Updated: Nov 16, 2022
Over the past seven years, the gang was who I spent most of my free time with. It started with me and Myles, then Doug, Sam, and Ash, then Mason, Tee, Ahzee, and Earnest. In the comic book anthology of my life, this particular line up of heroes would represent the Golden Age with a mid-series introduction from Raheem.
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances and one man in his time plays many parts.”
Yes, and there were many exits and entrances too: new characters, special guests, recurring roles, as the lineup changed over the years. Some new ones joined – shout out to Chris – and some left, but none of them could ever be re-cast.
Writing about community feels especially nostalgic; difficult to put into words. A community is full of individuals, but the community itself has an identity too, and you have a relationship with it. However, it’s a relationship understood through individuals. They create moments of feeling within the group. They help a dialogue become a symphony. Even if discordant, something about it stays delightful.
I guess I find myself at a loss for how to write about my friends without defaulting to platitudes and cliches about family, but I suppose family is where I should start.
Finding family, the feeling of family, chosen or not, is a precious thing. I guess I was in high school when I realized that you could love friends the same way you loved family, that love was not a word that had to be reserved for family, and that family is not a word that must stay reserved for the people who loved you first. I’d credit Sanborn Regional High School with that specifically, but even more specifically, Carly Prescott. She basically made me say that I love her, whenever she said it to me in the hall, and she said it quite often. I felt guarded. It was uncomfortable for me to practice expressing that level of gratitude. “Love” was not a word I used liberally, especially with my friends. However, when I realized the love that I had for them was profound, things changed. So much so that, some days, school felt like a home away from home.
Maybe realizing the friends = family equation shouldn’t have been such a jaw dropper. After all, my mom’s best friend, Kim, is basically like my aunt. Still, it was a lesson I needed to learn firsthand: you can find love. You can find family out there and away from the familiar things.
Finding a queer family, a chosen community, was even more profound. It was organic and unique, cultivated over many years. Unlike my friends from high school, or even college, they saw you on a more relatable level as a fellow queer. That alone engenders a kind of affirmation that leads to trust and bonding. To joke and talk about sex without irony, to talk about bodies without suspicion, and love or laughter without being bashful… that’s a powerful thing. To be seen and felt in a group of folx breaking the binary is equally powerful. Beautiful too.
Overtime, like all friendships, you become familiar. You can anticipate them. You can exchange a knowing glance from across the room. You think of them on your free time. Perhaps, in a way, your world gets smaller, but it also feels more cozy. There’s a stability in community, a sense of belonging that soothes anxiety and allays distant fears.
Here's a few of the gang that made a big difference in my twenties.
Mason’s superpower is his cunning. When I first met him in 2015, I felt guarded. I was trying to figure him out, and I got the feeling that he was trying to figure me out too. We were polite, but it seemed like maybe we didn’t like each other. Two months later, we made out at a Halloween party – dressed up as the slutty X-MEN, the SEX-MEN, if you will.
Although, our friendship was never again so scandalous, our sense of humor remained sextacular. Mason has the filthiest, funniest mind. With a hushed voice, a cackle, a glance, a whisper, a ludicrous declaration, or an x-rated noise, Mason will have you bust out laughing, and he’ll start laughing too. Unlike, some of my other friends, Mason is not one for deadpan. If it’s funny, he laughs.
Mason’s favorite show is South Park. He’s seen every episode no less than one hundred times. I’m not at that level, but as a lover of comedy, we can always find something to joke about. As a lover of social critique, we could usually find something to dissect, declaim, or debate too. His love of South Park is only matched by his love for Game of Thrones. Now, I thought I was a huge Game of Thrones fan, but Mason’s passion for all things Westeros put me in my place. At the same time, it took my viewing experience to a whole new level. He was and remains the biggest Thrones geek that I know. His favorite character? Daenerys Targaryen. Dracarys. Fire and Blood.
Like Daenerys, Mason carries himself like a king. His nickname is Queen Masala, and she has big plans for the realms of men. Calculated, political, and fierce, Mason is a leader who carries a flame. Sometimes he gets on his soapbox, but it’s always in the name of knowing, with an unextinguishable passion for the kingdoms of earth and the people they represent.
