It doesn't feel like anything. Except for complete forgiveness.
I’m the only girl at the party which isn’t unusual. But what is unusual—*highly* unusual—is seeing gay people in the daytime. We're notorious creatures of the night and I haven’t seen queer skin sparkle in the sunshine in years.
But today I'm on golden overdrive; I’m in the legendary crown jewel of gay summer: The Fire Island Pines. A small, twinky-looking stretch of sealand topped by the butch and burly south bay of Long Island, scored by the roar of Atlantic ocean waves crashing theatrically against pristine white sand.
It's my first time in what queer Manhattanites casually refer to as "The Pines" and I'm not sure I've ever had this much fun.
And while I haven't had many things in my life (skin-deep confidence, a 401k, consistent orgasms, etc)—trust me when I say—I've had fun. So much so, that I'm amazed I haven't yet accrued an honorary doctorate in ~fun~ from Harvard University! (Except, come to think of it, Harvard, unlike yours truly, is probably not an authority on fun. Maybe a breezy party school is more fitting—like, UC Santa Barbara? I don't know—I was too busy having real-life fun to go to regular college).
I'm with my best friend Owen and we're slurping back sparkling wine and hungrily observing the scene splayed before our Fire Island virgin eyes. We aren't quite ready to participate in the scene, by which I mean, we aren't ready to remove our shirts yet, even though it’s one thousand degrees and we're at a fabulous pool party and everyone around us is practically naked.
We're at a house rented by an alarmingly handsome handful of Hell's Kitchen gays I met five years back at a monthly get-together for LGBTQ+ Jews in the city. The houses in The Pines all have names and this one is called: HOUSE OF TUNA.
I know it's a delusional thought but I can't help but hope that "tuna" is a nice little Sapphic nod to lesbian culture. Gay boys notoriously view the majority of us dykes as sexless and uptight (which isn't entirely untrue), but I still choose to think we're all one big happy queer family because I prefer to live in the clouds of blissful fantasy over the bleak pavement of reality.
The pool is David Hockney blue and holds court to more six-packs than a mid-western fridge. The boys at this party are all coiffed and pretty; sensual and giddy; high and unapologetically homosexual.
It’s the first weekend of the summer season but thanks to the string of tanning salons that have been rendering the blocks of downtown New York a neon ultra-violet since the salad days of early March, everyone around me is a tawny mid-August bronze. The boring and earnest women’s publication I write for is always warning the masses about the long-term horrors of exposing young flesh to UVA rays and my straight peers would sooner take a bubble bath with Rudy Giuliani than subject their delicate skin to the sins of the sun. But the incessant fear-mongering brought to you by women's media doesn't penetrate gay culture. Gays like to live on the edge.
Plus, our insatiable thirst for achieving peak hotness, overrides the threat of one day looking like a vintage crocodile clutch worn thoughtlessly by an old Upper East Side lady. You'd be hard-pressed to find a demographic that lives more IN THE NOW than gays. Because, you see, we fantasized about THE NOW we’re living in for the entirety of our youth! What do you think kept us alive during those lonely teen years we collectively endured trapped inside sunless closets in sad suburbia? Our dreams of *this* moment.
But regardless of the poetry of finally living freely on the fierce and fabulous island of Fire, it's still a challenge to confidently remove your top the first weekend of summer, isn't it?
Maybe not for evolved, strong, politically correct entities who grew up with a surplus of body positivity somewhere gentle like I don’t know— Northern California—but that’s not us. Owen and I came of age in toxic Florida, worshipping at the altar of Kate Moss. We grew up with the ethos of food never tastes as good as skinny feels, and a slew of similar problematic mantras that never seem to leave us, no matter how many self-help books we devour.
We’re not Generation Z, you see. We're GenerationTRIM SPA, BABY. We're the embodiment of the late Anna Nicole herself: self-conscious, fucked up, haunted by perfectionism, beauty hungry, and trying our damn best.
