On the day the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to recommend a man credibly accused of sexual assault for a seat on the nation’s highest court, five consent monitors, better known as “consenticorns”, convened on the outdoor patio of House of Yes, a Brooklyn club co-founded by millennial nightlife impresarios Anya Sapozhnikova and Kae Burke.

On the agenda: a quick refresher on their duties for the evening. It was 10:30 p.m., Friday, and the club’s monthly erotic dance party, the House of Love, was about to begin.

As the meeting kicked off, a bag was passed around containing light-up garlanded headpieces shaped like unicorn horns, one for each volunteer. Unicorns are notoriously hard to spot, but consenticorns would be easy to find everywhere: lecturing partygoers at the club’s entrance, weaving across the dance floor, hovering near the hot tub, and occasionally popping into a small room in the back, where vintage skin flicks would unspool throughout the night.

There was no discussion of the dramatic scenes of that week — neither the calm, persuasive testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, PhD, alleging that Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her several decades before; nor Kavanaugh’s evasive, self-pitying response; nor the climactic decision by Senator Jeff Flake to force a one-week postponement in the final vote so the FBI could look into the charges or maybe just offer Flake and his fellow moderates a fig leaf for voting yes.

A few of the consenticorns had heard about the hearings on social media. They knew the broad strokes. But they had more pressing concerns: rewriting the rules that govern contemporary sexual behavior.

House of Yes’s consent program, spearheaded by marketing director Jacqui Rabkin and consultant Emma Kaywin, is based on similar protocols long in use at private, erotic “play” parties. It was designed not only to ensure that one of New York City’s most highly sexualized club events was a positive experience for all, but also to chip away at the culture of male privilege that has made sexual assault and harassment so commonplace.

The House of Yes’s consent policies emerged gradually, over the last few years. One turning point came in 2016, when Kaywin, 30, was groped during a party there. She told her friend Rabkin, 32, who’d left her MD-PhD program not long before to become the club’s marketing director, that she’d had enough. “Why don’t you do something about it?” Rabkin suggested.

House of Yes cofounders Kae Burke and Anya Sapozhnikova. Photos: Sasha B Photography

Kaywin, who is pursuing a doctorate in health education, started writing up a protocol. There are now 54 consenticorns, most of whom have gone through Kaywin’s two-hour training. For now, the focus is on the House of Love party, which is especially challenging due to the racy atmosphere and attire, but there are plans to expand the program to other events.

It is the consenticorns’ job to observe interactions and look for signs that someone might feel unsafe. In most cases, making eye contact is enough to prevent trouble. Sometimes they’ll engage more directly, “Hi. How are you guys doing? You good?” And if they spot a situation that seems really problematic, they dance up to the couple in question, maybe get right in between them, and gently but firmly reiterate the policies. “Worst case scenario,” consenticorn West Lenz, 30, explained, “We’re like, ‘Hey, you get to leave!’”

A recent House of Yes party. Photo: Grace Chu.

Successful enforcement begins at the door, where a consenticorn is stationed throughout the night to school each attendee, newcomers and regulars alike, on the precise expectations, which are: do not to engage with someone physically — even if you came together, even if you’ve been intimate in the past — without first receiving affirmative consent. If someone is intoxicated, they can’t consent, so forget it. Photography is not allowed, so don’t pull out your phone unless you’re calling an Uber. And if you’re not in costume, you ain’t getting in.

At the trainee meeting, Hannah Fritz, 28, reminded the volunteers not to bunch up in one room, to keep an eye on dark corners, and to hand out free water to anyone who seemed in need.

“And if anyone is not willing to pay attention and accept your speech, you let us know right away, shamelessly!” commanded Madame Viv, the club’s doorperson, who was in Marilynesque drag and towering over everyone, even sans heels.

Unlike many nightclubs, which place a premium on curation — favoring a particular class of patron, typically models and guys with money to burn on bottle service — House of Yes aims for radical inclusivity. Anyone is welcome, as long as they’re wearing a costume that reflects the night’s theme, described in detail on the online event page.

The night I went, the dress code was, “Lace, leather, latex, lingerie. Fetish Chic, Fashion Fierce, Femme Domme, Seductress and Suave, High End Haute Couture, Nearly Nude [and] Power Suits,” exclusively in black and white. “Jeans, T-shirts, and casual clothing are strictly prohibited,” the description added. Anyone still stumped could follow a link to a Pinterest mood board. And for the truly clueless, there was a van parked right outside filled with inexpensive last-minute costumes.

The costume truck. Photo: Aaron Gell.

Nonetheless, several would-be partygoers had clearly missed the fine print. Around midnight, a pair of seemingly straight, white men, in their 20s, were standing in line. Average height, clean cut, fit. They’d made a good faith effort, having doffed their shirts and strapped fluffy white angels wings over their bare shoulders. They wore an air of confidence. Admission seemed like a lock.

All they had to do, besides parting with $50 apiece for the cover, was get past Alesha Sedasey, 32, the petite, African-American consenticorn who was working the door.

