Beyond Gay Marriage

A circle of friends point toward the next battle for acceptance

Watch the news reports on gay marriage and you'd think the queer community had magically morphed into a Noah's Ark of same-sex couples—all conveniently packaged two by two, a place for everything and everything in its place. Fit neatly into one of these circumscribed categories and maybe we'll make room for you at the dinner table.

Now consider this proverbial wrench: a Brooklyn-based group of lesbian, gay, transgender, and straight friends who hang out, make out, and uphold an anything-goes policy on who gets with whom. A lesbian can kiss a gay man, a transgender can sleep with a straight woman—without fear of the reproach they might receive elsewhere from members of the queer and straight communities alike.

"A lot of queer culture can be hung up on identity," confesses Jude River Allan, 25, a sweet, cuddly cub who used to bartend at the Hole, where many of the friends first met. "Dykes can be hung up on other dykes if they have sex with men. Fags can be hung up on other fags if they have sex with women. Dykes and fags can be transphobic when there are trannies around."

One bed, many half-naked people
photo: Tina Zimmer/www.tinazimmer.com
One bed, many half-naked people

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    In this crew, which is tantamount to a "subculture within a subculture," explains River, "you can do whatever you want, and none of us are going to have issue with it."

    Not a minor point, when many of the friends share a frustration at being shoved into either/or categories meant to dictate their sexual behavior round-the-clock—categories that often prove inadequate. "I don't identify as a man or a woman," says Isabelle, 24, a transgender Bowie-like beauty with peroxide-white hair and sensibly high patent heels. "I shift around. I mostly sleep with women, but not exclusively. When I sleep with a straight woman, there's a skepticism from the queer community, from moving within the straight world. . . . I've had experiences where gay men were stressed-out by the fact that I sleep with women."

    Taryn Wilder, 29, a foxy fire-breathing bartender at Lucky 13 with a Chrissie Hynde shag, just doesn't appreciate the lesbian-sisterhood beatdown whenever she or anyone she knows strays outside the limits. "I just want go out and have a good time," she says. "I don't ever want to have to be what somebody else says I am." Says River: "I've had numerous gay men friends tell me they still fantasize about having sex with women, but it's not something they'd say around each other for fear of the reaction."

    Although the friends are openly affectionate with each other, to River, it's more "free queer love" than actual polyamory. Some are in monogamous relationships; others are not. What they do share is an almost familial closeness and, according to Isabelle, "a respect for one another's individual exploration." For Dario Speedwagon, 42, a DJ who lives with his boyfriend and jokingly declares himself "king of the lesbians," making out is just "affection within the group."

    "We all think of each other as sexy, and that's part of what keeps us going," River says. "We have the support from each other. It's OK to be overweight, to have piercings, to have tattoos. Just as long as you're happy with it, we are." Still, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention that most possess the taut skin and tight bodies of the under-30 set—even those over 40—and that most hail from Williamsburg, the magical land where ugly folk get sucked up by manholes and spit back out in Hackensack.

    What all appreciate, above their mutual comeliness, is the acceptance and diversity within the circle. Miguel McNamara, 22, a Museum of Sex employee who just moved from Minneapolis a few months ago, explains, "It's a relief to see gays, lesbians, trannies, bisexuals hanging out together, having fun together, and creating a really queer space." It's not a world you necessarily encounter elsewhere: "I've been to some lesbian clubs," says Trish, the cross- dressing baby of the group, "and it'd all be very feminine. And I'd walk in, and they wouldn't know what to think of me." Dario avoids Chelsea because, he says, "I want boys, I want girls, I want a mix of both."

    Unable to find that one venue that satisfies all their Citysearch needs—"too many spaces and events in most cities are so gender segregated," complains Miguel—the crew can often be found on Sundays at Metropolitan for the afternoon BBQ and Dario's TNT party in the evening, occasional Tuesdays at Bar 13 for Snapshot, Fridays at Fun, and Thursdays at Don Hill's for 'Stache, hosted by Tommy, Zach, and Duch. "Everyone flocks to our group," says Dario. "It's a group that you can't fit into a stereotype."