“Why do you care about taking your shirt off? There are no lesbians here. There are no girls here.” Owen asks stamping out a real cigarette because we're in the final year before vaping replaced smoking as the unnecessary self-harming accessory en vogue.
“If I were with lesbians I would be far less afraid to take my shirt off," I sigh, staring at an icy blonde in a Barbie pink Speedo. He shamelessly snorts a bump of coke from the filter of his Parliament Light. I swear I can see a sprinkle of sparkly white powder stuck in the coarse hairs poking out from beneath his nostrils—but I’m self-aware enough to know my mind is likely playing tricks on me. After all, I'm all the way across the pool from him and have the vision of a 90-year-old drunk on her thyroid pills. I just have that kind of big imagination that borders on hallucination, so I've learned to not trust what I see.
“Why?” Owen asks.
“Because if a lesbian shows up to a party without abs everyone is still nice to her. Gay men will toss you in a van and deposit you in some scary-looking parking lot in West Virginia and won’t pick you up until you’ve grown pecks.”
Owen snickers darkly. “I have to go to the bathroom,” he announces, skittering away like a deli mouse.
“Do you want me to come with you?” I call after him, my voice high-pitched; frizzy and maternal; like a Brooklyn mom.
He pauses, reflectively. “No, I’m good, Z," he affirms proudly, as if he's stepping into a new season of life, a new version of himself, a new chapter in the story. He confidently swishes through the open French Doors as if he's entering a portal to real self-esteem and autonomy. He's just going to the bathroom, but you and I both know that a trip to the bathroom, all alone at a party, can lead to wild and unwavering life epiphanies.
“How quickly my status dwindles when you’re amongst hot men,” I clip like I’m pissed but I’m not pissed. Not in the slightest. I love watching people come into their power, even if it means I’ll inevitably get ditched for gay sex in the next several hours and probably have to brave the ferry alone at 2 a.m.
SLURP. I drain my plastic champagne glass and toss it recklessly on a deck chair. I'm buzzed and brazen and no longer afraid of exposing my imperfect body to an army of unlikely gym rats. I peer down at my outfit. I'm wearing a long white tulle skirt and a tiny ruffled white bikini top.
The bottom of my skirt is soiled from our journey to The Pines, which included three subways, two transfers on the Long Island Railroad, one sweaty shuttle, and one briney ferry ride through temperamental waters. Public transportation and long white skirts go together like binge drinking and tight deadlines—I know better than to dress like this on a day like this.
But knowing better exercises a vastly different muscle than *doing* better.
My hair is in two tight Dutch braids that Owen styled for me in transit, much to the amusement of the stoic businessmen commuting from the city to the suburbs. My eye-makeup is smudgy and black and I’m wearing giant cheap sunglasses I bought on the street at St. Marks Place before St. Marks Place was overrun with NYU students and fast fashion institutions replaced open-air punk rock markets. I’m disheveled and sandy and smell like sea spray and cheap rosé—but somehow I feel prettier than I have in a long time maybe my whole life even.
The house we’re partying at is seductive, a spectacle of sexuality and salaciousness. The kind of Mid-Century modern mini-mansion that exudes money and pornography; sodomy and self-preservation; big spending and booze-bending. It’s all shiny glass windows and towering spiral staircases and double high ceilings with big, wooden beams and unexpected skylights and big glossy bathrooms that smell like expensive cologne and hard drugs. It’s clearly a house designed for glamorous orgies. New York Magazine in the '70s once said: “Orgy is a grand old tradition of Fire Island.”
I've only been here a few hours, but I couldn't possibly agree more with New York Magazine.
Owen returns, smirking, and hands me a plastic flute full glimmering with champagne bubbles. He's also shirtless. He begins engaging with someone cute and I don't want to be a clam jam (the lesbian version of a cock block) so I grasp a hunk of tulle from the bottom of my skirt and brave the spiral staircase. I’m a soft champagne buzzed—not even teetering toward destructively drunk—but still, I worry about slipping through the giant chasms that exist between each step. Maybe that's a metaphor, maybe it's not, I don't know today and won't know tomorrow.
