getting some drinks before the event. As it was close to Akhnaton, other fellow play party goers were also there; the bar was flooded with queerness. Some people were dressed in a way one  wouldn’t expect on an average Sunday night: straps, belts, ropes, chokers, fishnets, bras, masks… As a group, we looked more like cosplayers or extras at some student-film low-budget queer parody of Eyes Wide Shut. 

People started slowly leaving, but my friend and I stayed just for one more drink when a bartender, with an unsurprising curiosity, asked us if we were all going to the same place. As we were explaining the idea behind Play Parties, the curious smirk started slowly fading into a grimace of doubt, and eventually annoyance. He said that Prik, being mostly dominated by gay men, is trying to become more diverse and inclusive, but then events such as Play Parties diminish those efforts, and create more exclusivity and division.

Even he himself admitted that the majority of Prik’s audience are cis gay men. So why is that, when, for once, it is the other way round, cis gay men get mad?

Nathan, who wishes to remain anonymous due to his gender identity, himself would not feel comfortable in a gay men-centred event. I told him about my encounter in Prik. His response: “I don’t think they [cis queer men] have anything to be mad about, especially when you know every other queer space is made for them, even if it doesn’t say it”. He further disagrees with the bartender: “I don’t think [cis men free spaces] create division at all”. “It is catering to the people who live under that natural divide anyways,” he explains, and points out how pride movements are centred around gay men, often leaving others feeling left out in the community. 

However, in situations of not being let into a place because that usual visibility/priority is now being given to those often overlooked, feelings of loss of privilege can arise, which then generate anger: “especially with people who have a point of privilege, they can get quite mad when they don’t have that privilege anymore”, he comments.

Rutigliano agrees with Nathan, pointing out that since there are spaces centred around, or exclusively for queer men in Amsterdam, the other genders should have such opportunities as well. “I think it’s positive for non-cis men to just want to explore this side, especially of your sexuality, in a comfortable place.”

Sasha Sushko, third-year Social Science major, agrees and reminds that since most LGBTQ+ clubs are targeted for white cis queer men, “some [LGBTQ+] members should get safer spaces of expression, interaction and being”.

Rutigliano and her partner were themselves waitlisted for workshops Fite Qlub organised as priority was given to BIPOC: “It just makes sense to give some people more access to the space of which many times they are denied,” and praises Fite Qlub for adhering to their mission. “I think Fite Qlub is very true to their values”.

For Sushko, the March Play Party was her first, but she has participated in cis men free skillshare workshops before. At first, she had doubts whether such policies are productive: “maybe cis men could really benefit from learning these things”. However, attending the Play Party proved to her how necessary it is for both her and others. “Doing this [going to the Play Party] really made me realise how I could feel without men in the room, in a public space. How safe, how present I could feel.” She also highlights the importance to “start reclaiming our space and society,” while Nathan concludes that “spaces curated specifically for trans or nonbinary people, or cis women, or people of colour are needed essentially because the divide already exists”.

Before going to my first Play Party, my friends and I were wondering how Fite Qlub was going to determine who can enter the space. “How are they gonna check that?,” we were asking ourselves. 

“It’s good to hope that people are just going to respect spaces that are not for them,” comments Rutigliano, and doesn’t recall witnessing any situations when someone unwelcome tried to get in and was declined entry.

Nathan highlights that the identity policing is not designed to be intrusive in any way:  “they’re not going to ask to see your genitals”. It is rather centred around a certain feeling of safety while being around queer people. He recalls a situation of seeing a group of drunk cis men that were declined entry at the door: “I think you innately have a sort of people that you feel safe with and people who you don’t feel safe with, and a lot of the time, the people who you don’t feel safe with, are cis men”.

Safety and comfort were the most recurring themes in conversations with my interviewees. I remember initially feeling overwhelmed at my first Play Party: I wasn’t used to spaces with such open emphasis on sexuality. However, those feelings quickly faded and now I feel safer wearing a see-through bra at Play Parties than a turtleneck in any other bar. 

“Especially being in a queer relationship myself, it’s very easy to start worrying about kissing or being more affectionate when in a non-queer space,” says Rutigliano, pointing out how “everyone feels comfortable and can just vibe and party and have a nice time without having the normal fears of other spaces.”

Sushko observes how the absence of cis men made her assured that “consent was natural and present.” “I actually have never felt this safe in a public space,” she concludes.

