now on view in NYC

RADICAL PERVERTS: Ecstasy and Activism in Queer Public Space, 1975-2000

“Protest and political action are inextricable from even the kinkiest lgbtq venues,”

As the sexual vibrancy of 1970’s gay liberation took hold, LGBTQ folks found freedom in the relatively private spaces of BDSM bars, bathhouses, porn theaters, parks and tearooms. Anonymous encounters, consensual play, clear social code, and time to stay, created an ease of communication and community-building, away from the heterosexual gaze. Inherently political in their housing and promotion of ‘deviance,’ these places (and the people who frequented them) have never been neutral. When in 1978, Samois, a newly formed Lesbian S/M organization declared themselves ‘‘radical perverts’, opposed to all social hierarchies based on sexual preference’ they faced harsh push back from some lesbian feminists who believed BDSM to be a dangerous extension of patriarchal power. And the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic brought new challenges from both within and outside of the LGBTQ community, to the validity of sexually-charged sites and their responsibility to public health if allowed to remain in operation. Pro-sex activists and leatherfolk, however, recognized the deep value in the connection to those spaces that many felt, and began using them to develop groundbreaking ideas around safer sex, mutual aid organizing, and health education. While most of the BDSM bars, bathhouses, porn theaters and tearooms from that era have since shuttered, they are held sacred for the expansive space they made and the revolutionary actions produced within their walls.

For more than a decade, Alexis Heller worked to empower LGBTQIA+ young people in settings such as foster care, homeless shelters, drop-in centers and schools. She began an independent curatorial practice in 2012 centering marginalized LGBTQIA+ and feminist histories. Heller has organized exhibitions for institutions including the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, Smack Mellon, The 8th Floor, The Handwerker Gallery at Ithaca College, as well as several alternative art spaces. She currently lives between New York and Costa Rica.


Alexis Heller


Laura Metzler, Exhibitions and Curatorial Manager
Kayla Janaé Smith, Curatorial Project Assistant


Eunice Yunjeong Lee


Cletis Chatterton


Winston Forgenie Jr.
Edgar Samudio


Allison Halter
Flores Painting
John Freeman
Kaye Torres
Sara Sciabbarrasi