Raheem Raheem is Mason’s boo. I remember when Mason started dating Raheem. There was a shift in his energy. I hadn’t met him yet, but I could tell Mason was happy. When I did meet Raheem, I probably asked him 101 and questions. He’s a shy person, so I always make it a point to check in. Quiet people often have the most interesting things to say.
Like me, Raheem isn’t from around here. He grew up in the South, and I grew up in the North. Our experiences were different, but we share the experience of being a transplant in Baltimore.
What I love about Raheem is his appreciation for nature. He cares for plants. He admires the night sky. He loves flowers and a rose reminds him of his mother. Raheem has a subtle, spiritual connection to things.
Raheem is also enamored with games and gossip. That’s where Raheem and I laugh the most. He holds strong opinions, so his reactions to things, though small, always draw me in, if not with laughter, then with curiosity. He always seems like he’s contemplating something, and I’m glad that since getting know him, he clues me in. It’s a lighthearted friendship, and it’s one that I value. His superpower is his engagement. He’s a Cancer, but, like Ms. Khaleesi, he carries that flame.
Tee Let me not start this section by talking about how stunningly beautiful Tiarra is because then I’ll never talk about anything else. Let me not start this section by affirming that Tee is the single best dressed person that I’ve ever met because I don’t have time to write a separate essay and defend against anyone who dares to lob “alternative facts” in my direction. What I will say, briefly, and just this once – Tee is a goddess, and her superpower is intuition.
I first met Tee at the old apartment, the one I lived at with Myles, Doug and Sam. It might have been at the Halloween party, but I can’t quite remember. For a long time, I new Tee as Mason’s friend, but when Mason and I got closer, Tee and I would hang out almost just as often. Like Raheem, Tee is also a little shy and it took us longer to build a connection. But now? Oh my gosh, I hang on her words. Tee is rad. She has a heart of gold and is deeply perceptive. Most importantly, Tiarra is someone who will show up for you.
I would describe me and Tee’s relationship as a kindred one, one of intense mutual respect and caring. After me and Myles broke up, we reconnected, and she reaffirmed that I was like family. I felt the same. After, we discussed the currents of the world and the challenges of life after college.
We ended up talking about what it feels like to be a bit alien, in the world or just in a group of friends. In our friend group, Tee is often the only female present. Similarly, I am often the only white person. Inside or outside of our community, our identities sometimes felt like a barrier. It was an interesting point of connection that we hadn’t talked about before. Culturally, but in different ways, we were both outsiders. It made me think about how space is held, culture is curated, and what experiences are sanctified and seen. For both of us, there was a learning curve and a deep desire to honor the experiences of the other.
I think Tee is probably the most philosophical one in the group. She’s observant, reflective, and always cultivating her vision for how to live harmoniously. We’ve both been on spiritual journeys, especially over the past few years, and we find ways of seeing each other, and supporting each other, along the way. She has a magnetism about her and I’m thankful that I find myself in her field.
Earnest, Ernesto, Lady Ernadette, or Lady E, as I call him, is a superhero of subtlety, of sense and sensibility. Come to think of it, I could see him as a Jane Austin character. He is fiercely observant and thoughtful. He keeps to himself, but he lives for the drama. He has a sixth sense, especially for eye candy, which works in his favor because he is eye candy himself.
Yes, Earnest is a hottie and a master of the selfie. His Instagram is guaranteed to make you blush. In a word, his photography is bold, but Earnest-the-person is reserved. Perhaps it won’t surprise you to learn that he is a Scorpio. His social media presence has a Hollywood vibe, but IRL he’s different. In person, Earnest doesn’t appear as an influencer, but as an approachable friend. Actually, that’s how Earnest joined the friend group, by being an approachable friend. I wasn’t there, but Myles had met Earnest at Grand Central in 2015 on New Year’s Eve. Soon, he started coming to the apartment for parties and game nights. He fit right in. He liked to crack jokes. He was fearlessly opinionated, and had a filthy, filthy mind.
Earnest is intentional about when he chooses to speak, and he has this deep, beautiful voice that completely disarms you when he has something to say. Earnest takes a pithy remark and elicits a full belly laugh. Earnest himself though? He giggles. Between the bass in his voice, the contagious laughter, and the reserved body language, Earnest is someone that you could talk to for hours, especially if you get him going about music, superheroes, and pop-culture.
