Like church, but with mimosas
In the autumn of 2006, the weather was still warm even though we were slowly making our way into October. Washington D.C. made its transition into the season, leisurely but with a welcome, steady pace that allowed enough time to adjust to the cooler temperatures. Dupont Circle was the iconic “gayborhood” where the local queer community could walk around safely without giving much thought to unwarranted opinions or the awkwardness that arose when strangers stared. Here we could stay out late at night at the bars and drink and dance, go on dates, and be free to kiss and hold hands with whomever we pleased. This was a different life, one bubbling with hope. I was on my way to meet my friends for brunch for our what we often playfully referred to as “gay church.”
A few years earlier, I had made the decision to come out while attending grad school in Cincinnati. Having already left behind my home in India with family and friends where I grew up, it was a difficult experience because I was simultaneously trying to adapt to a new culture and in general, a completely new life. I needed a fresh start and a few months before filing for graduation, I decided to move to a large metropolitan city with a larger community of queer folk with the hope that I’d meet people just like me. With my bags packed and a new job offer, I made the move to the East Coast.
In D.C. I met new folk, made new friends, went on dates and started to explore my new city life. As my circle of queer friends grew, brunches became a regular event. Brunch in many ways was the gay equivalent of a Sunday mass; you’d be there unless there were any unforeseen circumstances that prevented you. Though the premise might have been the chance to indulge in warm, poached eggs on a slice of toasted English muffin drizzled with a generous drizzle of creamy hollandaise, flanked by bottomless mimosas or bellinis, it was more than just an exemplary menu that drew us together, week after week. Brunch was about our conversations. There was the week's gossip to be exchanged and dating stories to be shared at the table. This was our safe space. I now had a family away from family, who I confided in and looked to for support.
Our brunch locales were very specific. For a more casual offering we’d go to the restaurants on 17th Street NW in the Dupont gayborhood, but for more celebratory events we’d usually end up in Adams Morgan at Perry’s for brunch performances by a slew of highly talented drag queens. There may exist a fanciful notion that gay brunches are comprised of tiny bites and nibbles borne on platters, but the dishes are as diverse as the people who eat and cook them.
Shows like Sex and the City depict these brunches as rituals of urban sophistication, bedecked with gay men who are portrayed more like fashion accessories than thinking, feeling, independently important humans. Behind this pageantry, we were and are so much more. We experience the excitement of new relationships that have just begun and the somewhat tragic and unexpected end of others. We are simply there for a friend who found out he is HIV positive. We celebrate friends' domestic unions, and the birthday of someone who has been abandoned by his family. The conversations and emotions shared in my group at these meals were far-reaching, raw, and real. At the end of the day we are people just like everyone else.
Three years after that D.C. brunch, the first African-American president was elected into office and a new wave of inclusion and positive acceptance was seeping its way through the very fabric of the country. I myself changed, I was in a long-term relationship and together, we had taken the daunting plunge of moving in together (a first for me). But a constant source of strain remained; we couldn’t take our relationship to the next level. At the time, being a foreigner who was dangling between the complexities of immigration statuses and political battles put the very existence of our “unconventional” relationship in jeopardy. Still, public perception was changing on the issues of same sex marriage were changing.
I can vividly remember waking up early that Wednesday morning, June 26, 2013, constantly checking my Twitter feed and the SCOTUS blog for updates and then it happened: DOMA was struck down. The issue of whether or not we could get married and have our union recognized at the federal and state level was no longer something we need to worry about, it was now a part of history—an unpleasant one at that. A series of court rulings that year in part due to the work of Edith Windsor and others, had changed our lives and futures.
I sat with my friends at brunch that following Sunday and the overwhelming anxiety that had once governed our lives was no more. We could marry whomever we loved and be treated just like any other straight couple in all of the 50 states of this great country. As we sipped at our tall glasses, each of us knew this brunch was different than all the other ones we had sat at, and so would every brunch after this week for the rest of our lives. We for the first time, on some level were truly eating as equals with the same rights and privileges as every other individual.
My friends' repertoire of brunch locations continued to expand beyond Dupont Circle and into the upper Northwest and Northeast parts of the city. What was once a nucleus confined to a specific set of bars and restaurants, had now started to diffuse and spread all over the tri-state. As more couples got married and bought homes together, the number of brunches hosted by couples also started to increase. There was a new level of queer culture normalization, and the utility of gay brunches melded into everyday life.
Will gay brunches end? The answer in all likelihood is probably not—or so I hope. We still brunch and discuss our loves and lives, but no longer need a specific place to be isolated. We can and will brunch everywhere.