The dynamically historic and always decadent LGBT haven of Fire Island has been in the news quite a great deal this summer, almost rivaling the usual summer tales of tea dance, beach frolicking and memorably lazy weekends. While parties on the island filled with more reckless abandon (and the beyond appropriate demands for accountability) have filled our newsfeeds, we have recently gotten to see the side of Fire Island that many fell in love with to begin with. The sense of community and heart, coming directly from Daniel Nardicio and the newly minted COVID Destroyers, who spent last weekend distributing sanitizer and sass on the dock as visitors to the island arrived for a summer weekend like they have probably never had before.
While Fire Island officials have cracked down on both public beach and private residence parties, the details are slowly coming out about what exactly occurred at some of the events that occurred in recent weeks. While some of the more provocative details are far from not shocking, it is crucial to be aware of the risks that many of us could now be open to. Tim Murphy at The Body spoke with several of the revelers, with select conversations shared below.
B, age 34
B: I went to the night rave. Several hundred people were there.
TM: Was it fun?
B: Not really. I think that the corona situation has cast a bit of a pall over everything, a sense of not really fully committing to a party situation. The music was super-faint, and it was very poorly lit, except for Christmas rave lights that some people were wearing, which contributed to people clumping together. I have no idea who threw the party. Who brought the speakers? I’m not sure. I went with some friends. Some wore masks, and some, including me, did not. We were generally not wearing masks within our houses, but [we did] when we were in public spaces. I didn’t even bring my mask to the night party. I might have if I’d known how big it was going to be. We were actually told about the party rather late at night when we were ready to go to bed, so I thought, “If I go, I’m gonna have to get fucked up a bit.” So we did some ketamine [horse tranquilizer often taken as a party drug] and got there. A lot of people think, “Oh, we can be kind of safe and socially distanced and still be gay and have fun,” but if you’re doing drugs, you’re not going to end up making good choices, and that includes me. It was very tightly packed, and people were making out, and there was not as much breeze as on the beach during the day.
TM: Was anyone talking about the risk or the lack of masks?
B: Yeah. Ish. But why are people so focused on this? Look at straight people partying in Florida. OK, I admit that straight people don’t get as close to each other as gay people do. I think we all thought that it was a bad idea and that we would not want to do it again. On the other hand, if new cases are not traced to this, people might learn the wrong lesson. I think in a few weeks there will be a consensus about whether or not the parties caused cases to spread.
TM: And the party was very racially mixed?
B: Yes. The racial politics get complicated, because the true Fire Island gays—the homeowners who ultimately control the island and are typically much richer and older and whiter than the general population on the island—don’t want parties. They were very nervous about a July 4 surge. But this was also the most diverse the island has been all summer. Privilege is being able to stay in your own house all summer.
C, late 20s
C: We walked over to the Meat Rack party in a group of seven, wearing masks. People were packed around the speakers, with others on the edges engaging in different sexual experiments. I then took my mask off, because the rate of outdoor transmission is low. I thought, “What is the point of my being here, my first year on Fire Island?” I’ve been more lenient than usual because of my age and because I’ve already been around a lot of people who’ve already had COVID.
During the day, we stopped at one indoor party, but we left after two or three minutes because everyone was unmasked and on top of each other. People wanted release, more from drugs than sex I think—some people were G’ing out [high on the drug GHB].
The day after the Meat Rack party, people in the medical profession dropped by our house. They seemed really flustered and concerned. Doctors can be quite quick to be punitive. There’s a lack of language about how to move forward productively. I’m young and healthy, and my friends have already had COVID. I now feel more comfortable being around more people, taking off my mask and having a normal conversation.
Social media is all about FOMO [fear of missing out]. I think a lot of the queer or gay people [who criticized the parties on social] had FOMO. It’s not very nuanced. When I was younger, in college, and more into Marxist theory, I would’ve agreed that a “Fire Island gay” is the epitome of whiteness, or a muscled, G’d-out disco queen, but now I know that not to be true at all. A lot of the locals are older or artists in residence, and in my community there’s a lot of racially diverse artists.
TM: What do you think will happen going forward this summer?
C: The property owners put out a warning. But calling the police is not the answer to this situation. There were so many out-of-towners this past weekend who were looking for something [exciting] to happen.
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