NYC Pride 2017 Reminded Me That Family Doesn’t Have To Be Blood

I have roots. Here. With the queers. In the great city of New York.

I kicked off NYC Pride 2017 at Samsung 837 – a mind-blowing experiential space in the Meatpacking District – by moderating a heartfelt panel about digital media and LGBTQ+ youth empowerment with Connor Franta, New York Times best-selling author and YouTube sensation with almost 6 million subscribers and Chris Tuttle, the fierce and articulate director of communications at GLSEN who I’ve decided I’m going force into being my new best friend.

The performance space at 837 was teeming with teenagers. I was high as a kite off all the hormones and the passion blasting through the room. Some of the teens were queer, some of them were hyper-dedicated LGBTQ+ allies; however, wherever they landed on the great spectrum of sexuality, was entirely irrelevant. There was that palpable ~feeling~ of magical teenage energy lighting up the room.

Zara speaking with Conner and Chris
Zara speaking with Connor and ChrisPhoto by Francesca Beltran

They eagerly drank in every word our lips released during the panel. They boldly shared their own stories of coming out with us. They courageously expressed their fears of being an LGBTQ adult. They asked for our help and guidance.

As I listened to each one of them, I became so overwhelmed by this raw emotion I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Suddenly it all made sense. I felt like every single person in that room was somehow a part of my blood family.

These bright young things, sitting in the front row, with their cool, crazy teen hair and their pierced little septums, were somehow my children. My little siblings. My baby cousins.

A feeling of great responsibility washed over me and my (borrowed) Alice and Olivia gown which was handpicked for the occasion. I felt this animalistic, maternal urge to let these young kittens know that even if their blood families sometimes made them feel like they weren’t their children, but rather space aliens visiting from Planet Queer Kid – that’s okay. It will all be okay.

The audience at Samsung
The audience at Samsung 837Photo by Francesca Beltran

Because they’re all under our collective big-queer-sibling wing now.

I was desperate for them to know that being LGBTQ+ provides you with a built-in family. That no matter what’s going on in your world this very second, you are part of a greater gay family – and just knowing that will help to fill the gaping voids you inevitably feel when you’re not accepted by your parents or the masses at your school.

A doe-eyed girl about seventeen-years-old whispered into my ear “I feel so much less alone when I read your articles. Like I belong.”

“You do belong. We are your people.” I whispered back. Chills ran down my spine. I was reminded of how much we as an LGBTQ culture need to remember that the work we put out, is a lifeline for our young people. They’re the younger members of our chosen family that we must protect and care for.

After taking a series of enthusiastic selfies and snap-chats and exchanging hugs with the teens, I was quickly handed a glass of cold champagne by my best friend, Owen. “Here you go, babe!” He crooned into my ear. “I’m proud of you.”

I wrapped my arms around Owen. Owen felt like my blood brother, an entity that knows me so well he knew I was craving a stem glass of Champagne bursting with bubbles before I did. He is the longest running relative in my chosen family.

Connor hugging some teen fans
Connor hugging some teen fansPhoto by Francesca Beltran

The next night I went to a Pride Party put on by one of my favorite lesbian bars “Henrietta Hudson” co-hosted by one of my favorite people Anna Hauptmann and “Out With The Gay Girls” with music my by two of my favorites: DJ Whitney Day and DJ Citizen Jane called “Siren.” It was at Watermark Bar, right at Pier 15 on the water overlooking the East River.

Even though I was dressed up in my favorite Party Girl drag; silver glitter scattered across the tops of my cheekbones, retro white platform rainbow sandals strapped to my feet and a half a pound of hair extensions clipped into my head – I’m surprisingly not the glitteriest party girl. I’m glittery on the outside, shy as fuck on the inside.

Zara's sparkly Pride shoes
Zara’s sparkly Pride shoesPhoto by Samsung S8

But I felt safe and connected, uncharacteristically social and alarmingly affectionate the moment my rainbow adorned foot stepped (stumbled) into Siren.

It wasn’t just because I had sucked back two bright pink cans of champagne (it’s true Champagne does, indeed, come in cans, trashy but chic, sort of like me) on the taxi over to East Side. If all it took was a slug of booze to crush my lifelong battle with social anxiety, oh honey! I would be the hardest partying lesbian social butterfly in the tri-state area. And possibly the most drunk lesbian in the tri-state area. Which isn’t really the reputation I covet (these days).