I eye a group of boys I know from late nights on Christopher Street huddled together on the roof deck.
“Hiii,” I purr trying my hardest to smile but my braids are too tight, I can’t move my face. I begin to undo them.
“Z!” Sanders squeals. “I haven’t seen you in forever.”
“That skirt is everything.” Luke slurs.
“Looks like someone stepped on it,” Cody whines even though I know he’s not whining his voice just does that.
“Want to do a popper?” Sanders asks graciously.
“Yes,” I say because I’m a fucking lady and when you’re on gay boy turf it’s extraordinarily rude to turn down a popper.
I sniff in the sweet, medicinal popper smell and suddenly I’m laughing and the sky is spinning like a dreidel and it feels like fireworks are exploding inside of my brain. Electric green dots pepper my blurry vision and suddenly I’m dancing in the crosshairs of euphoria and panic attack. Right as I’m riding the seesaw of acute fear and wild orgasm of the senses—it’s over.
I can feel my feet pressed into the ground and a great wash of clarity showers my brain clean.
Maybe it’s not so much clarity as it is sobriety. Poppers knock you on your ass for under a minute but when you “come to” the difference is so stark you can mistake not feeling like you're upside down on a rickety rollercoaster, for great, profound clarity.
“It’s time for tea!” Sanders suddenly bellows and I witness a flock of boys collectively gasp: “So soon?”
I sneak away because I want to catch the sunset alone.
I sit on the dock alone in my filthy tulle skirt with a red solo cup of white wine and watch the most magnificent sunset of my life sprawl itself across the sky. It’s a soft sunset. Pale blue, baby pink, creamy clouds. There’s a gold cast to the light and everything looks like it’s glittering. Everything glitters in The Pines, I think quietly.
I take my cheap sunglasses off and touch the water with my fingertips. It’s cold and fresh and reminds me of being a kid on Long Island. I turn around and look at the crowd of landlocked boys in their tight shirts and tight shorts who are closely gathered around a patio bar clutching vodka sodas. They’re engaging in the Fire Island tradition of Low Tea—where all the boys on the island gather to clamor around a small bar on a dock to chat and cruise and numb their teenage traumas with alcohol and the unconditional love of community. High Tea will soon start and that’s a whole different vibe but I don’t know that yet because, like I mentioned, this is my first trip to The Pines.
I see Owen in the distance and feel airy inside. I’ve been dark inside for so long but today it's like someone has opened the curtains in my heart and a streak of sun has turned my insides as bright and as light as an early childhood Sunday afternoon.
When I experience moments like this all the bullshit that consumes me turns to dust. I’m not beating myself up for not being a more talented writer or the beachy blonde I’ve always longed to be or for ruining so many opportunities when I was younger. The internal voice taunts me like a schoolyard bully is silenced by the sedative that is the sea. The anxiety and dread and regret that make me feel so heavy it’s hard to pull my limbs out of bed—let alone move through the world—melt into my skin like a bougie body oil from Sephora. I remember how shiny I am. How small. How free. And it doesn’t feel like anything.
Except for complete forgiveness.
I stare at the water, entranced. I stare at the sky and realize the sun has set and there is a tiny sliver of moon making its way through the smoky clouds. The moon looks holographic.
Even though I can hear chatter and glasses clinking and the sweet hum of boat engines revving up in the distance—there is a stillness in the air. The water is the color of gun-metal, the color of oil, the color of the sky after the sun sets but before the nighttime has crept in and has completely stolen all the daylight.
I exhale and my breath makes a tiny ripple across the water. The outline of my body is reflected in the mirror of the sea and I’m very aware that I’m alive, that I’m here, that I live in this body, that I’m home. A flock of birds squawk into the sky which is now black velvet. And I swear I can hear ’em say:
You’re going to be okay.
You’re going to be okay.
You’re going to be okay.