Even beyond the bubbly atmosphere of Sona, I don’t know if I’d call myself “visibly queer.” As a writer it’s easy to avoid topics like gender identity, hormone therapy, and the absolute joy that is going through puberty again in your early 20s, especially when you mostly write articles about mixing cocktails and kitchen hacks. Not only is that information personal, but in a country that still seems unsure whether people like me deserve to be treated with dignity, I try to be careful about how and when I share it with others.
But at drag brunch, I realized, visibility is the entire point. For the staff, for the performers, and for an audience largely made up of same-sex couples, the event is about creating something unmistakably gay. And where that unabashed queerness might have made me shift in my seat before transitioning, after my second or third mimosa, it started to feel like a comfort. Servers called me “Miss” and complimented my nails. I got drunk in the early afternoon without worrying about being harassed on a dark, lonely walk home. I sang along in my seat to Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.” I was having fun. So much fun that the queens noticed and I was pulled from my seat to dance. And not to be like “and then everyone clapped,” but everyone actually clapped.
When I got full, I peed in a gender-neutral restroom without having to hesitate for a second over which one to use. Sitting on the toilet, away from the festivities, I took a moment to reflect. A lot of the world just wasn’t designed to make trans people feel welcome. I’m reminded of this every time an app asks for my gender when I’m literally just ordering takeout, every time I’m groped by a TSA agent because my body confused the scanner, and every time I spend hours on the phone with an insurance agent begging her to please, please, just give me health care. More often than not, I count myself lucky to be an afterthought, picking at whatever crumbs of consideration, representation, and acceptance others are willing to offer me.
But this place was made for me. The bathroom, yes, but also the restaurant it was attached to. And whether or not I liked the show, I can say for sure that, if it weren’t for this rowdy, chaotic gay brunch, I never would have known that a swanky establishment in a stodgy part of town would go out of its way to treat me with respect. Tall, bright, and bellowing, Ms. Paige and Zola were like big queer lighthouses, a sign of safer beaches where people like me can relax, just for a second. Sure, you could always go to Jacob Riis Park if you’re in New York, but they don’t serve waffles.
We handed Zola a twenty on our way out the door and thanked her for her performance (“Always tip your queens,” Chala reminded me). When I got home I thought about throwing on an episode of Drag Race, just to see how it felt, but decided against it. Drag brunch hadn’t made me a drag lover, but it made me think about queer spaces, why they matter, and how they come to be. I thought about my work and the difference between being a trans food writer and a food writer who happens to be trans. Maybe it’s impossible to find community if you don’t know where to look. Maybe you can’t attract community if no one can see you in the first place.
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