It may not come as a surprise that I am a big fan of The Museum of Sex on Fifth Avenue in New York City. From their weird and wild exhibits (currently there’s a section on the sex lives of animals) to their always-engaging gift shop to the parties they throw occasionally, I’ve been a devotee for years. But when I heard about the new, monthly Sex on Fifth Avenue party they put on, I didn’t know what to think. The party, billing itself as “the intersection of a 90s Club Kids-era party and the New York Burning Man community,” is curated by Kayvon Zand, the nightlife kingpin and sex-positive culture creator whose artistic and sensual performances have lit up New York for years. I’m a nightlife n00b, but a sex party veteran, so I was eager to figure out how these two scenes might clash—or comingle.
I got down and dirty at Sex on Fifth Avenue in early December: the scene was an intense mélange of over-the-top fashion statements, artful nudity, impossibly glamorous makeup, and performance art, all mixed in with strobe lights, fog machines, and the museum’s exhibits (which included a bouncy castle made of inflatable boobs). Afterward, I talked to Kayvon about where the party fits into the New York nightlife scene, self-expression, art, and (obviously) sex.
How’d you come to be throwing a 90s-era monthly party at the Museum of Sex?
People say that they have a spirit animal, like a certain place or person. Well, I would say that New York City is my spirit animal. It’s a place where I feel like you can be or do whatever you want. The [Sex on Fifth Avenue] party is really a part of that mentality…I wanted to create an environment that doesn’t just cater to one type of person, but is open for all types of orientations, age groups, demographics, different alternative lifestyles. People automatically want to say that Sex [on Fifth Avenue] is about sex, but the party is not a sex party. It’s really a place where everyone can celebrate and have fun and really express themselves—that’s what it’s truly about.
I was watching people in lavish costumes and makeup, climbing out of cabs and walking on stilts into the museum 27th street and 5th Avenue, and I have to admit, I was thinking, “You don’t usually see people in wild outfits going to parties in this part of town.”
You’re right. Nightlife is not what it was in the eighties or seventies, and I’m by no means of an age to have experienced that. But there’s the legend of those parties and that type of freedom, and that spirit that brought people like myself here. I feel like it was really magical. [In] the eighties and the seventies, when the city wasn’t so commercialized, the party wasn’t really about one type of crowd. You had socialites, drag queens, rock stars… a whole mix. I think that’s what really made it exciting. That’s what this party is all about, is saying that all the different types of people can express themselves…A lot of people express themselves through the way they’re dancing and celebrating their sexuality. People are able to objectify themselves on their terms, and celebrate themselves in an environment where, you know, some bro’s not going to come up to them and try to touch them disrespectfully. It’s a place of freedom where you can celebrate your body, celebrate your style, and feel safe.
It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work, too—don’t get me wrong. I mean, I work on this party every day. But I enjoy it, and I feel like it’s such an important party to be having because the nightlife is really just dying, particularly in the city.
Has it been dying, really? Or has it been happening all along and most of us just didn’t know about it?
Underground culture has [recently] been the most underground it’s been in a long time. I think in the eighties and the seventies, underground culture was more a part of mainstream nightlife culture. You had places like Limelight and Cater, these clubs that really embraced this common culture and brought it to the forefront. But then when you had Giuliani come in and clean up the city, there were a lot of limitations on drugs and recreational partying. You add in the rent increases, [and] a lot of people weren’t able to live in Manhattan. I think really that added a lot to it. But I think that nightlife is maybe the most separated it’s ever been. You get, like, a gay party where there’ll be a bunch of drag queens. You have a goth party, where it’ll be alternative dress people. Maybe you’ll have a rock show where the band will be dressed up. An art party, where certain people are dressed up. But you don’t have all these people together anymore. You don’t necessarily have these people together in Manhattan. So that’s really been my goal with this party, is to bring that to the forefront. And I really am appreciative of the Museum for seeing the value in that and giving me a platform to try to do this there.
I saw in an interview that you embrace your identity as a queer man without taking on particular labels. Is this party a place for queers?
You know, the term “queer culture” doesn’t necessarily mean what it meant twenty years ago, where “queer” meant “gay.” I think queer at this point is more of what you value and the way that you live your life as opposed to who you’re sleeping with. People are very surprised when they know that I’m engaged to a person who’s more female.
Gay nightlife to me has become just as conservative, as restricted as boring straight nightlife…I think it’s like Animal Farm. It’s like, “We want to have gay rights,” and then all of a sudden they forget the struggle. They forget what it was like to be the underdog, and the lessons that came with that. It reminds me of the things I didn’t like in typical straight culture, which is definitely the culture that I grew up with in North Carolina. I had to escape that type of mentality. I think it’s really toxic, and doesn’t make room for people to live their lives without fear. Because at the end of the day, let’s face it, the biggest fear a human deals with is not being accepted by their community. So I think that type of mentality, that homogenization, that, “If you were born in this time as this gender, this is who you should be,” that’s one of the most toxic things you could do to a human being.
Would you say that self-expression is a cornerstone of your art, musically and stylistically?
There is the cornerstone to it, and that is empowering people to hopefully live their lives without the fear of social discrimination. If you want to get even more extreme, come from a Persian background. My parents were born in Iran, so that’s a whole different level of what I want to put out there, because in Iran, if I dressed the way I do here, I’d be executed. [Growing up] I was dealing with a lot of the things that I was taught in school, like, “Oh, you should follow your dreams,” and then my Persian culture at home didn’t really agree with that mindset. My family was more like, “No, you should become a doctor or become an engineer. This is what you do.” It was a balancing act, really.
I think not having the luxury of fitting in with something altogether, you’re really forced to be your own entity because it’s just not an option, that luxury…The more minorities that speak out, the more you realize that the world isn’t all the same.
Have you ever caught anybody having sex a the Sex on Fifth Avenue party?
I haven’t personally caught anybody having sex at the party. But that’s probably because I’m running around, getting the performers, worrying about the installations, checking on the door… If I was the type of person who was getting down and going wild and partying like everyone else, then there wouldn’t be a party because I wouldn’t be able to keep it together. But to answer your question, I have not seen anyone having sex at the Museum of Sex. But I’m not the type to kiss and tell, either. Even if I had, I wouldn’t say it. So you can figure that out for yourself. Let’s just say that there are a lot of places in the Museum where people could easily get lost, so I mean, if it’s happened, it’s happened.
That’s a very gentlemanly answer. Do you have anything coming up?
I definitely have a new music video coming out, which is called “Home,” and I am going to be involved in a television show, but I can’t give you any more details about that.
Oooh, that’s exciting!
Yeah, so, more people will be aware of the Kayvon Zand brand this summer! But there are a lot of exciting things happening, I’m also doing a weekly party in Brooklyn, and I host at the Box every Friday. And I do a monthly party called Dorian Gray, which is a downtown party with a lot of performances, where you have a lot of rock type, Mud Club–inspired nightlife. I’m keeping busy!
“Dispatches from a Dark Corner” is a new interview series focusing on the passions, projects, and personalities of the humans who populate the worlds of adult entertainment, sex work, night life, and underground escapades. Lynsey G is a writerly type whose work has appeared in Bitch Magazine, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, xoJane, Menacing Hedge, Stirring: A Literary Collection, TOSKA, and others. The winner of a 2013 Feminist Porn Award for her short documentary film, she is now blogging at LynseyG.com and Luna Luna Mag, and finishing a few book projects.
Illustration by Jayel Draco.