To close out Pride Month, Jezebel presents On Pride: A series of conversations with LGBTQ artists and activists about our communities’ relationship with police, building queer spaces outside of the parade, and other pressing issues affecting queer and trans people nationwide.
A local chapter of the Gay Liberation Front organized New Orleans’ first Gay Pride in February 1971, but it wasn’t until 1980 that the city saw its first Pride parade. Twenty-eight years later, the New Orleans Pride Parade, now organized by the New Orleans Pride Organization, is still going, drawing tens of thousands of people to its annual crawl through the French Quarter.
Edge Slayer, a performance artist and DJ from Louisiana who has been living in New Orleans for nearly four years, says that Pride in her city is pretty cute. “It’s similar to Mardi Gras with floats and parades and people getting really drunk,” she says. Where else do you get to go off the grid and get fucked up for two weeks?” Still, Edge says, none of the officially organized Pride events come close to the parties that follow. “You can go the parade, but a lot of people don’t. They just sleep all day then go to a really cute party that doesn’t start until 11 or midnight,” she tells me, laughing. “I do, like, anti-Pride kind of stuff. Well, not anti-Pride. Let’s say…alternative Pride.” One of those alternative Pride parties was her own; Edge and a bunch of other queer people organized Barbie’s Inferno, an all-pink party slash installation that she says looked like a funhouse mirror Malibu Dreamhouse airlifted to the fiery shores of hell. My regret for having missed it knows no bounds.
I recently had the chance to chat with Edge over the phone about nightlife in New Orleans, building queer space outside of Pride, centering black women in her work, and making supposed safe spaces actually safe. Our conversation has been condensed and edited lightly for clarity.
JEZEBEL: Hey, Edge?
EDGE SLAYER: Hi!
Hi! How are you?
I’m doing alright, just getting ready for this event that I’m collaborating on with this other local trans girl here in New Orleans. We’re just going through the lists of spaces. She’s got ties with the bounce community here, so we’re trying to mix our two crowds: the black, kind of queer or whatever people with the more diverse kind of QPOC community.
Just for this show or, like, in general?
It’s a combination of both. I definitely have a diverse crowd who comes to my events: black locals come, transplant people come, white people come, kind of queer or whatever people come, sometimes straight people come. Her crowd is more of the native black community. It reaches out to some transplant people who know about it, but it doesn’t really bridge the gap.
How did you get into nightlife? Do you remember the first time you went out when you were younger?
I remember the first time was right after I moved back. I’d been living in St. Louis for, like, 15 years or so. My family’s originally from Louisiana, but I lived in the Midwest for middle school and high school. The first time I went out in New Orleans, I went to this weird experimental music show at Siberia comprised of lights and gyration that felt like a commentary on the way women’s bodies are used. Then, I joined a queer choir called Murmurations, and someone from the group invited me to a queer warehouse party. I’d never seen something like that before. Growing up in the Midwest, there’s, like…gay bars, and then in rural Louisiana, there’s like…one gay person [laughs] and everybody knows them. St. Louis is also, culturally, very male-dominated, so even the gay people there are very masculine, so I’d never seen anything like this warehouse party before. Parts of it were honestly a mess, though. There was this performance with a puppet that was a caricature of a black woman. That shook me, honestly. It had a big butt, a big nose, and long acrylic nails, and it was, like, bumping into people. I felt offended, honestly. It’s something I saw in a lot of white queer spaces. They’re using something that’s normal to us like hair weaves or long acrylic nails, things that are neon, all these things that are considered “hood” or like “ghetto” as decoration. But it was really nice to be in that space and see so many queer people. After that, I became a party girl. [laughs] I went to everybody’s little ball. Mostly white queer events. That was before I had decided to create events for black women.
So, it was, like, a conscious thought that you had?
Yes, yes, it was after about a year of going out and scoping, seeing what’s the t. I’d been throwing parties in St. Louis and booking shows, loosely. I wanted to keep doing that when I moved to New Orleans, but I didn’t want to do anything anyone else was doing. So after a year, I created this party called Séancé for black women. Everyone else could come, but it was centered around black women because that was something I wasn’t really seeing. There’s more of that now, but at the time there wasn’t really that much queer black space for witchy weirdos. There was lots of witchy stuff because American Horror Story had just come out, but all this witchy space and witchy imagery was very much centered around white women.
What kind of response did you get?
The response was great. People were super into it. I did it a few more times. Then I got approached by the Ace Hotel to have a Séancé there, so I started doing it there. Working with larger entities like that can be frustrating as a marginalized person because there’s a lot of stuff they expect you to take care of. You pretty much just have the space to use. They’ll pay booking, but everything else is on you.
Earlier, you were talking about different communities that go to different parties: the black locals, the transplants, the white queers, etc. Could you describe how these dynamics work for someone who might not be super familiar with New Orleans?