You know why I felt so ~calm~ at Siren? It was because Siren felt like one big celebration of the chosen family. See, going to queer parties isn’t like going to regular parties (whatever the hell “regular” means, I’m so far gone I have no clue). Going to queer parties is like attending a family reunion of epic proportions. It’s an in-your-face reminder that you’re not alone, that there are other humans who, like you, are shamelessly proud of the fact that they like to have sex and fall in love with the same gender (or the gender non-conforming), and it’s a mecca of inherent belonging.

Even if your skin color is different than the lesbian sipping the vodka soda next to you, even if the girl you just hugged you’ve only met one other time at another lesbian party three Pride’s ago, even if your ex is there and you have complicated feelings about her and her new friends – you’re all connected by an energy that is greater than blood.

Zara celebrating Pride
Zara celebrating PridePhoto by Samsung S8

You’re connected by sexuality. And your sexuality sits at the core of your identity. It is the most primal, raw part of who we are as individuals.

On the day of actual pride, I couldn’t stop crying. Yes, I was THAT girl in the white frilly ridiculous babydoll dress, hobbling around because I had spent the last three days wearing unhealthy rainbow platforms, crying jet black mascara tears all over the rainbow flags and the glitter that littered the streets of my beloved city.

“We’ve come so far!” I choked to my friend Alexia as I watched a diverse group  of pint-size public school kids perform Sia’s Pulse tribute “The Greatest.” “I have so much love for you all!” I wailed at my favorite group of gay boys who were smoking cigarettes on my porch, waving around a rainbow flag, smiles stretched across their chiseled faces.

My eye filled up with tears as I watched a group of twenty-somethings get off the New Jersey Path train and march onto Christopher Street their faces and bodies and backpacks covered in purple glitter gauze.

I was crying so much because it was like this massive family reunion of over 40,000 marchers – all of whom I felt this magnetic, deep-rooted closeness with because like the traditional family dynamic. There are certain things we’ve been through that no one on the outside will ever understand.

As queer people what we have seen and felt and experienced unites us in a way that is thicker than simple blood-lines.

The chosen family is such an important part of LGBTQ culture, particularly in Post-Trump America. A time where there are two clear rhetorics screaming loudly at once: a rhetoric of love and a rhetoric of hate. And sometimes the hate feels so loud to me.

Even in New York. There is this feeling of you either support me, or you don’t. It’s a very specific, brutal kind of a kick in the gut to know that so many Americans don’t support you.

So many of my LGBTQ family members are also unsupported by their blood relatives. If they aren’t entirely disconnected, they’re uncomfortable around them.

Sometimes we’re not allowed to bring our partners to family events because it will “draw too much attention.” It will make Great Aunt Mary uncomfortable if we steal a tiny innocent kiss with our partner at the Christmas dinner table. Some of us have been physically beaten up, kicked out of our houses and forced into homelessness because of our sexual identity. Some of us like me, have close relationships with our families but had to move far away from them into a more liberal city that embraces us.

NYC Pride 2017
NYC Pride 2017Photo by Samsung S8

Regardless of the circumstance, we’ve all created this amazing, chosen family of people who blindly accept, love and supports us.

The chosen family is the backbone of the gay community. You know what I’ve finally learned: everyone needs a family. A wolfpack. We all need that closely-knit unit and emotional support system that loves us unconditionally. We need that person who will tell us when we’re hitting the drugs or the drinking too hard and it’s time to reel it in. We need that person who holds our hands through insufferable breakups, or unknown STI tests, or like in my case, trudges out to obscure parts of the city to listen to me rant at the random panel I’m moderating. That’s what family does – they show up. And I’m certain I wouldn’t be alive without my chosen family.

I have my main chosen family, my group of queer characters and allies I talk to daily  – but New York City Pride reminded me that I’m part of a much larger family too. Everyone marching, partying and sharing their stories on panels – they are all a part of my extended family. Seeing us all together in our all of our diverse beauty made me feel like I belong to something really magnificent.

I’ll feed off that feeling of belonging and unity whenever I’m feeling lonely or afraid. When I’m stuck somewhere for work and for whatever reason feel I need to water down my eccentricity, I will subsist off the love of Pride. I will feed off that love when I hear Donald Trump dehumanize us. I will feed off that love wherever I am in this big, crazy and unpredictable world.

Having a family that loves you is like having an invisible safety net resting beneath you at all times. It gives you a special kind of confidence and unwavering sense of stability, because you know that if you fall or screw up that net will be there to catch you.

It will keep you from falling into the cold concrete.

That’s what the gay community is to me. It’s my lifeline, my safety net, the constant great reminder that I do belong somewhere. That I have roots. Here. With my queer family. In the great city of New York.

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