Trans Women DJs Are Taking Over the Club.

From left: Nita Aviance, Honey Dijon, Ariel Zetina, and Jasmine Infiniti are just a few of the trans DJs thriving right now. Graphic by Callum Abbott; photos by Ricardo Gomes, Elvin, and Andreas Asher Brimmer 

Artists including Jasmine Infiniti, Honey Dijon, Juliana Huxtable, and Eris Drew are lighting up dancefloors and seeing their collective influence reflected back

By Delilah Friedler

A stall door clangs open in the bathroom of beloved New York City club Nowadays, and out pour four lanky girls with tiny purses under their arms, each over six feet tall in heels. Along with raver bois draped in black and fashion queens sashed by the colorful straps of Telfar bags, the trans girls are here to support a fundraiser for Rash, a nearby club known for hosting trans DJs that was forced to closed for renovations in April after it was set on fire by an arsonist; two Rash employees were hospitalized as a result. The 24-year-old man arrested and charged for the crime now faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted. In a statement condemning the attack, a U.S. attorney said, “The victims, and all LGBTQ+ New Yorkers, should be able to enjoy their nights out in peace and without fear.”

The Rash fire was just one of several recent reminders that queer and trans people are still fighting for our safety, and the fundraiser was one of many corresponding acts of defiance. Trans people are hardly a rare sight at Nowadays, but on this Wednesday night in June we basically run the place—staffing the bar and filling the dancefloor, as DJ Swisha’s agile breakbeats dissolve into Jersey club. The air is humid when a footwork beat reveals itself to be a remix of “Faceshopping,” a track by the late trans music icon SOPHIE. Grinning, two trans femmes move in to bounce and twirl at the front of the crowd. Next up is Sausha, a trans woman and rising star in the city’s techno underground, who reigns over the decks with a kind of haunting grace. Later, at 2 a.m., DJ Fuck has the crowd exploding to warp-speed gabber. This electronic eclecticism is typical for the emerging trans dance scene, which skews young, hosts a rare degree of gender and ethnic diversity, and often features bold genre-mashing at breakneck speeds. (“I don’t care if you’re transgender,” reads one recent tongue-in-cheek meme, “turn down the damn BPM.”)

Queer and trans people invented the dance scene as we know it, but never before have trans women—known in the community as “the dolls”—been free to take up so much space, including headlining gigs at major venues in New York, Chicago, Berlin, and beyond. Trans artists Eris Drew and Ariel Zetina were up for DJ Mag awards this year, while electronic music bible Resident Advisor named club wunderkind Juliana Huxtable “one of the most dynamic, creative, and innovative jockeys going.” Long sidelined even within queer nightlife, trans-run parties stacked with trans talent are now being recognized by nightlife mavens as some of the best parties out there, drawing hordes of queer and straight ravers alike. So swiftly and soundly have the tides turned that some call this era “the doll takeover.”

It’s not just that trans girls are succeeding—they are innovating sounds and spaces that cut to the heart of what dance music can be. Femmes like Honey Dijon, Nita Aviance, Lina Bradford, and Jordana have carried this often thankless work for decades, and today, their heirs are leading queer community to new heights.

Growing up in the Bronx, Jasmine Infiniti excelled in musicals. But when a talent scout came knocking, he told her parents that their supposed “son” should act “more masculine” to have a shot at a career. Embarrassed, her mother shut the door on her child’s ambition.

Years later, Jasmine found New York City’s ballroom scene and eventually joined the House of Infiniti, where a new chosen family supported her desire to begin medically transitioning at age 23. While initially drawn to voguing, she quickly became more interested in the music behind the artform. “Where is this coming from?” she recalls thinking. “Is it disco? Is it house? The scene incorporated so many types of genres and turned them into ballroom tracks.”

She attended GHE20G0TH1K and other early-2010s parties thrown by Venus X, where artists like Total Freedom, MikeQ, and Juliana Huxtable braided ballroom music into a menagerie of beats—techno, juke, dembow, and more. Infiniti interned for Venus, learning to scour the deep recesses of the internet for unique tracks. After moving to San Francisco in 2012, she began DJing and throwing parties with a local collective of mostly cisgender people. But their events didn’t cultivate the queer community she craved, and Infiniti realized she and her trans friends deserved better.

“We were sort of being used,” Infiniti says. “I use the term ‘doll’ but I also hate it, because it often seems like that’s what [trans girls] are to people—something they play with, or put on a shelf to gawk at.”

Infiniti and trans friends like Cali Rose and Erica Mar decided to create their own scene. They founded New World Dysorder, throwing underground parties that aimed to elevate the kinds of people often steamrolled in nightlife. “We decided if people were going to come see us, we should be the ones getting paid,” says Infiniti. “It wasn’t a gay or straight party, it was our party, and we were highlighting trans people and Black and brown people—period.”

New World Dysorder evolved into a label home to many trans artists. Paying homage to GHE20G0TH1K, they incorporated vogue balls into their parties, laying the groundwork for recent fundraising events by Arm the Girls, a mutual aid effort that purchases self-defense kits and training for trans people nationwide. Trans femmes of color in particular continue to be harassed, assaulted, and killed at rates far beyond the norm. The issue of safety is personal to Infiniti, who was attacked in 2017.

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