My first trip to Fire Island — it’s still all about young gay men hooking up

Maria Konner
9 min readJul 18, 2023

The same thing happens every time to this trans woman (me). I’m told by so many people, you gotta go to this queer mecca, you will fit right in, it will be party central, you’ll get laid for sure, and you’ll be able to perform your fabulous show. I ask “Is it more than mostly young gay men hooking up in loud crowded clubs?” The response is always the same, “Absolutely, these days it’s full of all variations of queer, you’ll love it”. And what happens when I get there is always the same. It’s mostly young gay men hooking up in loud crowded clubs — very few OTHER LGBT folks. Sure there are a few trans (M2F, F2M), lesbians, kinksters, etc, but it’s still 95% gay male (the rest mostly straight people) and 75% of that is young gay men looking for an easy hook up. I love gay men, I have a ton of fun with then, I have tons of gay male friends, but it’s just not my scene. They aren’t interested in hooking up with me, and they generally aren’t interested in my blend of piano / guitar / trumpet / sax music mixed with commentary about cis vs. queer sexuality. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s just hard when you’re in a more marginal (very low % of the population) community. Compared to trans, being a gay man is mainstream. I had this same scenario happen when I visited Puerto Vallarta, West Hollywood, various well known queer clubs, and now Fire Island.

But, I loved the place, very quaint during the day and early evening. No cars, only boardwalks, even in the residential housing area — which covered the vast majority of the island (only the area by the Ferry arrival was commercial — the party area is very small with just a few clubs / bars / restaurants). I was there Friday through Saturday in mid July.

First you have to get there by Ferry from mainland Long Island. (Here in NY they call it “Lawn-Guy-Lind”)

The ferry leaving Sayville takes about 15–20 mins to get to Fire Island (town of Cherry Grove — the big gay town with the night life). You can see the island in the distance, looks like a strange strip of land. (Ferry leaves every 2 hours during the week and every hour Sat & Sun)

As we arrived, I could see my hotel the Belvedere Guest House For Men on the left. I was told if you leave your door unlocked in the middle of the night, men come in a give you a romp. Not ready for that without at least chatting with somebody first….

Arriving from the Ferry. Cherries (red and white stripes) is one of the main bars right there. It has an outdoor bar (under the awning), and small stage for small performances (can hold a few people) I met fun people there, but it was pretty quiet even well into the evening at 1AM.

My walk to the hotel. No streets, no cars, just boardwalk. All the houses are on stilts as the ground is mostly marshy.

First I walked around the town of Cherry Grove.

Cherry Grove has a lot of small houses like this. Looks like a lot of retired people live there.

It was lovely. Very quiet, relaxing, and a lot of people decorate their houses with unique trinkets, funny signs (e.g. “NASA”, “Institute for Spiritual Studies”, etc). Very bohemian.

Deliveries and service via golf carts and other small electric vehicles

Then I walked to Fire Island Pines — the other gay town. I had to walk about 15 minutes across a sandy area with short bushes to get there. This is an area known as the “Meat Rack” where guys hook up at night. I was told to avoid the bushes even during the day because I might get ticks and poison ivy. (The price to pay for anonymous bush sex!)

Fire Island Pines has larger houses and I saw a lot of houses with pools and I could see many groups of young gay men in speedos in these houses hanging out by the many pools in the houses. Not sure if some of them own these houses, or if they are rentals.

Flyers everywhere, even on people’s homes.

Fire Island Pines, looks like it had less of a variety night life, but had a few large clubs. I was told this was more of an upscale, more quiet place

There were nice beaches accessed via many long boardwalk extensions. Lovely houses on the beaches. Most of the nice beaches where on the south side of the Island facing the ocean (vs. the north side which faces the mainland of Long Island — the houses are mostly right up on the water there).

I saw a deer wandering about
Wasn’t scared of nothing. I guess it’s used to the people.

Now to the evening activities

Arriving downtown Cherry Grove for nite fun.
My first drink ever at Fire Island. This was at the restaurant piano bar “Sand Castle on the Ocean”

I was surprised at how quiet it was all day and even well into the evening. People were relaxed and super friendly, lots of easy conversations, met several pianists who were telling me about how much they loved the place. At first I thought maybe I was there on a quiet weekend. I went to the largest club/venue, the Ice Palace. They had a 8–10PM piano sing along, but there were maybe 20 people there. But at around 10:30, the young gay men started coming in droves to an “underwear party” at the Ice Palace. In about 30 minutes the place was literally jammed packed with over a 1000 young gay men mashing up against each other.

