The Unexpected Way I Made Friends with My Neighbors — And How Their Apartment Became My Inspiration for Queer Joy
While living in New York City, I’ve learned that it’s uncommon to introduce yourself to your neighbors. But as I spotted the wine bottles that my neighbors left out for recycling, I thought that this could turn into a potential friendship. Not knowing how to go about this, and admittedly tipsy at the time, I slipped a note under their door, “Dear 3A, we would like to be your friends. Love, 3B”.
After a few days, a note on the back of a Whitney Museum postcard (which confirmed their effortless chicness), said “Yes, drinks soon! – Julius and Enzo” and shared their numbers. I felt the validation that one feels when they get a match on a dating app.
Julius and Enzo welcomed my roommate Shane and I into the home that they made together as a couple. What started as a happy hour meet-and-greet became my personal gawk-walk. Their apartment — similar in layout to our own — wowed Shane and I with its decor, including a dining table large enough for an extended family to gather around. Smart lights whose softened glow cultivates coziness which shines through our ruby-red wine, pulled out of the small wine fridge in the corner. The adjoining living area is full, but not crowded, with art of all kinds — photography, paintings, and bookshelves stacked with Toni Morrison.
I hadn’t spent time around a queer couple who lived together and built a home, truly together, as they had. As a gay man who grew up in rural Michigan, these models haven’t been easy to come by. Beyond envisioning my future home, Julius and Enzo’s apartment is a model for how I want to live. Luckily, I found one across the hall. For the first time, I had a vision of what queer cohabitation could look like and how it expresses and validates joy and identities.
The apartment decor not only welcomes you but tells you about them. This is highly expressed through their art, which Julius has picked out over the years, a personal curation that conveys who he is. The work “K is for KKK” by Lola Flash, a Black queer artist, not only invites but demands contemplation, reminding us that not all — perhaps unfortunately few — queer spaces are designed with such inclusivity in mind. The iconic work of queer artist Patrick Church is both whimsical and yearning by the door, and it contracts from the Adrian Piper exhibition at MOMA that reminds of us of what we owe to our bodies. Art is also part of the story of them as a couple: two collages from David Woodward were purchased as gifts for one another(without knowing what the other was doing) even before they began officially dating.
But this is a home, not just a gallery. A classic locker storage unit has been transformed into something magically chic, covered in Polaroids of their families who come from around the world. A pile of snakes flies out in a kaleidoscopic rainbow on a rug from Seletti wears Toiletpaper. Hanging plants cascading from various perches and the sleek, light pine stool tucked under the bar are used to reach high up pots and make the place feel incredibly lived in.
“I want it to feel like a space for our queer chosen family,” Julius once told me.
And it does. At moments, I feel like I am some small part of theirs, whether coming across the hall to drop off a package, have dinner, or water their plants when they’re out on vacation. Their space helped me believe that I was worthy of having something like this someday, too. I can celebrate joy and create a space that inspires myself and others. I can create a queer family of my own.
So much of having a queer identity is disclosure, coming out, and how people perceive you through that narrow lens. Julius and Enzo’s apartment showed me the power of coming into a space where the decision on what to disclose is entirely yours, making each choice a celebration of what you love and take comfort in.
This piece is part of Community Month, where we’re sharing the best ways to connect with, strengthen, and celebrate the communities you live in and belong to. Head on over here to see it all!