Lavni and Laughter
Kareem Khubchandani presents nightlife as an ambivalent space: pleasurable and exciting as much as racist, casteist, and femmephobic (among many other forms of exclusivity). All the chapters conjure figures like the Dalit, hijra, kothi, working- class immigrant, faggot, and sissy as ghostly presences that haunt “the precarious gay spaces where men dance and find pleasure” (77). But he does not disappear these figures completely from nightlife. Nor does he settle for the neat story of their separation or absence. Instead, Ishtyle excavates these figures as central to the stories told about nightlife and its patrons. Specifically, the book invites readers to learn from the labors of transgender and femme figures as crucial to nightlife. As he lays bare for his readers, the faggotry, femininity, and sissiness that gay men refuse and are eager to run from are not only inescapable facets of nightlife but also the irresistible “pedagogies of the dark” (Gamboa 2021). Ishtyle takes seriously the recalcitrance of these accented modes of inhabiting nightlife if only to teach us the disruptive power and persistence of feminine, bodily excess. It teaches us to think about the capaciousness of the dancefloor. Not just the spaces it offers to each of the terms under the queer and trans umbrellas of identity categories. The dancefloor is capacious enough to hold our bodies, to make room for us to unlearn the gestural, aesthetic, and physical restraints that our gendered, classed, raced, caste, and ableist upbrignigns have instiled in us. But this space is by no means democratically given. Khubchandani’s text ruminates on the exlcusions that these spaces reenact. The policing of femininity, race, caste, class, and gender are everywhere on the dancefloor. But ishtyle, as accented gestures and speech, signal the recalcitrance of the very things that some nightlife spaces seek to eschew. Ultimately, these bodily slips and glints of gendered possibility are haunting reminders that those queer and trans figures evicted from nightlife’s reaches cannot so easily be erased and that their presence and labor are the reason the lights are still on, and the music is playing.