The lights are pulsating, the bass is turned way up, and everyone around me is wearing arms full of beads and not much else. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ve obviously never been to a rave.
The rave scene is addictive because of its contradictions: the colorful pacifiers used innocently by ravers rolling so hard on ecstasy their teeth grind; the bright beaded ‘kandy’ bracelets exchanged for massages and light shows to enhance the drug experience; and of course, the pigtail hairstyles, tutus, tights, and stuffed animal backpacks worn by ravers who emulate children revelling in curiosity, naive lack of mistrust in strangers, and the multifaceted sensory experience of ecstasy torching torching their serotonergic neurons. The costumes in particular contain many contradictions: some ravers express gender rigidly, to emphasize sexuality and indicate their stereotyped role of giver (such as hypermasculine glovers) or receiver (such as hyperfeminine baby-doll costumes), in a fashion similar to the ways some queer people may use gender expression to signal their sexual role or preference, such as hyperfeminine gay men signaling their bottom-ness through their outfit and gender expression. The following are just a few categories of costume found in the rave scene which provide examples of the ways gender expression contributes to EDM culture.
RIGID GENDER EXPRESSION
The most common costume for female-identified ravers is hyperfeminine and child-like. This costume includes tutus or tiny panties on the bottom and bras covered in hot-glue gunned plastic flowers. These outfits are not only hyperfeminine–they express femininity in a submissive, child-like form through pigtails, stuffed-animal backpacks and furry hats, glittery makeup and lollipops, merging femininity with child-like innocence enhanced by their prevalence in dangerously petite individuals. Baby dolls follow stereotyped gender roles at the events, dancing wildly, being carried on others’ shoulders, and embracing an almost forced innocence.
Glovers are the ‘tops’ of the rave scene. These individuals dress in hypermasculine outfits, usually baggy t-shirts, loose jeans, and often masks or scarves soaked in menthol analgesics over their faces to enhance their drug experience. These individuals selflessly perform light shows using gloves with lit fingertips for a one-on-one psychedelic experience, targeting eager ravers who wish to enhance the MDMA experience through hand and finger movements that create patterns of light that move around their heads, matching the music and are visually pleasing to increase one’s high. Glovers accept drugs or beads from their light show recipients, but are generally seen as selfless individuals seeking to enhance others’ experience through a live art form, usually acting stoic and serene, highly focused on their gloving but not dancing without gloves.
FLUID GENDER ROLES
The femme bro
The femme bro is an individual erring slightly on the feminine side of center. I use the term ‘femme bro’ to capture the range of styles, with bro at the closest to center, and the femme closer to baby dolls. Bros are typically male-identified, but dressing in more gender-neutral clothing, like colorful tanks and skinny jeans. Bros typically abide by a gender role in which they are viewed as men, yet rave in packs with solely other bros, and although some flirt with gloving, they are too fun and energetic to fit the mysterious and serene glover stereotype. Femmes, on the other hand, are essentially the male-identified counterpart to baby dolls. This category includes anything from extensive makeup to full-out drag, and these individuals rave primarily with baby dolls, emulating their enthusiasm if not their innocence, but with a queer flair.
I use the term ‘butch’ to describe ravers who are usually female-identified, however presenting a more masculine gender performance, with masculine clothing and a masculine comportment. Following with the expectations of individuals expressing masculinity, butches are more reserved, contrasting sharply with baby dolls in their limited dancing, and often using harder drugs than MDMA, or in much higher doses, to the point where they are incapable of true dancing, and follow more of a drugged-out sway. These individuals are a more queer form of glovers, in that they are introverted and serious, and in ‘real life’ they are usually butch women or (unfortunately) femme-identified women whose body type is not petite enough to emulate pre-pubescence like baby dolls.
The EDM community has a spectrum of gender presentations just like individuals you see on the street, however there are fewer categories of acceptable gender presentations, and these categories come with strict yet unspoken rules. For example, a glover would never be seen fist-pumping with bros, and a baby doll would never be so drugged out (like butches) that she couldn’t hop around and giggle maddeningly. These gender roles also force ravers into a hierarchy based on acceptability. As in ‘real life,’ the most acceptable gender presentations are those that fall strictly within the confines of femininity and masculinity. Baby dolls and glovers are at the top of the food chain, and get the most respect, because glovers earn it, and baby dolls are the rave scene poster children. Fluid gender presentations like femme bros and butches are less acceptable, and these individuals experience discrimination in being picked last by glovers for light shows (if they even ask for one), and being expected to give glovers kandy, whereas baby dolls can hug their glover after a light show and not exchange beads. As another example, baby dolls who notice someone smoking or using drugs can ask to share, and are rarely denied, whereas butches or femme bros would be unlikely to ask, and probably not allowed shares.