Admittedly, speaking of pop culture, Earnest and I don’t always connect on the music front. Earnest is a Barb. And like all Barbz, he is the Barb. Now, I have nothing against Nicki, she just isn’t my favorite. Earnest, though, goes hard for Nicki Minaj. He also carries the torch for pop and RNB singers from the 90s and 2000s. Who doesn’t he champion though? Lady Ernadette does not give a fuck about Beyonce. Well, let me not put words in his mouth. It’s not that he “doesn’t give a fuck,” he just thinks “she’s overrated.” At most, he will admit that she has a cute song or two, perhaps a great production team, but she’s just not as talented as, say, Mariah Carey or Alicia Keys. Alas, sometimes with friends, you reach an impasse.
Where Earnest and I do connect, strongly, is our love for superheroes (and Harry Potter). In fact, I haven’t met anyone who loves Marvel as much as Earnest since high school. Earnest is a mega-nerd, so chatting him up isn’t just easy, it’s nostalgic. Peppered in with some salacious banter, and it’s impossible to have a bad time.
When Myles bought a house, he asked Earnest to be his roommate, so whenever I went over Myles house I would run into him – unless, you know, he was out with the girls doing girl things.
There’s something about Earnest that when I see him, I just start smiling. He has good energy, and the tea is always hot.
Samantha was on the ground floor of the friend group. She and Doug had been friends since high school, and they moved in with me and Myles in 2015. Other than the time she sent me to the hospital after making peanut butter veggie burgers, we’ve had a solid friendship. Her superpower is her smile. She’s mischievous and warm hearted. When she laughs, it’s like thunder, and the whole block can hear.
What I love about Sam is how fearlessly herself she is. Not only is she deeply reflective, but she’s incredibly vocal about her experiences. She shares freely. That’s a type of bravery that cannot be understated or overlooked. In fact, while writing these gratitude posts, which have been immensely challenging, Sam is the only person I could think of who shares as openly and publicly about the happenings in her life. She says what she says, and stands by it, so long as it rings true to her.
Sam and Doug are best friends, so most of my relationship to Sam is understood through theirs. They’re family, practically siblings, and Doug is the god parent of Sam’s child. Even if I don’t see her often, I feel like I do because Doug always carries her in his heart. For that reason alone, I would root for her no matter what, but if you ever met Sam, you’ll catch those feelings regardless. Sam is a presence, charismatic and easy to talk to.
I hadn’t seen Sam for a year or two, until a few months ago when Doug graduated from nursing school. Even though it felt like a million things in our lives had changed, it also felt like no time had passed. We just fell into talking like we always did. It was like my nervous system just flipped a switch. I’m forever thankful for friendships like that.
Chapters New & Old
When Myles and I broke up in 2018, I felt unsure about my friendships. Could I keep them? Should I? It’s a horrible question to consider. They were my friends, and for whatever god forsaken reason, being around people who are friends with your ex is challenging. It shouldn’t be, but there’s an emotional learning curve. There’s a reframe that needs to happen. They need to get to know you independently of him. You need to get to know them in the same way.
I decided that I wanted to stay friends, but I felt guilty that part of that wanting was mediated by a desire to stay close with Myles. It wasn’t the only factor – of course, I love my friends – but it was a significant one because intention guides action.
Doug and I stayed friends with relative ease, perhaps because we already had a strong connection that stood on its own. We regularly showed up for each other. Everyone else, though, felt more constellated.
When Myles met Mason, Ahzee and Earnest, he told me that he felt like he found his “forever friends.” He was so happy that he teared up. And I was so happy that he was happy. I loved his friends for bringing him so much joy. Myles was proud and protective of them. They felt like they were his friends before they were mine. Of course, no one “owns friends.” Ownership, in that way, is toxic. But loyalty is real, and Myles was loyal to them. I was loyal to Myles. From that loyalty new friendships were born. It was like when in-laws become your siblings.
In 2018, right around when Myles and I broke up, I took a workshop with Abraham Burickson. He runs a company called Odyssey Works, which is about creating pieces of theatre for an audience of one. He argued that creating an immersive experience for just one person can be transformative: Blindfold a friend on the way to a restaurant. Do something nice for someone just because. Focus on presentation, gift giving, and atmosphere because rituals matter. Interview your loved ones and take note of the things that bring them joy. It wasn’t just good advice for theatre. It was good advice for life.
