Take it from someone whose routine trip to the GYN turned into a kerfuffle of mis[fat]diagnosis--when a doctor is supposed to be treating you for something and launches into the fat talk you can politely tell them "I am not here to discuss my weight with you. I am here to discuss my bits, my HIV status and whether I am at risk for cancers." I like to have a mantra to prepare ahead of time.
Hey everybody! I am so thrilled to introduce you to my pals Iris and Virginia! I met them through their monthly pop-up gathering Queers, Coffee and Donuts and am so appreciative of all of the work they do to create fabulous parties.
Virginia (left) and Iris (right).
I love gender inclusive body positive community space. Being explicit about this gathering principle helps people feel at ease in new social circles. When I was planning my move to LA many people complained about a dearth of queer community events and spaces, but thanks to Iris and Virginia’s hard work, there’s a thriving new crowd about to inhabit a permanent brick and mortar space–Cuties coffee bar!
Not even a year ago we lost 49 gathered at a gay nightclub in the Pulse Nightclub shooting. Not long after that was the Ghostship fire in Oakland, where queers were gathered in an underground space and 36 lost their lives. I think now more than ever brick and mortar gathering spaces that are funded and able to have safety protocols are so important for marginalized communities. We need safe(r) spaces and refuges where we can be ourselves and we need to rise up let our tragedies fuel our commitment to making space and our resistance to oppressors.
As a Femme presenting person I really love being in a majority queer space and hope that folks assume I am queer until proven otherwise. I also hope that in a space that centers gender non conforming identities that folks don’t assume pronouns based on aesthetic assumptions. Iris once joked, “Every time someone asks a Femme presenting person their pronoun preference, an angel gets its wings.”
The fundraising video for Cuties is groundbreaking! An example of how all media can work to be in solidarity with gender non conforming and trans folks–put people’s names and preferred gender pronouns! (You have to watch it!)
The first Cuties event I went to was a pool party with donut floaties! Here I am with my friends Dari and T!
Read below the vision behind Cuties coffee bar. If you have a few bucks to help create this vital gathering space, please donate. Perks include pronoun pins! A great accessory and fabulous gift! And if you don’t, please share about this on social media. Folks all over should know that this is happening.
Here’s my interview with Iris and Virginia, my questions are in bold:
Tell us a little bit about yourselves and what background you bring to the Cuties coffee bar?
Iris is a genderfluid queer femme who has a background in costume design and the arts. Virginia is a transgender woman who started two online businesses. Her most recent business Tonx was an online subscription service for coffee which sold to Blue Bottle. We’re both from Virginia and we both love hosting. Creating a business around hosting and serving folks seemed very natural to us.
Cooper is their incredibly cute and sweet cat.
Did you start your events before or after you decided to open the coffee bar?
The coffee bar idea came first! We knew the process of finding a location and building out the coffee bar would take time. We also knew that we wanted to provide space and start building community right away so we came up with idea of “Queers, Coffee and Donuts.” It’s a monthly event where all folks on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum and allies can congregate in a low-pressure social environment. There’s no agenda other than inclusion, good strong coffee and delicious homemade donuts.
What has been the part of Cuties that has made you the most proud?
Seeing how loving and supportive this community can truly be makes us incredibly proud. We love watching people connect at events we host. We’ve seen people find new partners, friends, roommates, collaborators… you name it. People are even finding jobs through one another! Our goal with Cuties from the start has been to connect the queer community in LA in a way that’s inclusive and supportive and it seems to be working! Seeing the results fills us up and keeps us moving forward.
What are the challenges you’ve been experiencing with the build out and starting a brick and mortar business?
Everything always takes a lot longer than you think! We had some delays in getting into our space which threw our timeline off but we just put our energy into fundraising and creating more events for the community. We also imagine that there will be some delays with the buildout but we’re trying to schedule padding into our timeline to accommodate for those. It’s a struggle to let go of challenges that come up that we can’t control but over the past year we’ve really seen the power of persistence and incremental work. Even when it doesn’t feel like you’re making progress even the smallest step makes a difference in the long run.
What’s your vision for a day in the life of the Cuties coffee bar?
It’s early. Still dark out. We lift up the security gate and get the shop ready for the morning rush. Sleepy LACC students wander in before their first classes as the sun comes up, folks stop by after morning meditation at Against the Stream, people from the neighborhood come in for their morning pick me up. Slowly as the morning rush dissolves folks start settling in a bit. We have a slow, steady stream of everyone on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum (including allies) coming in and getting served. The afternoon shifts into evening. Some folks are out front in the vestibules cozied up on a date, tables are moved aside and chairs are set up inside and a screening of short films by queer filmmakers or maybe it’s a continuing sex education class or perhaps a Queer Mermaid Meetup. We close up shop after a full day happy knowing that our community had a safer and welcoming space where they could be themselves.
What informed the decision to open in East Hollywood?
The process of finding a space took us almost a full year. We were looking all over the city and saw hundreds of spaces. It was a very Goldilocks experience: this space is too small, this space is too large, this space is too expensive, this space doesn’t have enough infrastructure. The space in East Hollywood seemed to have a lot that was just right. The building is older and has some nice vintage details including dusty rose bricks and white moulding. The space is around 1,200 square feet and fit our budget. It was previously a coffee shop so there’s adequate electricity as well as some good plumbing already in place. We also love the location because we’re right behind LACC, a block away from a Buddhist meditation center. The Braille Institute and the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical center are both close too. While our goal is to center and support queer & trans folks our business is going to be kept afloat by the neighborhood around us.
Dari drinking coffee at Queers, Coffee and Donuts.
What’s on the menu for Cuties?
We’re starting small! You’ll be able to get some pastries and donuts with your coffee. Since so many of our community members are vegan and gluten free we’re featuring goodies from Erin McKenna’s Bakery. We’ve been serving their donuts at Queers, Coffee & Donuts monthly and they are a great option for folks who can’t have Virginia’s very glutinous and decidedly non-vegan donuts. Eventually we’ll start adding some grab and go items like breakfast bagels and sandwiches.
I have noticed that a lot of coffee bars in LA don’t have space for fliers (for real!). Since you’re a community space, what’s your vision for fliers/community message board?
In the shop we’re planning on having nooks for fliers for like events and classes but also informational pamphlets about PrEP or safer sex practices. There will also be bulletin board for people to share services, roommate requests, and more. We’re also excited to feature zines from queer & trans creators and have them on a rack for purchase. The flier nooks, bulletin board and zine racks will be positioned so folks will see them when they pick up their drinks. We’re also dedicated to keeping those resources up to date. It’s such a bummer to see a flyer for a cool event only to find out it was last weekend! We’ll also continue with our promotion of community events and services through our social media accounts and through our newsletter the “Cuties Weekly Brief.”
Check out the IndieGogo for Cuties right at this link (and seriously watch the video even without sound–you’ll see what I’m talking about with groundbreaking pronouns in the subtitles)!
Follow Cuties on Facebook!
Upcoming events for Cuties:
Queer Carnival fundraiser in the new space Sunday, March 26th—Tristan Taormino is doing a spanking booth, there’s a Shibari tutorial and lots of other fun, and I’m working the door!
I love that Cuties events often encourage optional costumes and Iris will always bring the fabulous costume to other events–like my birthday party! Pictured here with Tristan.