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The Queer Salon That Added Depth and Context to Pride


W Hotel's "Queer Me Out" series allowed a weary community to vent about the complex times.

A few hundred fashionable people squeezed into a conference room at the W Amsterdam hotel recently, hitting up the bartender and scream-talking over the DJ and general cacophony. It was like a Friday night on nearby Reguliersdwarsstraat -- the city's big gay thoroughfare -- but eventually the noise died down and everyone took their seats.

Soon Lady Bunny, Kim Chi, and a Dutch drag queen named Mayday walked to the center of the room and sat down, joined by the head of the city's Pride festival, and an attorney who specializes in LGBT rights. For the next 90 minutes, the group talked about the blurring of gender lines and the changing nature of queer identity, with Lady Bunny leading the discussion -- and regularly veering off-course to crack a spontaneous joke (in broken English, Mayday began describing a near-assault from a homophobe, saying, "I had an unfortunate accident." Bunny: "Yeah, you're still wearing it.")

Afterwards, a lively, and occasionally contentious, Q&A took place, with the young audience posing questions to the panel about intersectionality and terminology (the latter subject being one Bunny regularly pokes fun at, including that night). What began as a bunch of LGBT people sipping drinks and gossiping turned into a pseudo-salon, with topical conversations breaking out all over the room, while others checked out Pride-inspired photography from Danielle Levitt.

The Amsterdam discussion was part of the W Hotel's "Queer Me Out" series, which began in the U.S. at the start of Pride season, coming to W properties in D.C. and Fort Lauderdale, before heading to Amsterdam and, just two weeks ago, Canada Pride in Montreal. Each conversation covered a different subject and featured a new host, with author and YouTube star Tyler Oakley covering fashion and nightlife at this season's final event in the Quebec city.

"I thought it was a great opportunity to have conversations that aren't often had, at least in my group of friends and sometimes in the community itself," Oakley tells The Advocate, adding that he relished discussing how the LGBT community finds expression and community through clothing, make-up, and nightlife.

When asked whether unplanned discussions about the queer experience are happening outside the confines of Facebook comments or angry tweets, Oakley says they are, but it can require initiative to find them.

"The conversations are happening, you just have to look around and witness them," he says. Urbanites can usually find "Queer Me Out"-like events at their local LGBT center, and small-town bars remain de facto community centers outside of big cities.

Tyler himself feels a greater desire to share and vent these days, considering the horrifying political climate, and senses others feel the same.

"Every morning I wake up and wonder what will be the thing today," he says. "While that's exhausting, that's been the reality for so many disenfranchised communities for much longer than this past year. It took something like [the election] to wake me up and remind me racism is not new, it's been prevalent for many communities, queer communities, for some time. Oppression is not new, it's something that queer people have faced for a long time, from outside and inside our community."

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