“I saw people dress how they wanted to dress. I saw people had their hair the way they wanted to have their hair,” Nathan comments upon reflecting on fluidity and expressivity of play-party goers; “It was a very different experience than how I see the same exact people at not exclusively cis men free spaces stand very rigid, covering their drink or looking around and being aware of their surroundings.”

“I love seeing people be themselves and not give a fuck,” says Bente Huizer, third-year Humanities major, for whom, on the other hand, there isn’t that much difference in terms of feeling of comfort between cis men free and everyone-welcome-queer spaces, as long as they are queer centred: “I would not dance in a straight club in the same way I comfortably would in any kind of queer club.”

“My biggest concern on a night out is I will get hate crimed, or that my friends get catcalled. It’s always a safety concern,” says Nathan. At the beginning of the event, he couldn’t help being worried, but soon allowed himself to relax: “Everyone in here is incredibly kind.” He admits that he was quite drunk and thus occasionally bumped into people, but never received any negative, or even aggressive comments, as it sometimes happened in his past experiences. “It was always ‘I’m so sorry’ instead of threatening to punch me in the face.”

Sushko explains how after the party she actually felt anger towards cis men. “I realised that the cat calling and touching and assaulting during parties almost stopped me from partying, and I realise that this is to a big extent because of the way cis men make me hyper vigilant, scared and just paralysed.”

“It’s definitely a lot more diverse if it’s just cis men free,” Huizer says and explains how giving a platform and space to less privileged people allows them to gain visibility. “People are much more free and more willing to express themselves.”

Sushko points out that other places, such as NYX, commodify queerness by constructing it as paradoxically exclusive and simultaneously mainstream, which Fite Qlub managed not to do. “It was just so warm and beautiful.”

I find the question of mainstream queer spaces an especially baffling one. Bringing back the example of NYX, which became such a well-known space that its queerness got pushed back into the background, there is a certain risk of losing this feeling of close-knit community that Play Party offers. However, without knowing certain people I would have had no clue that Fite Qlub even existed, and I find it difficult to discover similar events. 

Nathan often attends other underground queer spaces, which despite not being cis men free, are rarely attended by them. When asked why is that the case, he explains that queer events that are heavily marketed are usually catered for cis men. Thus, he argues that there is a certain advantage of places remaining more hidden, as “word of mouth generates community.” On the other hand, Sushko and Rutigliano still face certain difficulties when looking for less mainstream queer spaces. 

Sushko still desires more “meaningful queer events rather than hyper-sexualised touristy pop type of places” in Amsterdam. She admits that her knowledge of such places might be limited, and judges this to be an issue in the Amsterdam queer scene; “I feel like Amsterdam is a bit exclusive, split into bubbles – if you’re not in a specific circle it’s really hard to know what’s happening.”

On March 11, Rutigliano volunteered at a LezlinkUp event at NYX and was part of the awareness team. LezlinkUp is an organisation which aims to create a community and safe space for trans and nonbinary people and queer women. The event was supposed to focus on “less represented genders,” but unlike Fite Qlub, welcomed all genders. “It was a safe space,” says Rutigliano, “but you can see that the focus of the public was quite different.” She agrees with Sushko that places such as NYX often become flooded with tourists who are not aware of what the place stands for. “There were a lot of people that were trying to buy tickets at the door that didn’t even know that it was a queer party.” She judges that many are oblivious to Reguliersdwarsstraat being a queer street and that nowadays, it has lost its queer spirit. 

Rutigliano expresses another concern of increased advertising and marketing of places such as Fite Qlub: “It is also a space for people that want to explore kinks or sexuality.” She worries that with Play Parties becoming more popular, that side might get lost and instead become just another typical queer partying scene. Sushko and Nathan mentioned that the sexuality aspect of Play Party did not necessarily play that much importance in their decision to join the party. What drove them towards Fite Qlub’s events instead, was the opportunity to party in a cis men free environment and the chance to see the wonderful performances. 

Everyone has a different reason to join the parties, and while the hosts remind everyone to not feel pressured to do anything they don’t want to, there is still an aspect of sexual exploration, which seemed to have been to some extent lost at the latest event, according to Rutigliano and Huizer. “I thought the dark rooms could have been better because they weren’t actually dark,” Huizer comments.

Still, this only shows the need for cis men free party spaces— for those more kinky and bold, but also for those who just want to dance. As Nathan advises: “If you’re not a cis man, come have some fun.”

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