Down a steel staircase and through concrete-padded walls, Venus X is laid back on a bench of cushions wearing speckled Gucci shades. In a few hours, she's set to take the stage for Warm Up, the weekly summer music series at MoMA PS1 she's headlining, but, right now, she's fixated on the faux-diversity of New York's party scene. "These spaces are way too segregated still," she says, reflecting on other queer events. "I get why they need to exist for those people, but I prefer my reality to be a little bit more real and diverse."
For Venus, this authentic, intersectional reality doesn't just exist in her orbit, it thrives. Over the past decade, she's created the queer GHE20G0TH1K party and taken it across the world, became one of the city's most important underground DJs, and founded Planet X boutique, labeled by Vogue a "Club Kid's Paradise." Regardless of her success, she still hustles today with an unbridled energy that suggests she's only just getting started, which, in a way, she is.
Born Jazmin Venus Soto, Venus X has unwittingly become a symbol of hope and progress for the legion of fans who show up to turn out for her legendary DJ sets. As a female DJ in the male-dominated industry, she's endured enough sexist bullshit to last a lifetime, but she's hopeful when I broach the topic. "It's really discouraging when you see how few women and how many mediocre men are dominating the field," she said, laughing. "I just keep trying to hold on to the possibility that I can be one of those women that can change the game. I've definitely been enough places and I've done enough things at the point that it's definitely made way for a lot of young girls to DJ."
With years of experience built into a formidable presence, she's not content to stay behind the DJ booth and spin the perfect mix anymore. "It's great to inspire people but the resources and power have to be shared. That's still a struggle," she says, before detailing her next venture. "I'm really excited to produce [music] and focus the energy on things that actually last because the club space is different now--it's more of a stage and not an incubator."
If anyone is fit to comment on the stagnation of New York's club scene, it's her. For those who have frequented GHE20G0TH1K, the party founded in 2009 alongside Hood by Air's Shayne Oliver, it's clear the reality she's crafted is far different from any of the other queer parties in the city. "You might see a trans DJ opening and you might then see a gay DJ headlining and then a girl DJ in the middle or see a rapper who has four kids," she says. "She's just as queer as we are! Who are we to deny her. This is what queer is in this time and era. It's not these little college parties that feel so safe. It's actually creating a world where people can listen to everyone's music and we can give more people a chance to break out."
At GHE20G0TH1K, Venus' commitment to unfiltered queerness has freed it from the confines of just being a party. It's become a movement and lifestyle that, over the years, has traveled to Tokyo, Vienna and Berlin, highlighting the strengths of the LGBTQ community, as well as the cracks.
Despite the vitriolic violence and discrimination we face, it's no secret the LGBTQ community has flourished and grown. We've made inroads on representation in media and politics, and carved out environments that celebrate our queerness. But it's this championing of identity and the comfort of safe spaces that Venus suggests hinders further progress--especially in the queer club scene. "I feel that it's getting a little stagnant and redundant," she says. " It's speaking to itself. You still have to make those genius works that change the world. It's not always about having safety if you eliminate the tension that builds muscle and enables you to exist in the world."
Venus isn't content subverting the norms she sees in clubs, though. When she isn't planning parties and DJing, you can usually find her at Planet X, the boutique she began years ago in Bushwick that just moved into Chinatown. It's through clothing that Venus has worked to dismantle the gender binary, which has no room in her reality.
"Deciding not to have a female or male store is something futuristic that people still aren't doing," she says. "I hope that your gender and sexuality feel fluid because that's what they're supposed to feel like. People should be encouraged to shop how they feel. If they feel good in it or look good in it, why not? In my dream reality, everyone just feels more fluid."
Among the concrete and muffled bass from the MoMA PS1 stage she'll soon dominate, the woman, who has been championing diversity in her art for years, falls momentarily silent as she reflects on everything she's created, from Planet X to GHE20G0TH1K. "This is an experience that's actually inclusive and actually global," she says. "We're all a new, weird network of babes that are all on the same wavelength and operate on a certain rhythm--literally."