While the global pandemic may have killed off nightlife for the past six months (and counting), that doesn’t mean club communities completely shut down. Instead, partygoers have opted to resurrect the culture digitally, moving DJ sets, strip clubs, and queer club nights over to Zoom and IG live.
Even though that may have curbed our night-out cravings, however, already marginalised club workers and dancers were left to face the challenges of being out of work for the foreseeable future. For the past six months, Harpies has been fighting to gather support for its community of BIPoC trans dancers.
A playground of LGBTQ+ inclusive pleasure, Harpies is the UK’s first strip club centring queer and trans dancers by hosting weekly club nights pre-pandemic. The club is organised by Lucia Blayke, a 24-year-old working-class trans woman from Liverpool, adoringly deemed, ‘Mother Lucia,’ by her community. Besides Harpies, Blayke has ingrained herself in the world of trans activism, founding both London Trans Pride and Transmissions, a safe space for trans people to meet up in London.
According to Blayke, Harpies was created with the goal of, “revolutionising an industry that can be somewhat exploitative at times.” Historically, strip clubs have a strict focus on pleasing white, cis-gendered, straight males and objectifying female dancers. Otherwise, attraction to trans people is often fetishised by cis-men, especially in night club spaces. Harpies, however, is working to dissolve those stereotypes and build a community that destigmatises and celebrates BIPoC trans dancers with inclusive crowds and strict rules on entry.
“We always strive for a diverse cast of dancers and a strict door policy that protects people from non-consensual touching, racist interactions, transphobia, etc.,” explained Blayke. “Once you put out what kind of night it is… then you’re gonna get the right kind of crowd, and we’ve made it very clear that we run an ethical strip club.”
Sex workers and dancers, especially those who are queer, are amongst those reaping the brutal effects of the pandemic, as the lockdown wiped out their gig-reliant incomes and denied many access to the financial assistance plans the government offered to others.
“The struggle has been very real – a lot of our dancers need an income to pay for transition-related healthcare and even just rent. Two of our dancers are here from Ghana on a limited leave to remain status, which means they can’t access benefits or help from any homeless or LGBTQ+ charities,” said Blayke. “We’re just fundraising to keep all of our Harpies housed and fed.”
While the night club began lockdown with Harpies Live shows on Instagram, it paused the virtual events because, “It wasn’t the same without that IRL human interaction.” Instead, the IG account fully embraced an activist role – showing up for its employees through support of BLM and the London Trans Pride protests, which gathered nearly 4,000 trans people and allies on the streets of London this past month.
Pandemic-aside, the government has recently abandoned reforming the Gender Recognition Act, which legally grants trans people the right to self-identify, despite the majority of the British publics’ support, and right wing MP Liz Truss is threatening trans womens’ rights to use women’s bathrooms. With both issues directly affecting Harpies dancers, the night club is working to raise awareness and encourage action – consistently posting fundraisers in its Instagram bio (the current GoFundMe is to house two Black dancers who are homeless).
We really need to wake up, we need our cis allies to hold our government accountable, to write to local MPs and to educate one another on trans issues.
While the next live show might be far off, Harpies has a lot in the works, including a short film for the BBC, an upcoming art exhibition, and scouting investors to collab on giving the strip club a permanent London home. Until then, they will keep celebrating the community through activism and gathering support from afar.
If you can, donate to Harpies’ current Black Queer Dancer Housing GoFundMe here.
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