Lifestyle

Inside an Accidental Trans Enclave in East Williamsburg

New York Magazine

Last January, I was on the streets of East Williamsburg unloading a U-Haul with Charlie Markbreiter — a trans guy, a baggy-pants aficionado, a scholar of pop culture, a professor and Ph.D. student, and someone I’d met only once before. I had driven up from New Orleans after four years of being away from the city and was moving into an apartment I’d never seen in person. A beige brick building with those ugly Fedders air-conditioning boxes jutting out, four floors, four units of three bedrooms each. A front door that is perennially broken; nothing in the way of “amenities.” But it was cheap by New York standards (which means it’s still too expensive) because the pandemic scared away so many from New York. I didn’t feel hesitant — the vibes felt right. I mean, someone I barely knew was even helping me move in all my shit.

Jessica Dunn Rovinelli — filmmaker, blonde raver girl with many black, revealing getups, techno-record connoisseur, DJ, lesbian of renown — was the lone tenant in the building during the heights of the pandemic. We knew each other online, and after hearing that I was thinking about moving back to the city, where I lived all of my life up until 2016, she told me about the three-bedroom for rent on the second floor. A few months after I arrived, three more trans people — Sibyl Self, Natalie Hiehle, and Nana Singh — moved into the first-floor apartment. And three cis people moved into the fourth floor.

It took me all of two weeks to realize I’d found something I hadn’t even known I’d been missing. I can pinpoint the moment: I was sitting in the apartment upstairs from mine, chilling with a few of my new building mates, listening to some record that was probably flown in from Berlin or Oslo. Here was a chaotic set of trans people that could support me, who could each in their own way model for me how to live a happy life in a terrible world. Jessie did not intend to create a trans haven. She simply found this place on Craigslist after moving to New York, liked living here, and so never left. The rest of us followed, and not because we wanted to form something unique, not because we were friends (we didn’t even know each other!), but because the opportunity presented itself. But nonetheless, that is what the building has become — a refuge for eight trans people, plus a constant rotation of trans friends who use our building as a hub to party, to work, to simply chill.

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