Connected \\ June 17, 2020

Feeling the pride

To many, June is the unofficial kickoff to summer, but for many queer people like myself, it is also a month of reflection, paying respects and celebrating who we truly are and where we came from. At PEM, this means a virtual Pride Party on Sunday, June 21.

I’ll explain that event more later. But first, let me first introduce myself — my name is Renée, I am a 25-year-old alternative queer/lesbian woman living in Salem and have been at PEM for two years. I grew up in an upper-middle class suburban town in Rhode Island — one that gave me a great formal education, but not a great “real-life” one. My hometown was overwhelmingly white, I barely knew of any queer people, and my main escape was dance, which got me out of the house and into a studio filled with the most incredible music, from Janet and Michael Jackson, Disco and R&B, to the musical theater stylings of Bob Fosse and everything in between.

A young woman wearng a netted shirt and green long nails

Photo by Eric Magnussen @ericrichardmagnussen

The dance floor became my comfort, the stage felt like home, and it became my safe place to find the things I loved that weren’t “cool” at school. Outside of the studio I dove into music, TV and film head-on, finding my true love in the art of drag. At 16, I saw my first production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and at home you could often find me hiding from my parents and watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. I was beginning to discover that the things I really liked were seen as different, and I was also never turning back.

Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

My 18th birthday brings a pivotal moment, my first drag show. I remember sitting excitedly and nervously in the crowd at a strip mall club with my stack of dollar bills and watching my now-best friend perform Let’s Have a Kiki by Scissor Sisters, and weeks later I was teaching myself the music video choreography in my University of New Hampshire dorm room.

As some of you may know from our party last year, Scissor Sisters is a band birthed out of the queerest parts of NYC nightlife and features our incredible Pride Party host, Ana Matronic as a frontwoman and vocalist. In Let’s Have a Kiki, she sings of locking the doors and coming together to “kiki” (chitchat, catch up), “spill tea” (tell truths, gossip) and “serve” (show off looks, dance, feature oneself), all things comforting, uplifting and essential in queer nightlife spaces as I experienced at that show. There was something so magical about being in a queer space for the first time. I got compliments that felt warm and genuine. I didn’t feel judged and all I wanted to do was go back for more.

Performing DJ on a stage and two people taking a selfie in front of the DJ.

Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

College brought my personal queer education. I endlessly watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Paris Is Burning and Party Monster. I learned about the underground Ball culture in NYC, where voguing was birthed from the Latinx and Black communities on the dance floor. I read about how the Stonewall Riots were the beginning of the queer revolution. The Stonewall Inn, in the heart of Greenwich Village in NYC, was a mafia-run gay bar and meeting place largely for marginalized queer people. It was also the only gay bar in NYC where dancing was allowed, so there too, the dance floor was a space for people of all backgrounds to express themselves.

A woman in a black dress standing with another with blue hair and a multi-colored leopard skin suit, in front of a spraypainted wall.

Renée and Laila McQueen @misslailamcqueen at a private event in Boston, MA. Photo courtesy of Renée Martel.

In the early hours of June 28, 1969, police raided Stonewall and a revolution began. Raids were not uncommon at the time, but this night in particular, patrons were fed up. Gay men would not hand over identification, drag queens refused to follow police into bathrooms to verify their sex and soon patrons poured out into the streets and fought back against police and stood up against the discriminatory laws used to stifle them for so long. We owe this revolution largely to a few key players — Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans woman, activist and drag queen, and Stormé DeLarverie, a Black butch lesbian emcee, artist and bouncer.

Who threw the first brick will always be up in the air (no pun intended), but these two women used their voices to spark an everlasting change.

On the one-year anniversary of the riots in 1970, Greenwich Village celebrated Christopher Street Liberation Day, while simultaneous Gay Pride marches happened in LA and Chicago, marking the first Pride marches in U.S. history. And soon, from the riots, more opportunities for the gay community were birthed in Fire Island in the ‘70s in the form of Tea Dances, where gay men would gather on Sunday afternoons to drink, dance (but not “together”), experiment with ways of identification through dressing and bend the rules to popularize gay meeting spaces.

A woman with white and black long hair wearing a long black dress with lace sleeves stands in a dark red glowing room.

Halloween 2019, working Dragathon event at Royale in Boston, MA. Photo courtesy of Renée Martel.

Back in my world, I went on to major in Sociology and minor in Women’s and Gender Studies, as well as doing my own personal research where it mattered to me — out at the drag bars supporting my friends and consuming as much drag as possible. There at those clubs, on those stages, out on those dancefloors, that’s where I found my new family. A family where we could experiment with makeup, expression through clothing, pulling “looks” like the club kids we admired. With our queer family, we could all be vulnerable and share passions that no one else seemed to truly understand. Out in the “real” world, I can be either tokenized or sneered at by strangers for my aesthetics, but at the club I am embraced, photographed and celebrated by people I love and respect.

Two women, one wering a yellow dress and the other a gold sequined dress, pose with their legs crossed.

Renée and Laila McQueen @misslailamcqueen backstage at QUEEN! at Smartbar Chicago. Photo courtesy of Renée Martel.

