When I first moved to Manhattan at age 21, a wild, circuit-party, gay boy friend of mine (James) from West Hollywood, who had also recently moved to the city, called me on the phone.
“Oh heyyy, honey!” he purred.
“What are you doing this weekend?”
“Nothing. I’ll be in the city, as per usual. Want to hang out?” I asked.
“Oh no, honey! I’ll be in the Pines.”
“What is the Pines?”
“You don’t know what the Pines is?” He laughed. “Oh, honey, you’re so green.” That vicious laughter went on for what felt like several minutes. Finally, I erupted.
“Well, maybe you could tell me what the fucking Pines is, please and thank you.” I sneered down the phone.
“It’s where all the gays go in the summer. It’s on Fire Island. It’s a big, gay island, baby!” And like that, bitchy/funny, James hung up on me.
Well, that sounds like fun, I thought to myself, wishing I had a little more than negative five hundred dollars to my name. I was so broke I was buying cigarettes with quarters I found beneath the couch. I might have been a “green” 21, but I wasn’t stupid. I knew that an island teeming with Manhattan gays would be expensive AF and I was a lowly actress out of work. So out of mere survival, I shut the wonderful idea of “the Pines” out of my broke mind.
Later that summer, my native New York lesbian friend, Monica, called me on the phone.
“A bunch of my friends from the West Village Ladies Soccer Team are getting together this weekend and going to Cherry Grove. Want to come?” she asked in that comforting, even-keeled, sporty-lesbian way.
“What’s Cherry Grove?” I asked.
“Z. It’s where all the lesbians go! In Fire Island! Jeez!” she barked.
“I thought all the gays went to a place called the Pines?”
“That’s where the gay boys go, Z. The girls go to the Grove.”
Hmm, I thought to myself. Gays and lesbians had their own separate territories on Fire Island? Damn, New York City queers were a lot more complicated than the laid-back West Coast queers I was used to. And once again, because I was a struggling, failed actress, I pushed the sexy fantasy of lesbians gathering on an island out of my increasingly-broke brain. I knew some of the girls on the soccer team. They were all power lesbians. Lawyers. Doctors. What have you.
Cut to 2015: after a three-year NYC hiatus, I was back in the city. A hot group of gay boys I had met on a free Gay Birthright trip to Israel invited me to the Pines. I finally had a stable job and money in the bank! I said hell yes, honey! I went to the Pines with my best friend, Owen, who is also a hot gay boy. We got off the ferry and were greeted by a fleet of gorgeous young men with honey-gold tans all wearing leather thongs. I loved the Pines already. We went to a party at a huge house with giant floor-to-ceiling glass windows. It was teeming with beautiful men dancing to druggy-techno music around a massive, teal-colored pool. Owen ran into a bunch of former hookups and got very drunk to cope. I wore this crazy white taffeta skirt and an orange Lacoste bikini top.
When I wear a floor-length white taffeta skirt and an orange bikini to the Soho House pool, I’m met with dirty looks. There I got only compliments. I was the only girl on the Island except for one butch I spotted driving a golf-cart and tending to the trees. I didn’t care, because I was having the time of my life in this fashion-friendly, sexually-charged environment where, for once in my life, I wasn’t the sluttiest dresser in the room. Owen and I missed the last train back to the city and had to take a $150 Uber back to Manhattan. We still decided that we loved the Pines so much, we were going to get a share the following summer. We ended up getting a share with the hot boys I had met in Israel. Our house had floor-to-ceiling windows, just like the house at the party.
It also had a teal-colored pool, and druggy techno was always blasting from the speakers. Every morning we got up at 10 a.m. and I slathered loads of makeup onto my face in order to impress the gay boys (the lesbians never seem to notice the difference) and wore my wildest, most high-fashion clothes. Lots of dramatic black lace and lots of long Lana Del Rey wigs.
We spent the morning doing face masks, drinking rosé, talking shit about celebs and other gays we mutually knew.
There were no lesbians I knew of in the Pines, so I didn’t have to fear running into an ex or engaging in any lesbian drama. At 5-ish every single day we primped and went to “Low Tea,” which is an historic mixer held at this place called The Blue Whale, overlooking the sparkling bay. I mingled with all the boys. I met boys who worked on Wall Street. I met boys who were sex workers. I met boys who were tattooed and wore glitter on their eyelids. I met boys who played golf. I met boys who carried around candy-colored shots. Every single one of them was beautiful. After “Low Tea” we went to “High Tea” right next to this club called Sip N’ Twirl. These are the only places to go and party in the Pines, so the whole island goes. All ages. Tops. Bottoms. Bears. Cubs. Otters. Drag Queens. Versatile bois. Low-brow. High-brow. All sipping n’ twirling in harmony. In New York City, Brooklyn hipster gays go to one type of bar, while plushy Manhattan gays go to another type of bar. All of this awesome gay boy diversity was really, really new to me. I liked it.