The Ice Palace holds 900 people for shows, and it was literally filled to the brim with young gay men.

Where did they all come from!!!! I think they were in all those houses I saw filled with gay men at the pool during the day and early evening, waiting for the big evening gay events. I was told, many came from the town of Fire Island Pines via the “Meat Rack” walk or the water taxi. They looked like they were having a blast, I can see why gay men would love this place. I walked through this mass of sweaty bodies to check it out. They were chatty and friendly with me outside on the deck (where you could hear people talk), and they let this trans woman get in the front of the bathroom line, but this was definitely not my scene.

So I walked back over to Cherries, the 2nd largest club in Cherry Grove , expecting it to be at least moderately full with interested people. Guess what….it was totally dead at 12:30AM. What???!! There were maybe 10 people there, very quiet, mostly drunk older gay men.

So I went to another large club next door. 3 people in there. WTF???!!! The Ice Palace 100 feet away was a mad house and every other place in Cherry Grove was TOTALLY DEAD! At around 1AM, I went back to my hotel bored and smoked a bowl in the courtyard where I heard a woman through the window of her room, screaming while she was getting pounded by a guy. Then they came outside on their deck, naked and took a shower together. Well that was interesting…

From what I was told by locals, most of the Fire Island action was in a few clubs that were running the big gay parties. (I was told the other big gay hookup venues where at Fire Island Pines — Sip n Twirl Dance club and The Pavilion performance venues which appeared to be mostly drag and dance).

Well, although I enjoyed the trip and the quiet quaintness and relaxing vibe when chatting with people, I was disappointed. I like chatting with a wide variety of queer people — hooking up is a lower priority to me, as I’m not into hooking up with people if I can’t even have a conversation with them and flirting first. (That makes me very strange to many people).

I also went there to scout out performance venues. There are only a few, but there are many big names who come there (I could see the posters). I was hoping it would be a place that would bring in a lot of foot traffic (people who don’t know me, but would come to a show because there is very little else going on in the Island) but I don’t think that would be the case. The place was pretty dead, with the exception of the gay hookup events. So it would take a lot of promotion to do a show there, especially considering that my target market is not so much young gay men. A lot of people told me Fire Island is a place I need to perform, but I think there is a lot of hype about that, I’m not convinced it’s a place I can be successful — given the above. (You need to visit a place to know).

I was told by many people, “You have to goto Province Town, it’s a queer mecca, and you have to perform there”. When I expressed to people my concerns (as I did above), they said, “Well yea, it will be similar, but it’s larger and has more variety”. Hmmm, will I be disappointed yet again?

One of my friends asked me if I knew any vacation places that were trans friendly. I told her I haven’t found one. Well actually most places I’ve been to are trans FRIENDLY …but I have never found a place where there is a wide variety of queer and alternative people. Queer meccas are mostly young gay men, because young gay men are mainstream compare to us (and many other queer sub groups) — I guess that’s the nature of being alternative / queer.

I think the Shangri-La many of us seek — of trans or a variety of alt / queer people doesn’t exist. The closest I ever saw was the Divas TS bar in San Francisco, which I lived a block away from, and the Polk Street area. It was a “town square” where visitors and locals could goto to meet many people in the trans community in one night. And that’s long gone because the Internet hookup scene killed it. LA and NYC had a few great clubs but those are also gone, also killed by the Internet. See my blog about that: https://medium.com/@mariakonner/divas-the-loss-of-san-franciscos-trans-town-square-e0994e42b88

Mainstream acceptance of smaller queer groups is good in many ways, but it completely killed the ability to meet many people from that community in one location. The gay male scene is big enough to survive the arrival of the hookup apps, and keep the clubs and places to meet.

We spend a huge part of our lives trying to GET somewhere. And when we get there, but often don’t know how to BE there. We need to stop searching for Shangri-LA, and adjust our lives and attitude to just being present and enjoying our new lives. Still, I really miss the old days of being able to meet a community of alternative people. We gotta wonder, yet again — although Social Media and hookup apps have helped many people, it has also destroyed meeting communities in the real world. Is there a better way? When even great cities like New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco can’t support a single trans bar anymore, you gotta wonder what’s going on. Who is winning and who is losing. I’m OK because I already became a trans woman by being part of the San Francisco community. But now that this is all gone, how will it impact people who want to explore a trans life style and be part of a community, or those who are curious.

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