She wore glasses, a black cloak, a white dress she’d sewn herself, a leather corset and fishnet stockings. After going over the ground rules, she shook her head at the pair of dudes. “No denim,” she said firmly.

“Seriously?” one asked plaintively. “So like, what are we supposed to do?”

“Take ’em off,” she said. “You’ll fit right in.”

“Like, strip right here?”

“You got it,” she said, handing each a coat check ticket.

It was a small thing, really, one fleeting reversal in a male-female power dynamic that has existed forever. But for a moment at least, the Judiciary Committee hearing room seemed like another planet. It was hard not to wonder how things might have turned out had young a Brett Kavanaugh rolled up to House of Yes one night. Maybe he would have learned something from the experience.

The bewinged bros glanced at each other and shrugged. Down came the pants.

Sapozhnikova and Burke didn’t know they were fighting a revolution back in 2007 when they launched House of Yes on a quiet block in Ridgewood, Queens. The two high school friends from Rochester, New York, then just 20, were simply trying to throw some parties to help pay the rent on the 2,500-square-foot loft they’d turned into a performance studio and living space for themselves and some friends. At the time, they were studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology, dabbling in sex work, and developing a shared interest in circus arts, performance, and design.

Over the next decade, they gradually reinvented nightlife in their own image — at once flamboyant and friendly, aggressively avant-garde and relentlessly sincere. They eventually settled into in a 7,000-square-foot former industrial laundry in the Bushwick neighborhood in Brooklyn, and before long, their club was routinely listed among the best in New York City. Ian Schrager, co-founder of Studio 54, recently approached them about a collaboration.

Meanwhile, as the club has become more popular — routinely drawing foreign tourists and curiosity seekers — the issue of consent has loomed even larger. “It started as this beautiful underground space for friends and family,” Kaywin says, “and suddenly, it became this hot nightclub. There were more people looking to party and get laid, and with that comes people who are grabby and non-consenting.”

The surprise election of Donald Trump brought the issue to the forefront. When their election night hangovers lifted, the partners realized they were living in a new world, one in which their friendly dance floor paradise, in which all races, ethnicities, sexualities, genders and body types are welcome, suddenly felt like a precious zone of political liberation.

“One day, it’s all fun and games,” Sapozhnikova says, “and the next day it’s like, ‘I am making a radical statement against the regime!’”

Even while overseeing the business, they still find time to write, direct, and perform in most of House of Yes’s many shows. Sapozhnikova does burlesque and aerial acrobatics; Burke often emcees, playing a variety of comedic characters. Sapozhnikova describes the club itself as a kind of rehearsal studio, where new social paradigms can be workshopped and perfected. “It’s a controlled environment where we get to live exactly how we feel we should be living and create a society exactly how it should be,” she says. “We’re practicing our freedom.”

Over the years, they developed a set of core values. “We obsess about equality and humanity and diversity,” says Sapozhnikova. “We said, ‘Let’s make women feel safe on the dance floor and practice consent to the max.’ And guess what? It makes for the best dance party in the city.”

As the clock ticked past 2 a.m., the line outside began to thin. Sedasey was talking about the Kavanaugh hearings. “Lindsey Graham is a hypocrite and a liar and a fool, and I am so sick of the Republican party,” she said. “Kavanaugh basically pulled a temper tantrum.”

I asked her the biggest lesson being a consenticorn had taught her. “That heteronormativity is really fucking weird! So many guys are like, ‘Hey, I’m here to look at skin, not show it!’” She shook her head. “Dude, if you want to participate in a sexy party, participate in a sexy party.”

It’s not only men who sometimes require reeducation. “Lots of girls think they should get in for free,” Madame Viv points out. “I tell them, ‘Ladies, this is something that the patriarchy has put in place. They let you in for free so you can get drunk and people can take advantage of you. You are not a commodity! You are a human being and you are part of this experience!’

“So then they’re like, ‘Yeah!’ and then I’m like, ‘So it’s $50 per person!’”

A recent night at House of Yes. Photo: Grace Chu.

Inside, the party was in full swing. A few couples were making out. Spankings and light floggings were available. A man wearing a dog collar on a chain was being led around by a woman in a latex bustier. In the hot tub, hidden behind bamboo screens, a woman was explaining the American political system to a pair of French guys. A man sporting a Boba Fett helmet, a leather chest harness and little else was busting a move on the dance floor. And the two dudes with the angels wings were having a drink on the patio. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Not long ago, Sapozhnikova celebrated her 32nd birthday with a massive party. At one point, she read a speech describing the utopia House of Yes was trying to will into being, a magical place where consenticorns would be obsolete and even the Supreme Court would be a safe space.

“Imagine a world where sexuality is celebrated,” she began. “Pretend that equality and inclusivity are mainstream. Envision a place where people dance together instead of ripping each other apart. Let’s celebrate the freedom that we still have and not take it for granted.

“Let us all lead by example,” she concluded. “And get ratchet as fuck.”