Late last month, while digging through all the Instagram flyers for upcoming October parties, I noticed a surprising name on the list of hosts for a queer rave in Ridgewood: “Gabriel Ocasio-Cortez.” That would be AOC’s little brother. Her gay brother. Her hot, gay, rave-hosting little brother.
Being the sibling of one of the country’s most beloved and reviled (and social-media proficient) politicians can’t be easy. “Life is definitely different. How can it not be?” he told me when, to my surprise, he agreed to bring me along to the rave. Which isn’t to say he’s not a little nervous. Anything he does can have unwanted media repercussions, thanks to the power of the attention focused on his sister. “It’s almost like the concept of time travel,” which as any sci-fi fan knows, can be dangerous. “Don’t breathe. Don’t touch a fly. Don’t kick a cup.”
Gabriel Ocasio-Cortez, 28, is a musician, artist, and former real-estate agent who turned to a career of progressive advocacy work after his sister’s 2018 election. He did this not out of Kennedy-esque noblesse oblige — they are still “normal people” from the Bronx, he says, and they very nearly lost their family home after their father died when GOC was just 15 — but because, as he told Interview late last year, “I could not post open houses … People would wait outside, and it got to a point where it was genuinely overwhelming.” These days, he’s working for a homeless shelter and helping families find housing. He also recently founded the Deaf Collective, a nonprofit with a focus on Deaf queer talent. (He has had partial hearing loss since he was a teenager.)
On Instagram, he’s something of an influencer (though he bristles at the word). He constantly stans his sister, occasionally posts a thirst trap, and invites people to share “questions and confessions,” which he responds to with advice about everything from antidepressants to sex (“Have you considered introducing adult films into your in-person flings?” he recently suggested to an anonymous follower who’s “having trouble cuming in real life sex”).
In the end, though, he’s hardly shy; I knew that as soon as I saw him wearing little more than a wrestling singlet at sksksks (a new rave series founded by the DJ THELIMITDOESNOTEXIST that caters to hyperpop-loving queers.) In person, he possesses the same charm as his sister, though he’s a bit goofier and occasionally braggadocious, if not downright cocky, as little brothers tend to be. “Sometimes you have to throw yourself to the wolves,” he joked when we arrived at the party.
12:31 a.m. | I’m standing on the sidewalk in front of the venue H0L0 — from the street, a discreet metal door on a sleepy corner in Ridgewood — when I spot Gabriel approaching. The weather is turning cooler, but he’s wearing a black-mesh wrestling singlet. He tells me he spent the day calling every gay fetishwear shop and Dick’s Sporting Goods within driving distance (ironically, Dick’s doesn’t sell dick-displaying onesies) before finding what he was looking for in Chelsea. Descending a musty stairwell into the party, I ask how he knows the organizers. He doesn’t really, but they approached him on IG to host. He tells me they originally asked him to host their rave on September 11, but he ultimately decided that throwing a queer 9/11 rager would be catnip for the New York Post, which has already trained its sights on him, if not with the venom it has reserved for his sister. “There’s no fucking way. They’d be like, ‘Oh my god! There’s red lights! Hail Satan!’”
12:40 a.m. | While waiting in line for our wristbands, we talk about going out, and for every question I ask him, he cheekily turns it around and asks the same one in return. For starters, he’d prefer to be at a dive bar rather than a rave. Distracted, I notice how toned his legs and arms are. What kind of person is he at a party, I wonder? “Whoever the party needs me to be,” he responds, before trying to quote The Great Gatsby (like everyone else, it seems, this summer) and then walking it back. “I’m anti-capitalism. I’m not here to enjoy excess.” I ask whether he fancies himself a good dancer, and he says, endearingly, “I wasn’t much of a dancer before the hearing loss, so you can only imagine me now. I’m not trying to pull an Elaine Benes.”
12:48 a.m. | In a cavernous concrete room downstairs, the bar is teeming with young, thotty queers running the gamut of gender and eye-shadow palettes. Again, we wait in line, this time for a drink. I ask Gabriel if he lives in the Bronx these days, and he shoots back, “I might be the first person you’ve met from the Bronx” — defensively, perhaps, but also clocking me — “but we do have resources. I walk home from the train at night.” I tell him I’m from Tennessee, and he proceeds to grill me a bit about the state’s suspect history.
12:50 a.m. | On the bar are small lit-up placards with the drink menu and prices — not a normal rave courtesy — and I find out that they’re actually Gabriel’s doing. In exchange for hosting the party, he asked the organizers to take steps to make it more accessible to the hearing impaired. He also asked for a light on the dance floor that pulses to the beat of the music. Still, not everything meets his expectations. As for future improvements, he tells me the lights could be better, the menus could be larger, and the stairs will always be an obstacle that could prevent someone from having a good time. “I guess that’s just part of disability culture: You don’t stop asking.”
1 a.m. | After grabbing our drinks — he orders a rum and ginger ale — Gabriel starts chatting with a short, husky admirer, whom I assume he knows, but when he returns to my side he says that’s not the case and reports that the boy made an “angry” face at him. “Who is he to give me that look? What the fuck?” Then he points to a gaggle of gays across the room who appear to be watching us and blames his semi-celebrity status. Or, I say, his outfit? They could also be looking at you, he tells me, and I blush.