    It's also a reminder of some gnawing issues both the queer and straight communities can't afford to ignore: an alienating fractiousness within New York nightlife, stereotyping within as well as outside the queer community, and the perception of sexuality in absolutes.

    The battle for gay marriage is just the beginning.


    Miguel: I prefer to identify either as a queer boy or simply as outrageous.

    Everyone touts the idea of monogamy or commitment at the same time that rates of adultery are soaring. It becomes rather not an ideal, but an impossibility through which we masochistically beat ourselves up when we don't measure up.


    Trish: I go by "genderqueer." I prefer that label. . . .

    I'm not transgender, but there's a possibility I will transition in the future. And I do cross-dress, stuff like that.

    I'm attracted to a lot of different types of people; it's more a matter of their personality. I don't care what clothes they wear or which bathroom they go into. It's very easy for me to hang out with a lot of different types of people. It's just hard when you're the sore thumb hanging out in the wrong type of crowd.


    Victoria Lesiw: It's such a supportive group of people because they've had such a hard time being accepted elsewhere. And it is so sad that it's so hard for people to get. But that you have to deal with so much stuff—it grounds you, makes you more real. This is not a group I expected to have, but I'm so glad it is. If I had to move to gay Williamsburg to have this, then I'm glad I did.

    It's sad to me that my groups of friends don't overlap, because I think both groups would get along so well. But it's hard for me to get my straight friends to go to gay bars, and vice versa.

    Being the heterosexual in the group, I'll go to parties, and it'll be assumed I'm a lesbian. But it never matters in the end. I've always been comfortable around everyone, except for the second where I have to be like, "Um, I'm sorry, I'm straight."


    Isabelle: It's not about feeling free of constraints. I don't want to fall outside of them, I want to move within them. Sometimes it becomes as much about trying on a mode of behavior and playing a certain role as much as it is about an object of desire.

    I feel politically and socially invested in the idea of non-monogamy. It can bring difficulty, but it is something worth fighting for.

    The biggest misconception about the transgender community is perhaps that there is a transgender community. There is a pool of individuals sharing a few specific experiences, but not a trans community. With transwomen, there is this association with drag. I feel like I'm often seen as a drag queen as much as a woman. And sometimes I am, but not all the time.


    River: Polyamory is something I've been really committed to being for about nine years. For me, being polyamorous is about being committed to a different kind of family structure. You really push yourself, and push your lovers. Being in poly relationships has required a lot more as far as trust, communication, and willingness to experience things than in any monogamous relationship I was in. In Philadelphia, I lived in a house with four lovers and four people committed to being polyamorous. And the relationship we formed with each other—there was more love in that house than I'd ever felt before. We were all there for each other, and truly loved each other.

    I feel like the human heart has so much potential for opening up and embracing as many people and as many experiences as it can—and I feel like being polyamorous is a big part of that.

    The process of coming out poly is a lot harder than coming out queer because it's not in the media, because it's not looked about highly. It's seen as corny people wanting to have sex, and it's not about that, at least not for me. Usually when I see anything that has to do with polyamory, it's always straight—a lot of time it's swingers— and it's usually focused around sex and not around commitment and love. To have polyamory be overlooked or misrepresented by the queer community, it's very odd. Especially by a community that's been so misrepresented itself.

    I struggled during high school and growing up—I'd been in relationships and I'd always cheat, but it never felt wrong to me. It never changed how I felt about them. The only thing that felt wrong was the breaking of the trust. It never occurred to me that there was another option.

    Whenever I feel a tinge of jealousy, it goes away once I think about the amazing experience the other person is having. Love is one of the most important things we can experience as humans, and I don't want anyone I'm with to not experience that because of me. Some of my friends and I have a poly brunch group that meets once a month. People don't understand the kind of relationships we're in, what it requires to be successfully polyamorous. Even with some of my other friends, they know I have my boyfriend, but they'll see me flirt or make out with others, and I'll get dirty looks. A polyamorous relationship is not seen as true a relationship as a monogamous one.


    Dario: My relationship with my boyfriend is monogamous. The only people we make out with are girls, or each other. I guess girls aren't a threat to our relationship.

    I'm so happy, and I love my friends—and I will rip tops off whether it's a girl or a boy, and they know that and love that.

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