Black lights matter at Badlands

It was a typically glittery, flashy time at Badlands—with a paradoxical twist.

“It’s kind of interesting that we’re having an AA meeting at a bar,” remarked Miss Taryn’ Thru-U, the evening’s emcee.

Every third Friday of the month, Badlands hosts a “Fridays are a Drag” show full of beautiful queens. But the most recent edition doubled as “Big Gurl Birthday Bash,” a celebration of promotions manager Ronnie Scharffer’s 41st birthday and 30 days of sobriety. The irony of celebrating one’s abstinence from drugs and alcohol at a gay nightclub was not lost on any of the performers.

Sacramento native Mahlae Balenciaga took the stage next dressed as Storm from X-Men. After an electric performance of Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero,” she echoed the emcee’s sentiments and encouraged audience members to buy another drink in order to make up for the financial hit the bar was taking now that Scharffer was drinking juice.

“You have to drink extra so we can keep the lights on,” Balenciaga said. “Black lights matter!”

The show’s humor continued in that vein through the end of the night with jokes about race, gender and, of course, sex. After her first dance number, Ginger Minj, a RuPaul’s Drag Race alum, thanked the audience for the applause before letting everyone know this certainly wasn’t the first time she’d “gotten the clap” from the entire room. She meant, in more scientific terms, gonorrhea.

The crowd at Badlands hit every note that night: the 60-year-old Asian man wearing glasses and a windbreaker quietly sitting at a VIP table; the flamboyantly gay black dudes who seemed to have their own dance numbers prepared for every song; the lesbian with a pixie cut wearing overalls and a visor. All were welcomed and roasted evenly for their haircuts and fashion sense. In this Trumpian world, Badlands remains an important safe space—perhaps more vital now than ever before.

Of course, most performers took a moment to tease the audience per usual, and for this special show, also poke fun at the birthday boy. But overall, the spirit of the evening felt lighthearted, peppered with messages of body positivity and queer pride. Minj’s performance of “Baby Got Back” was amplified by her motto, “Why pinch an inch when you can grab a slab?” Meanwhile, crowd favorite Latrice Royale galvanized the audience to “make lemonade out of this bullshit” presidential election and vowed to keep fighting for queer rights.

Ultimately, these were the most magical moments of the evening. Though every witticism was punctuated by a dance number and a flourish of sequins, it was the off-color humor and atmosphere of support and appreciation that made Badlands feel like a rare gem in the sea of drunken bros and obnoxious hipsters flooding the other bars of Midtown that night. Let it always be so.