Chicago’s Absolutely Popping Sapphic Party Scene

Jon Wes

Some dance euphorically and slurp their mixers. Others make-out with strangers like the world’s about to end.

When the clock strikes midnight at Slo ‘Mo, Chicago’s lauded night of Slow Jams for Queer Fam, the club embarks on a practice rarely, if ever, seen in nightlife. “We’re gonna take a collective breath,” says Tristen, Slo ‘Mo’s co-host by night, healer and bodyworker by day.

“One thing I’ve realized on this journey of healing,” she says to a broad church of Chicago Sapphics, “is that sometimes all we have is breath. So today, I want to breathe with you; two deep breaths, one to release, and one to remember.”

Conversation is stripped from the dancefloor, people lower their drinks, oscillate out of their heads, and into their bodies. “Pull it from your coochie,” Tristen instructs in her zingy St Louis accent, “whatever you got down there, it’s your business, breathe and exhale.” The whole room vibrates – woven together by something far beyond the confines of the club.

Tristen has been bringing these refreshing depths and deep breaths to Slo ‘Mo for many years. Tonight, as she does every night, she stands on stage alongside Slo ‘Mo’s founder and producer, Kristen Kaza, aka the ‘Party Mom’ of Chicago’s absolutely popping Sapphic scene.

Kristen and Tristen Photo by Erik Michael Kommer

38-year-old Kaza has produced over 200 events in the Windy City under the motto ‘parties with a purpose,’ and has devoted her career to “making space and making opportunities as a queer community,” she tells GO. Noting that she always programs Chicago artists, “but especially LGBT+ artists, and especially women, especially women of colour, because, there are major inequities in every institution, in every industry but nightlife is still incredibly cis male dominated, both gay and straight.”

Kristen and Tristen Photo by Erik Michael Kommer

When new Sapphic club nights are in their infancy, Kaza, who’s been producing events for 18 years, offers guidance and mentorship on the facets of space-making people tend to overlook. People plunge into her industry because they have a “great idea for a party,” she says, but “it’s very easy to burn out in nightlife. There’s a reason why parties usually last one to three years.” Challenges include the evolving COVID pandemic, drug use in clubs, internal conflicts, negotiating with venues, safer space policies, sponsorship, varying economic capacities in queer communities, alcohol sales for sober queers, and most alarmingly, threats to the spaces.

“It’s not necessarily safe to gather as a group of Black people or queer people, a group of such diverse representation, of marginalized or vulnerable experiences like some of our attendees,” Kaza says solemnly.

Kristen Kaza Photo by Erik Michael Kommer

Sustainability through pay equity is one of Kaza’s guiding stars when mentoring new club owners and when handling her own business. Adequately remunerating Slo ‘Mo’s staff and performers is of paramount importance. “I’m a company of one, I do everything myself, I have no outside investment,” she says.

“It kills me,” she continues, “that well-established institutions are offering shit pay to DJs. I know that people are going out and doing jobs, for 100-150 bucks, which probably covers your outfit and your transportation, and it just shouldn’t be like that. I want more sustainability and support for people in this industry.”

A piercing example of the need for this sustainability and support was when Kristen gave birth the same day of Slo ‘Mo’s Suited & Booted Pride Ball. Her twins were delivered at 28 weeks after she went into heart failure and she almost died in the delivery room.

Lex, Kristen and their Twins Photo by Paul Octavious

“The first thing I did when I came to consciousness and the breathing tube had been taken out,” she says, “was my wife and I, went through all the people I had to pay [for Slo’ Mo Pride Ball] because I was like, these people are getting paid, it’s Pride, in the gig economy, so we knocked all those payments out in my ICU room.”

Though a painful commentary on the realities of American capitalism, Kaza and Tristen’s commitment to the Chicago queer community is palpable.

Team Slo’ MoPhoto by rik Michael Kommer

Chicago is arguably the new epicenter of Sapphic life in the United States. Three independently excellent bars have popped up in the last few years, Nobody’s Darling, Dorothy’s and Whiskey Girl Tavern, while lesbian-owned gay bar The Closet has been pouring spirits since 1978. There is a simultaneous abundance in pioneering monthly parties: each serves and centers a particular intersection of Sapphic existence. To spotlight three: Slo ‘Mo is a “party for lovers.” Strapped is a trans-people to the front Sapphic drag party, while Eden is an alternative Latine Sapphic space.

Sapphic space creatorsPhoto by Erik Michael Kommer

The degree of collaboration in Chicago’s scene is the key to its proliferation, and at few places is this better spotlighted than at Super Sapphic  – a new mega-party curated by the three aforementioned dyke parties. A thousand Sapphically-inclined Chicagoans pack into legendary nightclub Metro/Smart Bar (where Frankie Knuckles once had a residency) for their second collab event.

Sweet nectar pours from the DJ decks – juicy mixes of Sapphic classics, from Tatu to Azelia Banks to Whitney Houston – as skilled performers take to the stage, dousing the crowd in unbridled Sapphic seduction. People are strapped in harnesses, latex skirts and cargo pants, topped with braids, bangs, butterfly clips, bandanas and beanies. There’s a lot of Y2K revival on the floor, and an almost breathtaking array of textures, flavours, expressions and expansions of Sapphism packed into the club. Once again, as the clock chimes midnight, Tristen and Kristen are on stage weaving the community together in breath.

Until close, Super Sapphic, like Slo’ Mo is a place where worlds collide on the dancefloor – there’s a complete do-what-ever-you-like energy in the club.

Super SapphicPhoto by Erik Michael Kommer

“What I specifically want for people that come to our parties,” says Tristen, “I want you to find your highest authentic self; whether it’s in a conversation, whether it’s on the floor, whether it’s through the breath, whatever it might be.”

Surveying the dancefloor, it’s clear people got the memo: while some dance euphorically slurping their mixers, others make-out with strangers like the world’s about to end. Many clamber to stuff dollars in dancer’s suspenders, while a number of people are protected by ear plugs, swaying side-to-side giving themselves a tender hug in the corner.

Lex floats around in a pair of leather trousers, Kaza in a red bodycon dress. They look and feel like scene celebs – and rightly so.

Power Couple Kristen and Lex Photo by Erik Michael Kommer

“It’s those quiet moments,” Kaza tells GO, “of being able to peek out from backstage, or lean up against the bar and see people just having a good time. Because, you know, the feeling of freedom is fleeting, right? It’s ephemeral. But to be in that state, and have a space that makes you feel good in your body.  It’s priceless.”

Slo’ Mo Fam Photo Photo by Erik Michael Kommer

For more on Slo’Mo head here – for visuals: @slomoparty – for Chicago’s Party Mom: @partymomchi – for Tristen

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