Clare Hand is a self-described flaming London lesbian. Since October, she’s been working on the door at queer women’s events in London. She documents the atmosphere, music, fashions, vibe (are you going to get laid or make new mates), the public’s response to queer women’s priority spaces and the people behind the nights. When she first conceived of the project, she wanted to take it international—and that’s exactly what she’s doing here at GO Magazine. In May, she crossed the Atlantic. She started in San Francisco, then LA, then she will be heading to Bogota and São Paulo. After this, she is off to NYC for WorldPride/Stonewall 50. These are her Lesbian Door Diaries. Catch up on the last one here.
Sometimes I go to parties and spend most of the time observing. I make lots of notes on my phone documenting the music, atmosphere, and crowd, like a lesbianologist doing field research. I then pour over my findings in the morning and write a piece from there.
After El Rio’s Mango, I woke up and turned to my phone to find the words “ridiculously good party” and nothing else. I suppose that’s a sign of a scorching hot summer party! Mango is a queer institution in San Francisco. Born in El Rio’s scenic backyard in 1996, it was something of a revolution, says promoter Carol Hill.
“There were no afternoon parties back then, and, as far as I know, one of a couple of lesbian of colour parties,” she tells GO.
According to Carol, her friend and visionary Chantal Salkey launched Mango, but Carol was the manager and took on the event after Chantal’s sudden passing in 2010. They were driven by a desire to create safe spaces in which “we could dance to the music we like.” It was that simple and remains as simple. Though, as Carol puts it “we have grown and evolved into a space for everybody.” That said, the event has always been led by women of color, and the DJs have consistently been the area’s best WOC DJs, who specialize in genres spanning Hip-Hop, Latin-Grove, Reggaeton, and Salsa.
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“There is no money grabbing or bothering people; come to Mango if you want to feel some magic, love, and acceptance, come if you want to be seen—really seen,” says Carol with the kind of conviction that makes you want to smack your hands in applause. There is no pretention surrounding Mango. Carol speaks candidly, every word comes from her soul.
With roots like these and an organizer like this, El Rio’s Mango has gone from strength to strength. Each month, come rain or shine, hundreds of queer people gather under the lemon and palm trees of El Rio’s patio, ready to sample the sweetest fruit in town.
Though there is an option to stay inside, the decks and the dancing are outside. This has a really positive effect on the atmosphere. People are liberated from the confines of a roof, there is room to move and fresh air to breath; the rhythms ripple off the clear blue San Franciscan sky.
There were people of all ages, ethnicities, and gender identities: all were united by Reggaeton, RnB, and Disco classics slickly mixed by Edaj, La Coqui, Lady Lu, and Olga T. Each let out a cheeky, knowing grin when they dropped a particularly sizzling track. There was palpable chemistry between the organizers and the dance-floor; they fed the crowd exactly what they wanted. Many hopped on stage to dance next to the decks, but others stayed on the sidelines, surveying the space contentedly like regal lionesses.
The event also doubled as a hive of lesbian ex-activity. Exes met new wives, the ghoster bumped into the ghostee, new gfs met old fuck-buddies. Though it all sounds a bit awks, none of it felt problematic or cliquey. Good vibes and great tunes oozed over the space like honey.
As the party drew to a close at 8 p.m., we’d spent six hours marinating in sweet Mango juice, and yet none of us wanted to leave (save a few who’d spent the afternoon treating tequila like it was the elixir of life). Lady Lu put Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing on to wind things down, and Carol picked up the mic to join her behind the decks. “You’ve got 15 minutes to find someone to give you the great stuff,” she said playfully, aware that a lot of folks had already found their healer for the night.
“Welcome you guys, we’ve been here 23 years,” Carol said as the crowd cheered and applauded. “Our legacy is creating space for women of color and their friends. This is a community event, a backyard BBQ. We even got food for y’all.”
Oh, and it allowed people to demonstrate their dexterous ability to clutch a beer in one hand, eat a burger with the other, and side-step to the Earth, Wind, & Fire tracks throughout.
“Don’t worry about looking and acting a certain way,” Carol continued. As I looked around, people were covered in sweat, still skanking like there was no tomorrow. People were wearing very disparate lesbian attires: Vans, flip-flops, short-shorts, feminist t-shirts, football shirts. Sunglasses seemed to be the only uniting front aesthetically; dykes do know how to rock a pair of shades.
“If no one today told you they love you, we’re gonna do it now,” she said, raising her hands, forming a heart with her thumbs and forefingers. An army of heart-hands came back to her and her crew. “That’s real people,” said Carol, “take that love and joy out into the world with you.”
El Rio’s Mango was summer. It was hedonism. It was freedom and community. It was strangers making out and making friends. It was everyone leaving the venue with an ear-to-ear smile. It was, in short, a ridiculously good party.
Mango is the 4th Saturday of every month at El Rio, 3158 Mission Street. For more, follow @mangosf on Instagram.
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