1:05 a.m. | For better or worse, I know a lot of people here, including two ex-lovers and a boy I went on a date (umm … hooked up) with recently (ummm … earlier today). Gabriel sizes up the situation alarmingly quickly. “Did you curb him already?” A seems-like-he-might-be-straight man in a white T-shirt asks us where to find the water line, and Gabriel, a proper host, shows him before mumbling to me, “Straight people … need help.”
1:13 a.m. | Gabriel is anxious to find his own “friend,” a popular, partygoing fashion person who is supposed to be arriving any minute now. We wait outside to help him get into the party, but when we can’t find him immediately, we head back inside, and Gabriel complains, “I’m not here to open doors for people, like, Hey, zaddy.” Back downstairs, we find him easily because of his trademark bowl cut. When, for whatever reason, we start talking about COVID booster shots (Gabriel has Moderna: “Name brand! Sorry! No booster for me, bitches!”), the friend tells us that he had the “original” strain of the virus last March. Gabriel flirts, “So you’ve been inside everyone? That can be as sexual as you want it to be.” We’re interrupted when a couple asks to take a photo with Gabriel, which, when he returns, he jokingly calls a “public service.”
1:27 a.m. | We order another drink, and Gabriel’s outfit continues to attract attention. “I was gonna get a mask to give, like, lucha libre,” he says, but that would’ve been too hot (temperature-wise) in the crowd. The current ’fit still has one downside, he says, which is that his privates may not stay tucked away with too much vigorous movement. “I can’t rock out. I can’t trip-hop with my cock out, you know?”
1:35 a.m. | Still not leaving the bustling bar area, Gabriel sits me down on a little stool as if he’s watching after me and looks around anxiously for his friend with the bowl cut. “Did he die?” he asks. “That’s my No. 1 assumption. I’m brown. It’s October. I’ve seen horror movies. We’re the first to go.”
1:46 a.m. | Tired of the bar and not especially eager to join the rave room, Gabriel and I walk down a graffitied (“THINKING ABOUT ANAL”), dank hallway — it’s “Berlin L-I-T-E,” he says — to a backyard, where he wonders, “Is this where all the demon twinks are hiding?” Seconds later, we run into a designer he knows, dressed in a similar revealing onesie. “I like it that we’re the only ones that decided to serve bodysuit. Why is that?” Gabriel says. “I thought I would be underdressed. And now I see people are ready for winter formal, and I’m like, what the fuck is happening?” Still, I spot no less than half a dozen thongs peeking past waistbands on the patio.
2 a.m. | Gabriel spots several Deaf friends from the internet. Still standing with the designer, he launches into an inspired speech about political organizing and activism: “It’s the little changes, it’s the changes that aren’t even noticeable, that you wouldn’t think would invite people in. They teach people: If you wanna make it hurt, hurt their wallets. But it’s like, if you want to make a point, also use their wallet. It works two ways.” When he realizes what he’s doing, he stops, laughs, puts his Gucci sunglasses on, and says, “I’m not saying I’m Oprah, but I would definitely love a channel. Fisting 23.5 hours a day. The rest, motivational speeches with real-life applications.” sksksksksksk. When his friend breaks his $20 Walgreens glasses, Gabriel teases, “Maybe they couldn’t handle your excellence.”
2:16 a.m. | “I saw your ho. Even in my blindness,” Gabriel, still in his sunglasses, says, of my hook-up from earlier today. So we talk to him, and he tells us how he’s been coming to sksksks since they started and really loves this party: “I love the fucking faggots.” Gabriel unzips his zipper dangerously close to his crotch, but says he’s only trying to “breathe a little.” When a few too many people ask to take a picture with or of Gabriel — whether it’s because of his outfit or because he’s GOC is unclear — he becomes a little impatient, rolling his eyes under his sunglasses. On our way back to the bar area, he tells me, “I believe in peace, love, and self-defense. I have no problem blocking somebody’s shit, with all due respect. Blame it on the Bronx; I really don’t care.” We order another drink.
2:50 a.m. | Gabriel feels like a group of crop-top-clad boys are staring at him, and he tells me, “I haven’t felt physically safe in a long time.” There is a surprising vulnerability to him, despite his bravado. Then he suggests a new reason for the attention tonight: “I feel like people think you’re my date. People are giving me a lot of angry eyes. I’ve never seen so many angry bottoms.” I start wondering why we don’t just melt into the dance floor, and he seems to read my mind. “I’ve done too much hosting and not enough debauchery,” he says, and we head into the fog.
3:24 a.m. | At the front of the room, near the DJ stand, the music is intense, with a beat that gets faster and faster but never feels like it drops. We don’t last long. Gabriel’s had enough. We order another drink.
3:35 a.m. | On the patio again, Gabriel asks, “How do you feel about … anything?” and I’m not sure what he means. A friend of his, a politician from Connecticut, walks over to talk about “legislative processes” and “abolition education,” which is not exactly easy conversation at this hour and after this many cocktails. “It’s not all cock and balls. Everyone is so kind and gentle,” another friend says of the party. Even so, they’re about to head to a different rave in Brooklyn, which is, in fact, a cock-and-balls kind of affair.
3:50 a.m. | Gabriel and I certainly don’t have the stamina of his friends and decide to head home, but not before giving away the remaining drink tickets that, thank God, we did not use. Waiting on our Ubers, I ask his final thoughts on the party: “It was cute. I left with the jacket I came with. I wasn’t super-violently sexually assaulted. I’m alive.” We laugh. “I don’t undervalue the queer experience.”
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