On Point With: Shane Cherry

One of the City’s queer geek population’s most noteworthy dungeon masters, producer, game leader and drag husband Shane Cherry keeps the kids coming back to the playpen week after week. And this Tuesday marks an important anniversary for both Shane AND Thotyssey! [Cover photo: Fwee Carter]

Thotyssey: Hey Shane, long time no see! So did you partake in NYC Comic Con Weekend at all?

Shane Cherry: Hey hey! Sadly, I’m not making an appearance at Comic Con this time around. If you’re going, grab me some cheap Magic rares! I think I just burn out on conventions a bit after Flame Con, so usually I stay a bit more laid back in October. But I love everything Comic Con is meant to celebrate, and I’ll definitely be watching some “best of cosplay” videos afterwards.

Flame Con was this past August’s annual queer geek version of genre convention… how was it, by the way?

It was great! I work with my colleagues in NYC Gaymers to take over the Gaymer Lounge at Flame Con every year, and this year wasn’t any different. I’ll admit that coming out of the pandemic, there were some new logistical challenges that threw us for a loop… but the team came together to really put together a magical experience under some pretty tight deadlines! Best of all, I got to spend most of the convention in camp counselor mode, playing games and generally being a dork.

You are known as a true shepherd of the queer and geeky in NYC… are you ever surprised by the huge numbers of queer geeks in the city that you encounter at your events or beyond?

Surprised? Not at all. Everyone’s got something they’re passionate about now that could’ve got them bullied in high school. I absolutely love that we’re seeing sci-fi, fantasy, and everything else nerdy become mainstream, though, because everyone loves something nerdy… and all we really want is someone to fan out about it with.

Let’s reveal your superqueerdo origin story! Where are you from originally, and what were your first geeky passions while growing up?

I grew up in the Philly suburbs, and I was lucky enough to have a nerdy mom… so Star Wars became an early passion. We used to watch X-Files and Star Trek together, and read Lord of the Rings together before bed. And she was an absolute legend at Dr. Mario, and as a kid, I watched on in awe as she earned the secret “ending” in NES Tetris.

Wow! What brought you to NYC, and how did you start mixing it up with the nightlife girls?

Like many, I moved to New York with the love of my life… and we broke up six months later. But once I was here, there’s just a spirit of adventure in the city that I didn’t want to leave. Fortunately, I started finding folks I knew from college–including at-the-time King of Twink Nightlife, Justin Luke. We had done a project together a while back, and he helped me make sure I found my footing.

One night, I posted in one of his online communities about hosting a “Super Smash Bros.” night in my HK studio… and in minutes, it had twenty people interested in coming by. I quickly moved the event to Vlada Lounge, and it went so well that Justin invited me to work with BoiParty over at Splash. I really have him to thank for showing me the ropes… and I even met my husband at one of his events!

That husband is beloved local pageant queen FiFi DuBois, and in an inspired moment you proposed to her onstage after her Miss’d America stepdown. That must have been a thrilling and nerve-wracking moment!

FiFi later said how mad she was at Honey Davenport who had the job of keeping her on stage after her number, because she thought her sis was coming for her moment! But when I came out, and couldn’t even say a word, I got on one knee. She started nodding, and [pageant host] Carson Kressley shouted, “they’re getting hitched!” to thunderous applause. The mayor of Atlantic City even offered to officiate. But I probably still owe FiFi an apology for causing her to cry in face!

Aw, lol! Drag itself is a bit of a geek pursuit in a way, but would you say that FiFi is as gay-geeky as you?

We’re geeks for different things. Ask FiFi a Disney question and she’ll give you an essay in response… but she didn’t know Star Wars at all until it started showing up at the parks. It was actually really precious when we finally watched the movies together; she audibly gasped when (I suppose spoilers, technically) Obi-Wan died!

Tell us a bit about prior-mentioned NYC Gaymers and also Geeks OUT, two groups you do stuff with!

This is a great question because I think folks tend to lump all the nerdy organizations together. Not that I mind; the folks over at Geeks OUT do amazing work. They’ve really enshrined themselves in New York nerd culture with Flame Con as their signature event. Though we collaborate there, in addition to my own events–which I suspect you know a little about since you co-host one with me!–I’m more closely associated to NYC Gaymers.

NYCG started as a Facebook group, and quickly became a community. Over time we started asking ourselves how we distinguish our community from other queer gaming spaces, and we decided to be very intentional about inclusivity. There’s a toxicity present in the overarching gaming community that comes from a lot of factors including malicious actors, and a particularly large one can be the cognitive disconnect that occurs when you get behind the anonymity of a screen.

So we wanted to focus on making sure the most marginalized folks in the queer umbrella feel safe with us. Every LGBTQIA+ gaming space is safe for cis gay men, but there’s a lot of other folks in that community. Ace folks, trans folks, lesbians — everyone deserves a space to geek out with their friends without feeling like an outsider! So NYCG chooses to focus on providing spaces that are welcoming for everyone, and we’ve grown from Facebook group to official nonprofit. Now we advocate for queer representation within the industry on a national scale as we still set up events right here in the city to get nerdy!

One weekly event you’ve been running independently for awhile now is “Arcade” at Rockbar, Saturdays at 3pm through the early evening! You’ve got video games and various board games there, all in a very divey fun environment that is Rockbar on Christopher Street. How did Arcade begin, and how did you find your regulars there?

