“As a guy, in a lot of typical gay bars, in order to get lucky and pull trade at the end of the night, we have to wipe off the makeup and get into boy drag. Whereas in a lot of underground or queer parties, you can dress any way you want and still be seen as trade. It’s freeing to be accepted as you are,” Alex of Black Charmed tells me.
What is Black Charmed?
Black Charmed are the new … queens? kings? princes? … of Los Angeles nightlife. They throw parties and host parties, like L.A.’s premier queer warehouse event The Party By Ostbahnhof, Communion and Por Detroit L.A.
Dennis Haynes, Jamee Jones and Alex Jolicoeur are champions — heroes, even — creating spaces in L.A.’s afterhours scene for “the other.” Spaces where we can all come together to express our truest, queerest selves.
“I was raised in the South,” Jamee tells me, “and even at a young age I marched to the beat of a different drum. I was often told not to sit this way, that way, and what boys and girls did and didn’t do. My flamboyance and affinity for feminine things was always a topic of discussion by my family members. I met Dennis and Alex out on the town during a visit to L.A., and the three of us just hit it off. We bonded over the intersections of our black and queer identities and became inseparable.”
The closeness these three share is obvious. They are brothers, sisters, they are family.
“I grew up in Houston, Texas,” Dennis says, “so I didn’t grow up queer. I was a lot of things before I even understood queer: confused, Christian, bisexual, gay.” He laughs. “Look at me now.”
“Moving to a big city like L.A. is hard,” says Dennis, “especially when you’re queer and black. The first time the three of us hung out, we went to a bar in West Hollywood and had drinks. We laughed at how out of place we were and noticed people staring. Whether those stares were because we were black, femme, free or fun, it was then that I knew we’d be getting stares every time we went out. But I didn’t care, because we empowered each other.”
That feeling of a chosen family — of a community that does indeed empower each other — allows many LGBTQ people to not just survive, but to triumph.
“It’s a well-known fact that people get beat up, thrown in jail or killed for being gay in the Caribbean, so when my conservative Baptist parents came to New York City to start a life, the last thing they were expecting was to give birth to this queen!” says Alex. “I grew up in the way-way back of the closet, singing at church, dating girls, surrounded by all sorts of homophobia. When I moved to L.A., my challenge was to accept that I was gay and unlearn 25 years of self-hate and fear. Surprisingly enough, Dennis was one of my first gay friends. Back home, I was always sternly corrected when anyone felt I was acting too feminine. Dennis was someone who seemed to not care about those things.”
At The Party by Ostbahnhof, you’ll find Black Charmed holding court — gorgeous, dressed in full looks, challenging perceptions of masculinity and gender and the way we look at ourselves as queer people. They invite all to join them on the dance floor or in the dark room, welcoming us for who we are, not for who the world has told us we should be.
They make us all feel like we’re home, in a welcome and safe environment.
“The underground scene is the antithesis of mainstream nightlife,” Jamee says. “Especially in L.A. It’s a meeting place for people just looking to connect. “We’ve maintained representation by actively working to hire DJs, hosts and ambassadors who reflect the ethos and values we hold as a collective. I feel it will always be a major point of ours to intentionally create spaces where all can come together and feel safe, seen and at home.”
“Diversity isn’t about filling a quota,” Dennis says. “It’s about feeling seen and represented through common identities. Those identities can be represented by race, gender identity, sexual orientation, culture, aesthetic and interests. It’s a nuanced thing to navigate. Nightlife brings us all together. At least that’s our goal.”
“I think it’s super important for everyone to be able to go out, feel seen and celebrated,” Dennis says. “A lot of times queer people of color, trans people, lesbians, et cetera, go to nightlife spaces and immediately feel, ‘Great. This party isn’t for me. I see no one like me here. I’m not actually wanted or desired here.’ When creating spaces for queer people, it’s important to be constantly reaching out to our queer family, letting them know we’re here! We see you! We wanna party with you! We want to create a space where people can come and feel free. If you want to put on a wig and some heels, do it. If you want to experiment in some way, we want to create an environment where you can do that and feel safe.”
As long as we have a bully in the White House determined to demoralize us and deny us basic rights, it’s more important than ever that we are as queer and as loud as possible. Visibility is the key.
We no longer have to be afraid to be different, and the goal is not a heteronormative lifestyle or aesthetic. We get to be wild and free and full of potential. We get to be whatever we want.
“President Trump has the girls shaking in their heels, but that doesn’t mean they’re taking them off,” Dennis says. “This isn’t the first time in history that a president has come for our rights or jeopardized our safety. Political tragedy brings marginalized people together. Queer people did it with Stonewall, and we’re doing it again, as we always have been. The conditions have never been perfect for us. So in light of tragedy, we chose love. Of course we’re gonna dance the night away, and put on our coolest look, because you never know when it’ll be your last. The only people looking out for queer, genderqueer, trans and people of color are queer, genderqueer, trans and people of color. That’s the beauty of the nightlife community. You can’t divide the tribe. We’re literally fighting for our right to party.”
Black Charmed have jumped into the middle of the fight, and they’re the most glamorous, queerest, bravest warriors I’ve seen in a while.