Whereas traditional theatre tells a story for the masses, Abraham curated events that were designed for the individual. He didn’t just rent a theatre and perform for one person. He devised immersive, improvisational experiences with gifts, games, food, music, guests, memorabilia and conversation. It was a radical take on theatre, and it fundamentally changed my perspective as an artist, as a friend, and as a member of the queer community.
Until that point, my whole career was driven by a need for external validation, climbing the ladder in academia and the theatre world. “What if,” I thought, “I treated my everyday life as a work of art? What if my friends and my community were the only audience that mattered? What if I tried to make a difference for the people that made a difference for me, instead of the people who I never met? Why should I continue to waste my energy impressing strangers, when there are people that I love who I would much rather impress?”
Between the workshop, the breakup, and a disappointed feeling that my career was draining my spirit, rather than replenishing it, I made a choice to switch my focus. I made a choice to show up more. I decided to lean into the love I felt for my community and divest from career. It was a choice to reconsider what success looked like, and who my audience was, and who I wanted to be accountable to and responsible for. With the vision in mind, I started making a lot of changes in my life. I quit a few jobs. I took a huge step back from theatre and improv. I was determined to continue my life as an educator, but I was done performing for a sea of unfamiliar faces. I was going to show up for my people.
So after the breakup, Mason and I stayed friends, and we became closer. We’d hang out more often. I fell in love with him like a brother, and I stayed connected with Raheem and Tee too. From 2018 to 2021, the three of us hung out regularly. Our friendship ebbed and flowed, but we kept pace with each other. We celebrated each other’s birthdays together, danced a lot, had game nights, went camping, went to the beach, watched the boob tube, and just talked about any and everything. Earnest and I didn’t talk as much, but we still saw each other every blue moon. Same with Sam, Ash, and Ahzee. “Friendships that survive change,” I thought, “are special things.”
When Myles and I broke up in 2021, I did not have the same reaction that I had in 2018. I did not have the capacity to lean in. I regret that I took space. I don’t regret that I did what I felt like I needed to do (apparently, become a hermit) but I regret that it fractured our friendship, at least for the time being.
I think about my queer community a lot. I don’t fully understand why I don’t pick up the phone. It’s something about proximity and insecurity; feeling directionless and needing a reset. Who am I? Who am I becoming? I needed to feel disentangled to answer those questions. When Myles and I broke up, I felt bitter about being left for someone else, someone who was showing up more, and becoming a part of the gang. I felt like I couldn’t juggle my feelings without shattering my sense of self. It felt like a divorce. Yes, I know there are people who get divorced and stay friends; families that experience divorce, but stay connected. Still, I needed space. I didn’t think I could heal in the presence of people who reminded me of Myles, who shared a collective memory of me, a version of me that I had to leave behind.
I felt guilty. Maybe I still feel guilty. Was I incapable of seeing my friends as individuals? Logically, no. Emotionally… it’s complicated because, like I said earlier, it’s not just the individuals who you have a relationship with, you have a relationship to the group. Myles and I weren’t married, but I hoped we would be, so when we ended things after eight years of hot and cold, I lost part of myself. I guess after the breakup, my capacity and my desire to show up, to commit to the art of friendship, crashed. It crashed really hard. I was burnt out from my career, and I was burnt out from my feelings. I couldn’t help but question what belonging looked like, once again. However, I’m thankful for the many years that I didn’t need to ask that question – or else, didn’t mind the question being asked – because of how happy I felt to be surrounded by friends.
I guess I’m still figuring it out, but to everyone in my queer community – to the gang – thank you for helping me along the path. Thank you me making me feel at home and at peace, with family and with myself. Thank you for being silly, outrageous, and proud. Thank you for the drunken nights, the THOT photos, the tea, the weed, the adventures, and countless kikis. Thank you for opening my eyes to the things that matter, the art that perseveres: the art of choice, the art of caring, the art of family.
I love you all. I love you all so much. Being friends with you has defined, not only my twenties, but my identity, my queerness, and my understanding of this crazy little thing called love. I know in my bones that good things are ahead for us, and I hold onto that feeling as I await to see what the future unfolds.
Le Gang, une Rétrospective
This post is part of a series called "A Month of Gratitude," about the people, places, and things that I am thankful for on the precipice of 30. You can read the first post here and all other posts here.