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Temperatures are hovering close to the triple-digit mark on a steamy Independence Day eve, and many queers inside a sweltering Township bar and restaurant are taking turns pressing their faces close to a giant fan placed inauspiciously near the stinky bathrooms. The restaurant side of the joint is slightly less stifling, and here a cluster of folks are bent over a large crafts table where they are reshaping pipe cleaners and tchotchkes into runway couture. It’s a furnace inside the main bar, and beads of sweat stream down people’s faces as MC Vajaqueque encourages them to bring their strongest looks to the runway. DJ Swaguerilla, meanwhile, is looking fierce in a blue Speedo as he cranks out jams that whip the crowd into further frenzy. Floating in and out of this fray in a pair of pointy powder-blue frames and an inflatable kiddie pool fastened into a makeshift skirt is Trandroid, the gender-ambivalent host for the evening at Nuts & Bolts: A DIY Dance Party happening monthly at Township. The next bash occurs Tuesday 7.
Trandroid is the alter ego of A.J. Durand, a yoga instructor by day and blogger, performance artist and impresario by night who lately has become a fixture in the indie queer nightlife scene. Recent gigs have included Space Invasion at Metro, Salonathon at Beauty Bar, One Queer Roof at Lincoln Hall and Shits & Giggles, a night of performance curated and hosted by Durand that happens quarterly at Beauty Bar.
Durand’s Trandroid is the life of the party, a synthetic host/hostess programmed to welcome guests and orchestrate flow. It started as a blog. “Trandroid was a writing project for me,” says the gender-nonconforming Durand. “I wanted to create this being who was existing in the world without any concept of gender but had the ability to have any kind of body part whatsoever. How important is our hardware to our software when it comes to desire?” Durand brought the character from life when Parlour owner Jen Murphy asked him and Jyl Fehrenkamp to create a queer night at her Rogers Park watering hole. “The idea [for Trandroid] was a blend between Data from Star Trek and Pris from Blade Runner,” Durand says. “Most of the robots now being developed that ‘look and feel’ perfectly human are actually pleasure models, and most of them are feminine prototypes to please men which I think is kind of a testament to misogyny.”
Durand first donned drag in his native Michigan and later in Atlanta under the now-retired moniker Reno Scarlet Couture. But unlike his lip-synching counterparts in Georgia, Durand performed with a point of view. “I had my own sense of what I wanted to do,” he says. “The other queens were always really critical, as they tend to be.” In one recent Chicago performance, for example, Durand emerged as a person of faith who uses glitter and blood to heal the community. “I’m trying to tell a story from what I’m saying,” he says.
Nuts & Bolts, which kicked off in May, is a further attempt at community building. It’s currently the most exciting queer party around—a night of fashion, performance and runway based around audience participation and DIY principles. As host, Durand’s Trandroid is a minimal presence; instead a space is carved where guests are the star attraction. “It’s important for people to feel empowered to move outside of something that they wouldn’t normally otherwise do,” Durand says. “I might be some kind of ringleader or what have you, but this is an experience that we’re all having.”
Nuts & Bolts: A DIY Dance Party is Tuesday 7 at Township.