Queer Touring Bands Find Their Own Spaces in Athens, Ohio

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By Devon Hannan

Between bars and commercial venues, lines can be blurred in terms of what makes a safe space actually a safe. For bands on tour, efforts made my space owners around the

country soon become very apparent. Are space owners actually providing a safe space to include artists of all backgrounds and identities and what exactly are they doing to change it?

For bands on tour, Athens is a common stop. For some, playing a show in Athens is actually made a priority. What may seem like an often overlooked aspect in other male-dominated scenes, much of the Athen’s DIY landscape is run by queer nonmales. For bands that also identify as queer and nonmale, these spaces often come as a welcome surprise.

Luke Henderiks, who uses they/them pronouns, plays in a band called Teenage Halloween. Recently, they came to play a show in Athens and discussed the importance of booking in safe spaces on their tours, especially in regards to playing shows in rural areas and the South.

“A lot of the issues span when when we are booked on male shows that are more homogenous than diverse,” Henderiks says. Sometimes it feels like we are out in the society we are singing against.

Paul Trygstad, who used to be involved in the Athens DIY scene, has since graduated from Ohio University and moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where many of the venues bands play in are bars and clubs as opposed to DIY house gigs.

“I know bands that have come up from local bands to touring acts that will face problems with harassment attitudes, people saying nasty things after shows, on the sidelines,” Trygstad says. “I know people who have gotten shouted at by a white supremacist.”

Space owner of the Babecave in Athens and the drummer of the band, Speedwalk Jerry, Alana Baldwin, says that for years, queer and nonmale artists have faced a wide variety of aggressions within music scenes.

“If you are a queer or nonmale person that goes out to a club, you might get groped or shoulder checked,” Badwin says. “You might be playing a club where that is going on in the crowd. In DIY, whether you are playing it or in a crowd, it’s nice to not see that, or, if you do, it is comforting to see it get called out.”

For Henderiks, after being on and off tour for years, they said they are starting to be able to point out problematic behavior very quickly.

“In most art communities that are radical, you begin to learn the red flags you get from people and the behavior patterns from people that can result from people abusing their pedestal within a community.”

However, they sometimes find it hard to have direct conversations about the spaces in which they are performing, to ensure the space they are playing in, is safe for all.

“I feel like it is a really awkward conversation, one that I am getting better about having,” Henderiks says. “But whether or not to ask if their space is safe, when they are already doing the favor of booking me. Luckily, most of the shows we play have a signifier that they are a safer space, and that is always really tight.”

Touring bands should be put on the forefront in space owner’s minds, Baldwin says, when it comes to regulating a safe(r) space.

“They are in a place that they are not used to. And that can be really scary,” says Baldwin. “When you make an emphasis on being comfortable, welcoming and safe, it feels a lot better to everyone.”

Balwin also says that her space, and the many of the spaces in Athens, try to book as diversely as possible. “In terms of bars and clubs, its not that nonmales don’t have access to these spaces, there is just not an emphasis on them,” she says. “When I book here at the Babecave, I always try to have one to two nonmale bands – Just try to include queer and nonmale acts. It is really cool the kind of environment it creates. It is so comfortable.”

So what happens when there isn’t a prevalent DIY scene in a given area? Trygstad is also a performer and promoter in Cincinnati, who is currently working with GLSEN, an outreach program for LGBT youth, where he works to bring representation of queer and nonmale artists to commercial venues in the Cincinnati area.

“It has been a really, really powerful response from the music scene here,” says Trgstad. “I’ve been hosting a couple of shows around town trying to center queer artists specifically and raise money for GLSEN and it has been a totally awesome experience.”

When it all boils down to it, Henderiks believes that there is significance in being able to play shows in safe spaces with accurate representation.

“If we can all go into a space and respect each other and have conversations and not be afraid to ask questions about our specific place in a community is so important. It is a really beautiful thing to see as I grow up.”

As DIY spaces grow with the bands that want to play in them, demanding a change that not only accommodates, but welcomes queer touring bands becomes more and more of a necessity.