I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; there is nothing quite like a black tie event in New York City. Nowhere else in the whole wide world (except for maybe LA) can you fill a plush, plush ballroom with hundreds and hundreds of designer-clad, super-chic, socialite-savvy people, who also happen to be; liberal.
I bear a bevvy of unhealed scars from my days of attending black tie events in the South. Once upon a time, I lived in Florida (briefly). Because of my job and a few glam friends I made through my Florida socialite sister, I got invited to a quite a few black tie events back in those days. And (almost) every time I would leave the gala-event-benefit-soiree, clutching my liberal, lesbian, bleeding heart in my trembling hands.
This time it will be different. I would whisper to myself as I spritzed a lethal dose of “eau de parfum” across my clavicles (as I tend to do when nervous). After all, it’s an event that benefits the arts. The theatre. The ballet.
Of course, it will be liberal.
I would pick up my best friend, a petite gay man named Eduardo, and off to the gala, we would go. The banquet hall would be teeming with Fendi clutches and ballgowns from Neiman’s and “kiss kiss’s” and “darling darlings.” The buffet would be plump with oysters and stone crabs. Real champagne would be served.
And just when we thought the moment couldn’t possibly get any sweeter—it would turn as sour as a spoonful of apple cider vinegar shoved into the mouth without warning. Out of the corner of our ears, we would both hear some beehived lady purr: “I don’t know why those damn liberals want homosexuals to get married. Marriage is sacred, you know, Betty Sue.” Followed by, “Oh, Mary Belle! Those damn queer liberals are trying to ruin our country! They want women to be men and men to be women!”
My mouth would go dry. My soul would feel like it was being suction cupped out of my head. And suddenly the event didn’t seem glam or fab or cool or bougie, it appeared as it truly was: bigoted and bitchy.
But in New York, black tie events are an entirely different story. New York is mecca to the glam liberal. The wildly successful entity who also has been cursed with a conscience I’m convinced, exists only, in Manhattan and her four borough sisters. Which is why I’m never leaving. Ever.
So when GO Mag’s Deputy Publisher asked me if I wanted to go to The Center’s Annual “Women’s Event” which was to raise funds that directly benefit women’s services and programming at the LGBTQ Center in New York, I wanted to scream “Does a bear shit in the forest??” down the phone. Instead, I opted for a classier “That sounds lovely,” because contrary to popular belief, I’m a proper British rose (despite the fact that I post pictures in my bra on Instagram).
Truthfully I’ve been hearing about this event for years, always feeling somehow slighted that I wasn’t there. (Can you spell e-n-t-i-t-l-e-d m-i-l-l-e-n-n-i-a-l?).
I mean it’s arguably one of the largest, chicest and most charitable events for LGBTQ women in the country! Not only that but the Women’s Event is known to be teeming with power lesbians, queer celebs and all of our well-heeled allies. I don’t know about you but I like to surround myself with power lezzies, famous gays and cool straight people, so this event promised to be just my kinda cocktail!
My date, Meghan, and I arrived on time at the gorgeous venue, lower Manhattan’s very own, Capitale, a mega-ballroom famous for its Gatsby-themed parties and epic ceilings. An army of cameras flashed across the red carpet which held court to the left of the grand entrance. Event host committee-member Lea Delaria in all of her swaggy glory, humbly greeted guests as they traipsed in. We all know when a celesbian is greeting patrons at the door, we’re at the right kind of party, am I right?!
The cocktail mixing (aka networking) hour was divine. Yes, I felt shy as per usual, but it was nothing a little pep talk in the bathroom couldn’t fix.
(Bitch you’re wearing $600 worth of hair that isn’t yours, get it together. I coached myself as I gazed into my furrow-browed reflection).
I sipped on a cold glass of Champagne and Meghan slugged back a cup of bourbon as I circled around the silent auction contemplating bidding on all the Broadway theatre tickets and queer-themed artwork.
“You can’t bid on something when your last rent check bounced.” Meghan reminded me. “Oh yeah,” I answered her, glumly. When I’m at bougie events I tend to inhabit the role of a lady who lunches.
I took in the crowd: It was as fabulous and diverse as New York City herself. Women of all ages, orientations, styles, cultures, backgrounds, and boroughs rubbed elbows. Packs of fashion dykes in dapper, perfectly-tailed suits roamed about. Men doted on the ladies, refilling wine glasses and generously bidding on the silent auction to dutifully show their support for women.
“Please take your dinner seats!” Voices began to boom.
Over the course of the next two hours we were served three voluptuous courses of food, as we listened to some stellar speeches by the event’s honorees: the Corporate Impact Award presented to Bernadette Harrigan, AVP & Counsel, MassMutual Financial Group; the Community Impact Award presented to Lisa A. Linsky, Esq. Partner at McDermott, Will & Emery; Visionary Award presented to Chirlane McCray, First Lady of New York City; Trailblazer Award, presented to Sara Ramirez, Tony Award®-winning Actress and Activist.
The speeches were all equally amazing and empowering, and I don’t say that just because “it’s the right thing to do,” I actually mean it with every fiber of my being. The women shared their experiences at The Center, discussed what a safe place and haven it was for them during the AIDS crisis when everyone else was afraid to be around gay people. They spoke about how far we’ve come, and yet, still, how much work must be done. And what really struck me, was how none of them were divisive or staunch about labels, nor did they express negative feelings toward the younger generation.
In fact, they spoke highly of the younger generation and expressed how much they admired their tenacity and openness. The spoke of how desperately we need to remain united.
And it really made me think about how we need to stop, especially in the media, creating these cast-iron divisions within our own community. There are lesbians who don’t want to be associated with bisexual women or queer women or trans women. There are others who try and erase lesbian identity, calling it dated and unattractive. There is rising tension between anyone who identifies differently than anybody else. There is a movement of separatism that grows daily.
And it really made me think, what kind of grossly privileged behavior this whole mess is. These women didn’t make the profound social and political strides that they made because they were busy hate-tweeting each other on the internet. They had shit to do. Lives to save. Policies to change.
These women didn’t battle through decades of devastating discrimination, for us to argue semantics or labels behind the static glow of a computer screen. They didn’t step out into the cold city air and rally until their throats bled, for us to police each other’s identities and orientations.
They did what they did, so we could be safe. So each and everyone of us could express ourselves in a way that feels comfortable to us, as individuals!
They created an environment where it was OK to be different from each other but there was always an inherent understanding that our community had its arms stretched wide open to everyone no matter where they fell on the spectrum, no matter how they identified. Because at the end of the day, we are all united because at some point in our lives we felt different from our peers and because society still views us as different and because we ARE. ALL. STILL. MARGINALIZED.
So out of respect for these fearless, smart women, the women who layed the groundwork for our pretty feet to dance on, I think the best way we can thank them, is by coming together and carrying on their legacy of cultivating a supportive community, that protects its own kind. No matter what.
Especially right now, babes. We must come together and fight this terrifying opposition that wants to take us down! Look what happened when the women before us rallied together? They made a real change in the world. Change that we have had the privilege of reaping the benefits from.
And I want to create even more positive change that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, plus, kids of the future will be able to reap even more benefits from.
Thank you to The Center for a fabulous, informative night and thank you for all that you do. Donate or volunteer at The Center, for The Center has always been a place in which “everyone is celebrated for who they are.”