Through my dark, horror-obsessed aesthetics, I drew the most amazing people into my life who’ve given me incredible opportunities that teenage me would never even have dreamt of. From assisting my best friend at a finale of Drag Race, working conventions, to getting the opportunities to travel the country, visit friends whose art I respect so heavily and getting invited to perform on their home stages where I am automatically embraced as the Halloween-loving femme that I am. I’ve gotten to laugh and cry with my friends as they’ve seen hardships and overwhelming success, bonding over niche interests and fostering incredible memories I will remember for the rest of my life, all before I turn 26. Because of these people I feel truly loved, appreciated and respected. They are my family.

Two women on halloween costumes pose making faces, stand on a street at night with cars driving by.

Renée and Dollya Black Halloween night at Royale, Boston, MA. Photo courtesy of Renée Martel.

In this Pride season and political climate I want to leave you with these messages:

1) The first Pride was a riot.

2) Black Lives Matter. We owe so much of our freedom and political history to Black and Latinx people who stood up for and fought for us as a community.

Four people standing on the street holding protest signs with a large statue of a man in the background.

Photo by Paige Besse/PEM.

A woman holding up a silver colored fan, wearing a silver dress stands in a dark room with bright red lights.

Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

3) The dance floor, the stage and the club can be extremely magical and transformative places. Don’t get me wrong, there is still so much we have to tackle as a community — racism, transphobia, misogyny — but when you dig deep down under the glittery facade, we truly have something special. We have drag, arguably the most incredible form of self expression, which draws a line of political activism through our history, sparks joy in so many and brings us together.

So this Pride, I urge you to remember where it all came from, embrace intersectionality, diversity and celebrate the person you truly are when society isn’t watching. And let’s collectively celebrate the recent Supreme Court ruling that all LGBTQIA+ are protected by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act! I am lucky to feel embraced at my place of work, but let’s not forget until now, members of the LGBTQIA+ community could be discriminated against and fired in 26 states just for being themselves. Last year at PEM Pride, I felt every ounce of the magic on the dance floor I’ve felt in drag bars and at clubs across the country, and as much as I wish I could be out in my colorful makeup on the dance floor with all of you this Pride season, I know we’ll only make things even better and more inclusive for the next one. So please — find yourself, be yourself and always uplift and encourage others to safely do the same. Be loud, be proud, be open, use your privilege to help others and I hope to see you all (one day!) out on the dance floor.

Ana Matronic, a red haired woman with her arm around glass balls and pyramids on a table.

Photo courtesy of Ana Matronic. Photo by Seth Kirby

PEM Pride Party: Sunday Tea Dance
Sunday, June 21 from 5 pm until after sunset

Drawing inspiration from the tradition of the Sunday Tea Dance, we’re kicking off PEM’s virtual pride celebration a bit earlier in the evening this year! DJ Ana Matronic and artist/designer Seth Kirby return with a live-streamed dance party, combining Father’s Day, Gay Pride and the Summer Solstice in one day-to-night event of epic proportions. Gather the family to take a musical strut down memory lane with torch songs and show tunes, gay anthems, diva dance decadence and solstice-inspired beats. Swap your pj’s for your favorite party outfit and share your best looks and moves with us live on social media with #PEMpride.

Tune in at the following times to experience the different vibes of this special PEM Pride set:

5 pm — Ana kicks things off with family-friendly classics, from Motown and Philly soul from the ‘60s to torch songs and show tunes to get you lip-syncing for your life.

7 pm — As the shadows lengthen, Ana will be dialing it up with house beats and modern gay anthems to inspire some hands-in-the-air abandon.

Two women dressed on costume in a blue and white room.

Complete Destruction @completedestruction and Renée at EGO Providence. Photo courtesy of Renée Martel.

9 pm — Embracing the darkness, after sunset Ana conjures a Salem-inspired tribute, with goth classics and magical music to whip up the witches in a summer solstice spiral dance.

This livestream will be hosted via Twitch. A login is not required, just join via anytime during the event! If you want to join the live chat during the party, you can learn more about creating an account here.

Pre-register with your information to receive exclusive digital content in your email and a chance to win special Pride prizes from local artists and vendors, including rainbow enamel pins from Georgia Made This! Mailing address required for prizes.

Three performers dressed in bright costumes perform as DJs in a brightly colored lit room.

Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

Image at top: Photo by Erik M. Kommer/@lad_of_leisure for QUEEN! at Smartbar Chicago. (L to R) Laila McQueen @misslailamcqueen, Nico @nicozworld), Renée, Valentine Addams @valentineaddams

FREE | Streaming live at

The PEM staff wishes everyone health, safety and calm during the COVID-19 shutdown. Museums provide light and inspiration during challenging times. We will be creative in maintaining PEM’s relationship with you in this time of crisis. We look forward to welcoming you back to the museum when the public health crisis has subsided. For more information and updates, please visit and keep in touch through our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

A view of the entrance to PEM with a blue banner that says "Until we meet again...

Photo by Paige Besse/PEM.

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