At about 11 p.m. I’d usually be counseling some cute twink who was crying mascara tears because his ex was there with his new boyfriend. As the only lesbian (and the only woman) in plain view, I took on the role of the gay male therapist. They knew my perception wasn’t warped because I’m not super in their scene, so they flocked to me with their issues, every night, in droves. I was relieved to be outside of the bright shiny red circle of dyke drama (for once), so I was happy to offer them my services. Usually, I’d whip out my big kabuki-style makeup brush and start dusting the boys’ faces with Bare Minerals SPF 25 foundation. “This is a makeup that is actually good for your skin,” I’d tell them as I sprinkled a dash of Bare Minerals highlighter (called “pure radiance,” for the record) across the tops of their sharp cheekbones (gay boys and their cheekbones!). “You always want to highlight the tops of the cheekbones, down the bridge of the nose, and through the center of the forehead,” I’d instruct, carefully painting their poreless faces, going back into full-blast makeup artist mode (which was my career for 10 years, and is a very good career to be in if you enjoy the company of gay men). They would feverishly drink in my beauty knowledge as if it were the most expensive bottle of rosé on the island, and then they would gaze into my little compact mirror and squeal something like, “Wow, I look ten years younger!” Even the 21-year-olds would say that to me. I’d smile. I’d leave them at around 1 a.m., because I knew that hookup hour was quickly falling upon us, and a Pines Lesbian knows her place on this island. She doesn’t overstep her boundaries. I let the boys be boys, and I got in the hot tub before falling asleep alone in the feather bed, excited to hear about all the gay drama and threesomes and fun I missed when peacefully sleeping in a deep Sapphic slumber.
“Everything is fine in the Pines,” I’d dreamily whisper to myself when I woke up in the morning and padded into the kitchen, careful not to wake up the naked boy who had passed out on our couch. I repeated this routine multiple times that summer.
I started dating a lesbian back in New York the following year. She asked me why I go to the Pines, not to Cherry Grove. She religiously goes to Cherry Grove, she said. She’d been ferrying it out there for over a decade but had never been to the Pines. She took me to Cherry Grove. I was very reluctant. I’m a tried and true “Pines Girl,” I told her. She got me and didn’t get angry or think I was betraying my fellow Sapphic Sisters. She knew I was just a hag. She grinned and said, “Wait ’til you see the poolside drag shows in Cherry Grove.” She knew the key to my heart is through great drag. We went Memorial Day weekend. It was full of lesbians (and much more laid-back gay men, too).
There were children and families and you weren’t totally excommunicated from the Island if you didn’t have abs cut from steel. (Truth: the Pines is major body pressure. I do sit-ups in my sleep when I’m there.) I really loved the vibe. There were tons of different places to go and drink and play, and the poolside drag show was the best drag show I’d ever seen in my life! And I’ve been to lots of drag shows. I decided I love Cherry Grove. I decided that I would split my time between the two.
I would go to Cherry Grove when I was with my girls and when I wanted to eat pizza without being food-shamed by gay boy body-builders and when I wanted to run into all the cute girls who hung out at The Cubbyhole (because Cherry Grove is just like an extended version of The Cubbyhole). I would go to Cherry Grove when I wanted to see the girls in the New York lezzie scene in the daylight, for once. I would go to Cherry Grove when I wanted to watch sporty lesbians play volleyball in the “Lez Volley” tournament on the beach. I would go to Cherry Grove when I wanted to be entertained by drag performances and to eat excellent food and to be in the company of all kinds of personalities. I would go to Cherry Grove when I was craving some good, old-fashioned dyke drama (because we all wickedly sort of enjoy dyke drama) and wanted to run into sixteen exes and their new girlfriends and my girlfriend’s exes and their new girlfriends. I would go to Cherry Grove when I wanted to be called “Kylie Jenner” by the drag queens (which I secretly loved because I think she’s the coolest), and I would go to Cherry Grove when I was feeling sweet and social and lovely and hungry.
But when I’m feeling sinful and bitchy and glam and don’t have much an appetite, I will go to the Pines.
I will go there when I want to be surrounded by my spirit animals, which are bronzed gays with tinted eyelashes and shiny, buffed fingernails. I will go to the Pines when I want to be complimented on using an oversized Prada bag as a beach bag, instead of judged (because the lesbians will always judge you for being “ostentatious”—trust me). I will go to the Pines when I want to lounge around a private pool and not feel guilty for NOT eating the bread on my sandwich because nobody eats bread in the Pines, anyway. I will go to the Pines when I want a break from my normal life and just want to subsist in the very un-PC, hyper-sexual, gay boy glitter bubble I love so much. I will go to the Pines when I want big glass windows and double-high ceilings. I will go the Pines when I want to wear wigs during the day without getting collective eye rolls.
My heart will always be in the Pines. My memoir will be named “I Left My Heart in the Pines.” I’m a loyal lesbian and the Pines gave me my first ever taste of Fire Island magic, and I’ll never, ever, ever forget that.
So if you’re a lesbian who often feels displaced in the scene, if you’re a lesbian who appreciates the beauty of a well-kept man, if you’re a lesbian who is intrigued by what life is like on the other side, or if you’re a lesbian who knows when to go home and let the boys play, try out the Pines for a weekend! Take a water taxi over there and go to a circuit party. Maybe you’ll think it’s bitchy, maybe you’ll think it’s fabulous. I think you’ll think it’s fabulous. I took a flock of lesbian babes over there two weekends ago, and by midnight they were all screaming, “Everything is fine in the Pines!”
And it is. Not “fine” as in “perfect,” because it’s definitely not tranquil or perfect (nothing queer ever is!). Fine, as in “sexy.” As in, “Damn, you look fiiine, boy.”