Grindr. I’m kidding, mostly! But in the early days, Grindr absolutely helped. Nerds have needs, too… so it turns out it was a good place to find them! As for the Arcade event itself: back in the day, I was jumping from bar to bar trying to find a forever home, and Achilles–one of the nerdy promoters relatively early in the field–had us all gather together and sort of hold court for all the nerds. It was a really cute night focusing on unity in the community, and all the nerd group leaders were there. [Rockbar owner] Jason Romas, who had been doing a weekly trivia night, suggested we try Saturday afternoons at Rockbar… and we’ve been there ever since. It’s the nerd kink bear weirdo bar, and it’s home. We’ve been there almost a decade now!

Rockbar is also the home of Miss Nerd, a big annual event you produce and FiFi often hosts, where the city’s most geek-centric drag performers are crowned! What inspired this pageant, and any plans on reviving it?

It was my husband’s influence on me! FiFi is a pageant queen, and I absolutely fell in love with pageantry as she competed in various systems. Nerds and nerdy nightlife have become more and more mainstream now, and I thought it was time to create a nerd-focused pageant so we could crown someone to represent the queer nerd community. So we went out and made the nerdiest pageant we could, following classic pageant structure with our own little twists!

Sadly, Miss Nerd has been on the back burner for a while now; the pandemic really halted our momentum. So I guess Megami and Fox Squire–the current Miss and Mr. Nerd New York–get to luxuriate in a much longer reign than usual. I’m looking to bring it back in the future, rebranded and refreshed as Mx. Nerd New York. We’re not here to police anyone’s gender or gatekeep pageantry, so it’s very important to me that we make sure folks of all genders feel comfortable competing.

I’m really hoping to get together a larger team of intentional humans when I’m next able to really put some chutzpah behind it. Really the largest challenge in Mx Nerd is that it’s outgrown me! I need a team of four to five folks to revitalize the pageant and give it the attention it deserves. But don’t count Mx. Nerd out yet! It’s not coming back in 2022, but I’ve had a few preliminary conversations with mysterious parties… and there’s definitely some possibilities on the horizon!

So if early Saturday gaming gatherings in the West Village aren’t your thing, there’s a late weeknight session of geeky gaming in Hell’s Kitchen as well: “Level Up,” which I have the privilege of co-producing with you! This one is 8pm Tuesdays at Atlas Social Club in HK, with all the board games of Arcade plus a Nintendo Switch with tons of controllers! We originally started doing this at the late XOXO Bar, but the sizeable and comfy lounge area in the back of Atlas is an ideal space for queer gamers to gather. How fun has this been!?

Well I work with a real jerk–no, I love it! And it’s been great working with you this whole time. I think we’ve got a nice casual game vibe going on! We can dip into the back room for a quick board game, where we can keep the lighting bright enough to see stuff, and the giant TV is great for Smash Bros. It’s rare we play a real intense game there; that’s usually more a Saturday thing. But it’s great to chill out after work. And I’ve even gotten you to play Jackbox games with us once or twice!

Yes, I am terrible at all games and usually just try to lure in the non-gaymers to hang, lol! Although I did recently win a round of Uno…

Whatever it is we’re doing must be working, because this Tuesday marks our year anniversary at Atlas! Being that it’s also the Spooky Season, we’re going to host a “No F’s Given” costume contest where effort and labor in Halloween looks will be frowned upon and the most cleverly inept look will win a bar tab! I can’t wait for this!

I’m very excited to judge this contest completely arbitrarily! …I mean objectively, of course.

You also host an ongoing role playing game via podcast. What’s that about, and where and when can the kids hear this?

Thanks for asking–I’m really trying to get in the habit of being an annoying podcast person who works it into every conversation! The Legend of Nat 1 is a Dungeons and Dragons live play campaign, meaning we’re inviting you to listen in at our game table and come along with us on the adventure. Our current campaign is set in a post-apocalyptic world where we ride cybernetic ostriches and drink mutated cockroach milk to survive… but also giggle at fisting jokes and dad puns.

We’re nearing the end of our second season of that campaign, and there’s also a lot of other nonsense on the feed–like a teenage drama side story I DM’ed that I described as “D&D by the CW,” an adventure we did based on Toy Story including a parody song sung poorly, and an entirely new quick play game called “F*** Around and Find Out,” where your characters only roll to do two things: “mess” around or find out! It’s been a wild ride so far as we figure out our voice as a show, and also just learn as we go. And of course, we’re gay as a double rainbow! We’re going strong and getting pretty damn good! Trust me, a completely unbiased source!

We’re currently releasing every other Wednesday. Folks can tune in to The Legend of Nat 1 on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Podbean, etc.–pretty much every major platform, or directly here. It’s actually a great time to jump in; we just released a recap episode for listeners who don’t want to go all the way back to the beginning. I could talk about it all day, but I’ll let folks give it a listen instead.

Is there anything else you wanna plug or discuss or mention?

Bidets… but that joke only makes sense if you listen to the podcast. Generally good advice, though!

Indeed! Lastly… who is the sexiest video game character ever?

Oh, that’s a tough one! I’m sure plenty of folks would expect me to say Link, and I do love a blonde twink. But there’s also so many pretty anime boys in Fire Emblem, Walking Dead’s Lee is hunky, I swoon for boys with emo bangs like Persona 3’s main character… and I’m usually not too into body hair, but I don’t think I’d kick Zangief out of bed. But know what? I think I’ve gotta go with Ghirahim… and I should probably call my therapist.

Lol! See you Tuesday, Shane!

Check Thotyssey’s calendar for Shane Cherry’s upcoming appearances, and follow him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Listen to his podcast here or on several popular platforms.

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