In the Name of Love: Partying in New York After the Supreme Court’s Gay Marriage Decision

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The morning the Supreme Court ruled gay marriage a nationwide right, I got the New York Times News Alert in my inbox, and my roommate and I locked eyes. “I’m gonna have to play Ciara,” was the first thing out of her mouth, and though I didn’t exactly know why, it was clear that’s what we had to do. We played Ciara. Then we played Ssion, and Kingdom, Kelela, Lotic, Boris, Arca, Physical Therapy — all the queer music within reach of a Spotify playlist, and we were dancing in the living room at ten in the morning. No work was getting done today.

I went to the gym on E. 4th St because it was the only place I knew would have a TV. In the lobby, people stood in their workout pants and trainers, watching President Obama announce the Supreme Court rulings. On the second floor, employees were dancing as they scanned in people’s membership cards. Every screen over every treadmill was turned to CNN: scenes from the court steps in Washington, alternating with scenes from Stonewall in Sheridan Square. On screen, someone led a chant in front of Stonewall, “About fucking time” on a four-four beat. A-Bout Fucking Time. A-Bout Fucking Time. It echoed the slogan “Gay is good” at this exact location forty-five years ago, the “historic” site of the gay “riots” of 1969, said the anchorwoman—the night Judy Garland died, and men overturned cars and twisted open parking meters because the cops tried to shut them down.

When I went down to Stonewall, the news anchors were still there. CNN, NBC, CBS. Journalists paced the street with notepads and press passes. The street was blocked off, and I could see blinking lights all up and down Christopher Street. Queers kissed and held hands in front of news cameras as activists passed out stickers, campaigning to make Stonewall a national park. One reporter marched right up to a girl holding a rainbow flag, and asked, “So tell me, what’s going through your head right now?”

None of the reporters actually went inside Stonewall, where the scene was considerably more chaotic. It was rare to see, in a New York gay bar, such an even spread across age and gender as there was today. There were men in neon tank tops, dancing by the pool table or sitting on stools with their face lit by the glow of the smartphones. Women held their beers by the pillars, next to lesbians wearing gray tank tops and blue jeans who chose not to use fashion as a means of visibility. A white man in a Barry’s tank top hugged a black man in a suit and tie. In fact, there was a considerable amount of men in suits and ties, who literally got up from their desk jobs and headed straight to Sheridan Square. Top 40 played over the speakers, in place of President Obama’s voice from the screens above our heads. David Guetta. Katy Parry’s “Firework.” There was a house remix of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me,” but with a boys’ choir singing the vocals. It was something that always interested me about Smith’s music—a white gay man who appropriated the inflections and gospel choirs associated with the black Civil Rights Movement, and won the top Grammys in the process. Except I was wrong about the boys’ choir. It was just all the lesbians singing along.

The scene at Julius was considerably different. Not ethnically. Everyone was still mostly white. But everyone was sitting down. There weren’t any cameras here, nobody was having their historic moment. People were just having lunch. Older gay couples, men and women, chatted casually with the bartenders over lunch. One man, late into his sixties, sat by the bar with his eyes glazed over, burger already eaten with the lettuce left behind. His face looking at the window seemed to say, “What now?” Occasionally, someone younger would come in, look around, stare into his phone by the bar for a bout ten minutes, and then leave. Whatever he came looking for, he didn’t find it at Julius.

By the tables in the back, a group who’d also come from Stonewall gathered around their beers. One of them pulled up Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion on his smartphone, and read it out loud to the group: “It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

The Kennedy opinion was the topic of discussion later that night, at Metropolitan in Williamsburg. In the garden, a friend was telling me about his morning: he’d woken up late, checked his phone at noon, and didn’t know why everyone was freaking out on Facebook. He figured it out, and shrugged it off. He thought the Kennedy opinion was ultimately restrictive in defining marriage as the exclusive path to intimacy, legal rights, and self-actualization.

“It’s more important to be talking about violence against trans people,” he said, which was the popular opinion of the day heard around certain circles: radical queers who may or may not live in Bushwick. There was a general suspicion that as gay culture increasingly entered the mainstream, queer culture would ultimately be lost.

Someone else disagreed, saying that the Supreme Court decision “wasn’t really about us.” It was “a conversation that straight people were having amongst themselves,” he said. “The intended audience of the Kennedy opinion was other Republicans who were skeptical about the definition of marriage. If Ginsburg wrote it, it would’ve read something like how choices granted to one people group and not another is discrimination. It’s important that people have the option, even if they choose not to take it.”

“I just think it’s a big fuck you to the Republicans that now they have to share the word marriage,” another friend said, and we all did a toast to that with our four dollar beers.

Late into the night, the garden closed, and everybody moved inside to the dance floor. A small stage was set up in the center, lined with red lights, and everyone gathered around drag and vogue performers as people threw dollar bills on stage. I wasn’t always certain if the performers were male or female, and I’m not sure it mattered. The performance of an internal identity can override an external reality, and besides, at three in morning, anything goes. The DJ played hip hop from the late ’90s and early ’00s. The voice on the speakers was singing about somebody who wasn’t paying her bills, somebody who wasn’t saying her name, and we were getting indignant. They were hits I hadn’t heard since my high school Homecoming — Jagged Edge feat Nelly, “Where The Party At” — when I was still pretending to be straight on the dance floor of the high school gym, and a petition was going around the Chinese American Parents Association to ban the Gay Straight Alliance charter from getting approved. At Metropolitan, I wondered where those parents were now, in California, whether they thought this day was going to happen, whether I thought it was going to happen, back when I didn’t know how a milkshake could bring boys to the yard, and thought The Postal Service was a new genre called “electronic music.”

The night ended, as it should have, with female DJs playing techno in a Bushwick warehouse. We took a cab to the OASIS party at 43 Scott Ave, after all the bars closed. People were still out dancing on two floors of madness with a massive rainbow flag hung from the door. Shirtless guys with fanny packs and necklaces danced, swayed, fist-pumped and made out. Someone had a glove with laser-lights attached to the knuckles, and when he jutted his fist in the air, neon green lines beamed across the room. Possibly one of the tallest guys I’ve ever seen was vogueing under the lights, with two braids dangling from his head that could’ve been five feet long. An older woman stalked around the corners, trying to sell coke for “twenty dollars a gram.” My legs were sore from dancing, so I sat down and fist pumped from the benches. We did that for hours, would’ve done it anyway regardless of the rulings this morning, and now had a reason to do it harder. The next day, everything would be the same but better, and though we couldn’t see it from inside the warehouse, the sun had already come up.