OK, well, there aren’t a whole lot of black trans people, but I do feel lucky that there is a relatively larger number of visible trans people who are black than I see in other predominantly black cities I’ve been to. There’s the native black community, which does not really go out of its way to interact with some of the new things that pop up in places that are or were predominantly black and are being gentrified. And then the queer transplant community has a lot of well-wishers who want good things for the local black community, but they don’t really reach out and talk to local black people, outside of their neighbors, so that well-wishing is very surface level. I feel like a lot of people are honestly afraid to talk to local black people, not because they’re afraid of violence but because they feel guilty over all the opportunities they might have that the local population might not. A lot of them are marginalized, too, and moved here because gentrification pushed them out of the city they’re from. I feel like that’s what the lay of the land is. You have people who transplanted from other places they’ve been pushed out of, and they have the academic access that a lot of local black people do not have to build space for themselves, and then there’s the colorism aspect—it’s, like, so complicated, honestly.
What are the parties you throw like?
Black women are always centered, but I’ve gotten away from putting it on the invite or the flyer because, like…I’m a black woman. I’m running it. I’m hiring black people to do it, black people to perform, black people to work. The money goes directly to the community. I’m applying the theory rather than screaming about how it’s black woman-centered, you know? I’m doing the work of centering black women, instead of just talking about it. There are so many racist associations with black women in nightlife, like that we don’t tip or want to pay cover. But it’s kind of the opposite in my experience. It’s just a weird racist association, of which there are a few [coughs] in New Orleans.
A very strategic cough!
[laughs] I try to center people in spaces and provide protection for people who are the most vulnerable. You don’t get that in a lot of quote “safe spaces.”
Is that what your song, “NO SAFE SPACE,” is about?
It’s about the fact that I am a black woman, specifically a black trans woman, and there are no safe spaces for me except for the ones I create. I wrote that song to protest the idea of what safe spaces are and what, in quotation marks, “queer safe spaces” are like. A lot of them are run by white queer people who want to make money off of people having a cute party, and that’s not just in this city—it’s a national thing. They say “queer safe space,” but then trans women are not being walked home. They’re being beaten up in a neighborhood where you know y’all should’ve provided solidarity. Solidarity for women, trans women and black women specifically, could be as simple as walking someone home, getting someone an Uber. Most of these spaces only think about what happens in the space itself. Whatever else happens, happens. I’ve been reflecting on that. A lot of our nightlife is white gentrifiers who use black artists and the city and “the culture” of New Orleans, but what is the culture you’re talking about? Black people. So in the end, they’re just stealing and co-opting and not properly paying black people because it’s easy to pay this black person who’s local less money because they don’t maybe know they could get more. It’s like colonialism, you know? How colonial our society still is.
What’s Pride like in New Orleans? That just happened, right?
There’s the above ground mainstream things to do like go to the parade, and there’s an evening parade that’s really cute and similar to Mardi Gras with floats and people getting really drunk. You can go to the Fruit Loop—there’s always something happening at the bars for, like, two weeks. Where else do you get to go off the grid and get fucked up for two weeks? Then there’s also the afterparties. Personally, I think the queer parties that happen during Pride are more fun than the organized parade stuff. You can go to the parade, but a lot of people don’t. [laughs] They just sleep all day then go to a really cute party that doesn’t start until 11 or midnight. There’s also Southern Decadence later this summer. It’s like Pride but for sex. It didn’t used to be super inclusive, but, like, three years ago something just popped off. It’s just debaucherous, like, who a hoe out here? If you a hoe out here, you might really enjoy Southern Decadence. I started hosting a Southern Decadence party at the Ace Hotel about three years ago, and I’m hoping to do it again. It’s called Cake.
What did you do for Pride?
I threw this party called Barbie’s Inferno that me and a bunch of queer people put together. We didn’t call it a Pride party because Pride is kind of B.S. and, like, this corporate thing that capitalizes off of a community that’s always discriminated against unless it’s white and has money. So, instead of that, our party was this large installation all covered in pink. It was centered on queer people, made by queer people, hosted by queer people, every person who performed was queer—only one person who worked on it wasn’t queer, I think.
Do you have any advice for someone who might want to do something similar to what you’ve been doing in New Orleans over the past few years? Like, maybe they’ve noticed something missing from their own nightlife spaces and want to do something about it?
Don’t be afraid to go out on your own and do something because it’s right—not because other people think it’s a good idea. In the beginning, I had a bunch of parties that nobody came to, and now people just love to come to Edge Slayer’s function. [laughs] Don’t be afraid to strike out on your own and be yourself and be true to who you are. For real. Do not change to fit in. Do not change to, like, make friends or get more people to like your shit because that never works. You’ll never be good at being something that you’re not.
Edge will be performing at The Multivrs is Illuminated, a “Bay Area Black and Brown Punk Fest” that takes place in San Francisco and Oakland from Aug. 9-12. Listen to her recent Rage Radio feature on Rinse FM’s SoundCloud, and check out her EDGESLAYER EP at edgeslayer.bandcamp.com.