The doors to paradise were particularly heavy despite them being transparent and glass. The carpeted stairs gave no indication that you were ascending towards a nuanced heaven for downtown New York’s most avant-garde protagonists as the joint doubles as a Chinese restaurant during the day. One foot in front of the other, the clacking of boots was reduced to a muffled thud, but I wanted to be able to hear our thunder. An oversized black-hood cloaked seated angel smiled as she took our money at the top of the stairs; of course there was a cover fee at the pearly gates. Once inside, streams of yellow, pink and red lights painted us with empty emotion, and we were promised rebirth or at least metamorphosis. The bar beckoned saints and sinners alike to its pews. Would we find ourselves at the bottom of an empty shot glass? In the eyes of another? The bright, white light was nothing other than an iPhone flash. New Year, New You? Maybe bitch, but after a night at Club Glam, would you ever be the same?
For the first-timers out there, the short answer is no. The monthly party held at China Chalet is frequented by the people on Instagram who you want to be friends with. You peep them as they breeze by on their way to get another drink and mistake eye contact for recognition. They help you pluck the toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe as you compliment each other’s outfits. They pose for you as you ask to snap their photo for your Instagram story. It is a world free of inhibition, devoid of judgment, where everyone is “SOOO NICE!” and as my roommate Alex exclaimed mid booty-pop, post-bass drop, “I CAN DO ANYTHING I WANT HERE!” But how did we get here? Who was responsible?
Our answer appeared in a floor-length, white feathered coat, legs extending outwards from a lustrous, metallic gold dress, her black, shoulder-length hair framed her face, giving definition to the word: Slaysian, but #whoisshe. Glam is hosted by DeSe Escobar, a multidisciplinary artist with a penchant for heavy bling and Prada. As a veteran of the downtown nightlife scene, DeSe has filled the roles of DJ, host and maven as she’s found self-acceptance and liberation on many a dance floor. With Glam, she’s been able to create her own scene of like-minded creatives, putting “community” back into communal parties, turning China Chalet into a modern-day Studio 54. “There were the gay parties, there were the straight parties, and I wanted to combine that and bring all kinds of people together as long as they were respectful and open-minded,” said DeSe from her perch on a stool at Canal Street Market on a warm, winter evening.
As a transgender, first-generation Filipina, DeSe saw to the creation of this space based on the needs of her own experiences. “I came out in high school and started experimenting with the way that I was dressing, not even thinking about gender. I was starting to get along with people but not really connecting with my roots, it was more like I was trying to connect with other people,” explained DeSe, whose family migrated to California in 1975 by way of Quezon City and a small, rural village in the Philippines. With them, they brought their culture, their Tagalic language, and the burden of the American dream.
Community was something that DeSe had been born with but not into. Growing up, she was called “China” and made fun of for the way her home lunches smelled (a common experience for Asian Americans). Navigating young adulthood, she would find herself most comfortable among creative people and decided to attend college in Los Angeles at the Otis School of Arts and Design. “I knew I wanted to go to art school because I knew I wanted to meet more people who were like-minded. That’s when I started to identify as transgender, and I got to meet and know other Asian people and other Asian cultures besides my own. I felt normal for the first time,” she said.
With newfound self-assuredness and a degree in fashion design to flaunt, DeSe made the move out to New York City a number of years ago. “I was working for small companies and realizing that working and designing for another company wasn’t really for me. I would go out and strive to be around people and started DJing. That turned into hosting things and meeting, cultivating and creating a community of mostly queer people,” said DeSe recounting her early years. “Creating” here takes on a tone of gradation, as it required DeSe to simultaneously reconcile the multiplicity of labels placed on her — Asian, Queer, Transgender, Female — into something she could call her identity. “My biggest concern was being able to be queer and live my life as a transgender person, and my parents did sweep that under the rug. I was always strong and I wanted to be who I wanted to be, and it was a conversation going on in my head since I was young. When I moved here I had to accept the fact that I wasn’t just dressing up, I was living life like this every day and so what was I? I felt that I had to identify with some sort of gender, and I finally accepted being a transgender female, then came the Asian thing but I had accepted that from early on,” DeSe said letting out an exhale.
In creating a community, DeSe was then surrounded by those who she could see herself in and vice versa, allowing a sense of confidence and pride to permeate the spaces where self-doubt lingered. The term “Slaysian” finds its roots here. Coined by her dear friend, Filipino pop-star K-Riz, the term “inspired other Asians to hear that word and be a little more confident in who they were,” explained DeSe. Its ethos pushes misrepresentation aside as ownership over what it means to be Asian is taken. It’s a mantra of sorts, a simple word that offers transformation and actualization. “It’s a reminder,” said DeSe, “like whether you accept it or not, this is me and I’m a Slaysian. That’s the attitude I go with and I think it’s effective because it spreads. I’m being straightforward so you don’t have to question anything.”
As her own confidence brims and party after party pops off, she affirms the fact that she does feel “pressure” to put on for her people in a greater way so that they, too, can experience the healing that comes with acceptance and kinship. Viewing Glam as not only an opportunity to dance your ass off and drunkenly network with social media crushes, DeSe sees it evolving to become a creative channel where she can express herself and work with brands in ways that allow them to speak inclusivity — fluently and genuinely. The campaigns that she and her team of creatives make to promote the party are impeccably styled (by DeSe’s “sister” Kyle Luu) and full-bodied in their execution, so much so that they drew the attention of the likes of big-players like Nike, whom she helped to create a limited edition art-book for about basketball jerseys, to be released next year. DeSe is pioneering what it looks like to have trans individuals as active and valuable voices in media today. DeSe does not only embody visibility but is a vision herself. “I have to battle so many things; my queerness, being able to survive as an artist, accepting that I am a person of color, there are so many levels. I learned to just not live in fear and if we do this, other people will be inspired by it. I’m certainly not the first person to think in this way but because I’ve been so close to my community, we have to do our part and do our duty to make ourselves happy first in order to take care of others,” she said.
Looking out into the crowd at Glam on the dance floor, bodies swayed under rose-colored lights, couples locked lips, and drinks (and the T) were spilled without consequence. “As drunk as I am at the end of the night, and I’m with the DJ and look out and everyone is having a good time, it warms my heart. I’m just happy to see people dance, to be out instead of locking yourself in. I try to be humble about it, but I am proud of myself for doing this but I want to expand it on a bigger scale. If this community can influence other communities, it’ll bring us more together as a stronger force. Freedom is so important and that’s something to maintain here” said DeSe. Debuting their first party of 2018 in LA in January, Glam’s force as a phenomenon grows as it continues to normalize queerness and pave the way for new levels of creativity to pervade.
Emerging from China Chalet at the end of the night, you’ll find yourself a little bit sweaty, smoky and noticeably sexier. Heaven will do that to you, and while you might not have been kissed by an angel, you’ve surely surrendered to the ecstasy that comes with diversity’s affirmation. Don’t look back, no Club Glam is ever the same, we’ll see you at the next one, and you better not be wearing that outfit again, shoes included. Xoxo.