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  • Quinn

Dark Force Fest '24 - Beats, Boots, and Besties

The last few months have been a lot. I have so many stories to tell, but life has been wild and a little unfair, so they'll need to wait just a bit longer. Right now, I need to talk about Dark Force Fest.

I could do a huge article about the line-up, how great the artists were, the venue... But I don't want to. That feels cheap, unfair to the deeper things that this con has blessed me with over the last four days and nights.

To be clear, there is room for improvement. Accessibility is sorely lacking, and that has to change. Making physically disabled attendees staying off-site walk to the venue, and failing to include any sort of accessible viewing area is pretty tacky and outdated. That I as an attendee had to escort my fellow disabled attendees to the front corners of the stage so they weren't staring at someone's butt every single show is a major black eye on Dark Force Fest as an event and Vampire Freaks as the organizers. As huge of a complaint as it is, it is truly my only one, but it absolutely needed to be said and a solution is needed.

A year ago, I arrived at Dark Force Fest to see a friend of mine perform. I knew no one else, and even that one friend only a little. But I talked to some vendors, collected a bunch of merch, and took home some great memories. I was excited to do it again.

What I could not have begun to account for is all of the people I would meet between then and now, nor how thoroughly they all wiggled right into my found family. I couldn't have prepared for the host of my favorite podcast to become one of my dearest friends, or the DJ I quietly followed and admired to spend her entire weekend calling me "daddy" and sword fighting with me with foam tubes full of glow sticks. I couldn't have anticipated that I'd have the nicest lad on the planet staying on the pull-out couch in my hotel room. I didn't expect that I'd be hanging out and getting baked with the founder of the Unofficial Dark Force Fest Discord server.

What an unexpected feeling, to come back one year later to the same event, and have my priorities entirely shifted. Yes, the music was amazing, but completely secondary to the people. Do you know how many times at an after-party I got some big grin on my face, just trying to remember how in the world I got here and feeling so grateful that, by chance, somehow, I did?

When my friends and family with the disposable income to do so decide to travel, I always hear about how this trip changed their life. Truth is, it never does; they might spend a couple weeks with a passing interest in being a better person, but let's be real, no one has ever made a concrete effort at being a better person because they took a two week backpacking trip through Peru.

People love to romanticize taking a trip that makes you a new person, that somehow takes away all your anger and pain and frustration and replaces it with inner peace and complete satisfaction in life. But what if, instead, you just accept that life is fleeting, you might die tomorrow, things will go to crap, and that feeling feelings is normal, healthy, and good for you? What if, rather than trying to find the greener grass, you took the time to appreciate all the natural beauty of wildflowers thriving in a weedy lawn?

Who knows, maybe that backpacking trip really changes someone. I'm willing to be proven wrong. But for me? I'll be at the cons and clubs, dancing to music about how important it is to love myself, love those around me, be angry about injustice, change what I can for those with less power to do so for themselves, and work to ensure that our future is better for everyone while accepting that sometimes, things will suck, but it's going to be okay.

There was something inside me that's been waiting to be recognized; I didn't know how much I needed it, was missing it, until I closed my eyes during Stabbing Westward's set and tapped into that sixteen year old kid inside me who never got to have this. I won't elaborate on the details, they're sad and beside the point. What matters is that in that moment, a boy who never got to be heard, never got to be part of the crowd, finally got what he'd been needing for all that time. 19 years later, something I hadn't known was broken has been healed. I've only cried twice about it.

For as far back as my memories go, the dark-alt community has called to me by celebrating the "other", the outsider. To be queer in this community is refreshingly unremarkable. Here, cisgender, heterosexual men can wear mesh and leather with no fear of being perceived as queer because there is no negative connotation with being queer in the first place. Come Sunday morning, my partner remarked "ooh, you have such a strut right now. You know, you get gayer the happier you are."

So if, at some point this weekend, I swirled my iced coffee and called you "bitch"... Please know I was having the time of my life. Looking at you, Bella la Blanc; thanks for getting me into all the best trouble.

As I did last year, I made sure to pop by the Rainbows In The Dark panel, moderated by Lancaster's own DJ Stygian. As conversations around queerness in a space generally are, the panel was a firm reminder of our history and how queerness has always existed within the dark-alt scene. Gender-bending, testing the limits of masculinity, femininity, and the endless spaces between and beyond, as well as celebrating the beauty and boundless love we as humans are capable of. During a discussion on the importance that our clubs and spaces have always held for our community, Stygian remarked: "During the 80's, the AIDS crisis, a gay man working a white collar job can go on the dance floor wearing a tiny fishnet shirt and, if not find community, find himself."

Forty years on, in the 20's, when we're facing new struggles and new attempts to marginalize our existence, there's still something about that space, calling out and asking you to come dance. So I did. Maybe I'm okay at it, maybe I'm trash, who knows? My friend Brian of Void Signal has a saying: "animals dance. Animals sing. These are things that animals do." What are we if not animals signaling and celebrating our joy? What are we doing out there if not finding ourselves?

There's something so special about being in a space where you are genuinely free to be. Free to exist, to take up space. To be part of the crowd. To [author's note: I'm allowed one cliche, and here it is] join in the chant. To never have to apologize for being the weird kid, because everyone here was that same weird kid. To let my mask down, to feel safe and among my friends and chosen family.

Tonight, I'm packing my fishnets. And tomorrow, I'm flying back home. The day after that, I'll be back in the real world, where I'm self-employed, running a business, managing a household, trying my best to guide my baby bat, be a good partner and neighbor... But I'll be counting down the days (mostly the nights) until I can put aside Quinn who wears a sensible black V-neck and jeans, to let loose once again the goth kid in purple fur and a kilt, dancing with his friends in platform boots until the sun threatens to turn the lights back on.

Sixty four days to Mechanismus, baby. Until then, I'll be stomping in my kitchen, tending to the day-to-day. But if you find yourself in the Chicago area, and if you need a buddy for goth night, I'll keep my boots ready to go.

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