Monsters & Unicorns, Welcome to Nightgowns

I’ve always admired the art of drag, but it wasn’t until this past year that I’ve really gotten immersed in its culture. Obviously, a big part of that was through RuPaul’s Drag Race. I unapologetically love that show; I think it’s truly special and I will defend it against anyone who says otherwise. But my love of drag extends far beyond the queens I watch on TV.

As someone who surrounds herself with as much queer culture as possible, the more I learn about drag, the more I appreciate how its history has shaped so much the queer world we know and love today. From the first time I watched Paris is Burning, to the books I read in undergrad, and the various queer spaces I’ve been introduced to during my time in New York City, I’ve had the pleasure of learning about the trailblazing LGBTQ+ heroes that have paved the way for us in so many ways. Honoring and celebrating these people is more important than ever, which is why I’m still reeling from my experience at Nightgowns.

I have to admit I was far from prepared for the magic I had the pleasure of witnessing at the show Sasha Velour hosts at National Sawdust in Brooklyn. I could go into all of the details of how the show was structured and all of the queens I was excited to see perform, but to be honest, that isn’t the essence of Nightgowns that I’ve been holding on to. Of course the queens were incredible – New York is overflowing with amazing drag queens who know how to entertain. But this show was a completely new level.

It was a celebration of queer spaces, voices, and experiences. It was a place where anyone could be a drag queen – or king, or whatever monarch you felt in your heart. The queens paid tribute to women, performers, and artists of color, they made statements about voices that are silenced and identities that aren’t discussed, they were weird and extravagant and bold and unique, and absolutely everything that drag celebrates.

Truthfully, it’s easy to forget about the history when you’re watching your favorite queen lip sync to the latest Ariana Grande single. And I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing – far from it, I would argue. The very essence of drag is to have fun and be entertained in a space that makes you feel welcomed, safe, and carefree. For me, this was just a piece of what Nightgowns delivered.

All of the performances left me speechless. My jaw fell open in awe too many times to count, and not only because of the talent I saw displayed on stage. What moved me most was the emotion, the artistry, and the bravery to do the complete opposite of what the audience expected. There were moments when I didn’t completely understand what was going on, and I was quick to realize that I didn’t need to. While there are definitely messages to be shared and feelings to convey through drag performances, there’s also the freedom to not necessarily need those things. It’s enough as a drag performer to go on stage, show your art, and simply – or maybe not so simply – subvert the ideas of what is normal. The very fact that I was fully captivated watching these artists perform is enough to prove that authentically existing in these queer spaces is enough, and worth being celebrated.

Something Sasha shared that I can’t seem to get out of my head is the idea of screaming when we need to be heard, and when we don’t, sitting down and listening with our full attention. As a drag fan, this hits extremely close to home. I’ve had a lot of privileges in my life that have afforded me the luxury of needing to seek out books, movies, and other media to truly learn about the history of drag and why it’s such an important part of queer culture, rather than living through it myself. These spaces encourage us to learn and think openly no matter our own personal histories, but I realize that I have been granted the opportunity to do for this for the majority of my life. So I feel it’s my responsibility to highlight the voices of those who haven’t been allotted these opportunities, supporting their art and their personal journeys, and remembering to sit down and listen with my full attention when these amazing people have something to say.

As a member of the queer community, I am so grateful to be surrounded by folks who want to celebrate the history and beauty of our community. It’s one thing to read about queer culture, or to watch a movie about it, but to experience such moving expressions of pride in person was transcendent in ways I never thought possible. Nightgowns gives me so much hope as a writer, an activist, and an advocate for using queer history to lead us further in the revolution.

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My experience at MNDFL Meditation

For about a year now, I’ve been exploring a lot of new ways to practice self-care. Last summer, I got really into yoga and went to classes twice a week. When I moved back to the city in the fall, I took advantage of the new neighborhood I was living in and starting running outside along the East River. And finally, last winter, I was introduced to MNDFL Meditation. Before going to MNDFL for the first time, I didn’t even know there were facilities exclusively for meditating. As I’m sure goes for most people, all I knew about meditation was the cliched image of someone sitting alone in a room with incense burning and long periods of complete silence. And as somebody like myself with the absolute worst attention span, I never considered being able to participate in such an activity. But thankfully, MNDFL was quick to prove me wrong.

From the warm and welcoming staff to the open and inviting decor of the space, I always feel comfortable the moment I step in the door at MNDFL, located on 8th St. in the village. I don’t know about you, but anywhere that requires you NOT to wear shoes and gives out free tea is somewhere you can definitely find me spending my free time. Additionally, one of my favorite features of MNDFL is the staff, who are just as dedicated to their visitors whether it’s your first or fiftieth class. In the middle of the space, there is a sitting area where all of the visitors are welcome to hang out before or after class, which most people choose to do. The simple gesture of providing this space really adds to the fact that MNDFL genuinely feels like a community. I’ve never felt any awkward pressure to make time-filling conversation with others, but after attending classes for a while, almost all of the people there are familiar faces and chatting began happening more naturally. Sometimes people take this time before class to read a magazine, or even close their eyes to start winding down before we even step into the room to begin practice. As for me, I’m usually burning my tongue on jasmine green tea and feeling too satisfied when I turn off my phone.

MNDFL

Classes at MNDFL range from 30 to 45 minutes and are guided by an instructor. There are a number of different instructors at the space, all with different styles and preferences for how to conduct their classes. While you can sign up for classes based on their time, day of the week, or difficulty, you can also choose the theme you will experience at your specific class. Some of the themes for classes at MNDFL include breath, emotions, heart, sleep, and many others. It is definitely worth trying out a bunch of different classes and instructors to see which you like best, and the great thing about MNDFL is that there are so many options that you are likely to find a few that work best for you. And what’s even more inviting is that no two classes are the same. Even if you take the same class with the same instructor more than once, they are always new experiences. This happens, I think, because of the community at MNDFL. People are encouraged to actively participate in the class however they feel most comfortable, the instructors leave time at the end of the class for questions and discussions, and one of the most important messages they send is that there is no wrong way to experience meditation. Of course there are tips for achieving certain goals and better understanding mindfulness, but the instructors are always the first ones to assure you that however you are doing it is the right way.

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MNDFL is exactly what it claims to be: a space to breathe. I don’t think there is a single person who doesn’t experience too much stress on a weekly basis, and MNDFL is the perfect place to let that go. After treating myself to their monthly pass (the first month is only $50 for as many classes as you want!), I knew that I needed to make meditation a priority, especially at this space. Even as I’m now living in Jersey City, working a 9-5 job, and trying to get used to my new busy schedule, I know I can always manage to find half an hour out of my day to visit MNDFL. It’s an incredibly rewarding experience and the perfect way for you to invest in yourself.

PS. Let me know if you try out a class!!! I want to know all about it 🙂