How a 'bad gay' fit in at KUOW's Queeriosity Club
Creative Director Keri Zierler joined KUOW's Pride-themed supper club with reservations but left with fresh perspectives and a new place to find a great tailored shirt.
KUOW's Curiosity Club took a queer turn for Pride month. The question guiding Queeriosity Club was the same as for our larger Curiosity Club experiment: Can great food and compelling storytelling transform a group of strangers into a community?
All of the KUOW stories that fueled the dinner's conversation were centered on LGBTQ themes. The group gathered for dinner on June 6 at The Cloud Room on Capitol Hill.
Below, Creative Director Keri Zierler reflects on her experience at the Club's LGBTQ-themed dinner party.
Okay, I admit it—I was nervous to spend an evening in KUOW’s Queeriosity Club. I’ve often described myself as a “bad gay” because I don’t have many LGBTQ friends in Seattle and I’m not deeply immersed in the queer community here.
I was afraid I wouldn’t be hip to the lingo or able to intelligently contribute to conversations about queer culture, media, or politics. But as I sat at the table, surrounded by a dozen wonderfully weird, diverse, and complex folks, I found my reservations quickly replaced by respect, gratitude and reflection.
Letting my stylish dinner party colleagues take the lead.
During dinner we were asked, among other things, to talk about our relationship with style and identity. Many stories reflected profound impacts that appearance and presentation have had on my Club-mates’ lives and relationships.
Mellina White Cusack, decked out in a crisp tailored blazer and shirt (made custom by Indochino as I later learned), shared how her style has affected her relationship with her mother, and the way she uses fashion to garner respect in the world as a young-looking, queer woman of color.
Jennifer Hegeman shared a beautiful anecdote about the euphoria of her first experience of unapologetically buying women’s clothes for herself at a department store.
When it was my turn, I didn’t think I had anything interesting to say about style. But as I began to speak, I found deeper connections between my clothes and my identity than I expected.
Four-year-old style icon.
My favorite picture of myself as a child is from preschool. I’m rocking a blue striped oxford shirt, yellow argyle vest (Lacoste of course, because the 80s) and khakis. I was like a tiny Alex P. Keaton. And even though that was 30+ years ago, I still have a lot of blue oxford shirts in my closet. Looking back, aside from my obligatory skater-shirts-and-cargo-shorts phase in college, my style hasn’t changed much throughout my life.
That’s not to say I’ve always been comfortable with my style; even though I’ve always dressed in a way that reflects my authentic self, that self wasn’t always easy to be. I was a tomboy, awkward, and nerdy. So while I didn’t go particularly out of my way to contort my style to fit in, I never felt particularly good about the authentic me.
As I grew older, though, I found tribes and a partner who liked that I was a tomboy, understood and empathized with my awkwardness, and were just as nerdy as I was. Now, as I turn 40, I feel like I’m finally good on both sides—with the self I have on the inside, and the self I’m presenting on the outside. I’m no longer resigning myself to my style, but feeling confident and empowered by it.
Dapper but not authentic.
One of our Queeriosity Club homework assignments was to read an article about the November 1967 issue of Seattle Magazine that featured a dapper man on the cover with the following caption: This is Peter Wichern. He is a local businessman. He is a homosexual.
When I first saw the cover image of Peter Wichern, I thought the entire image was amazing—the gorgeous extended typeface of the masthead, the bright red sweater, the sharp-cornered briefcase…it was mid-century perfection, punctuated with his confident, yet coy expression.
As I read the article however, I was surprised to learn that Wichern himself had absolutely hated the photo. He’d been styled to look more “normal,” but it didn’t reflect his authentic, gay, “rabble rouser” self at all.
As I looked around our Queeriosity Club table, it seemed to me that everyone had brought their authentic selves to the table, rabble rousers and all, and I was grateful to be there.
Despite my initial reservations, it was worth it to face my nerves about not being queer enough or woke enough or cool enough or whatever it was that was fueling my hesitation in order to connect with people I otherwise probably wouldn’t have shared a meal with. Especially Mellina--because now I know where I’m getting my next button-up.
Editor's note: Keri is Kristin Leong's partner. Kristin facilitates Curiosity Club.
Keri Zierler is an internationally awarded Creative Director and writer on the global advertising team at Amazon. In 2018, Keri was #36 on DapperQ’s list of 100 Most Stylish DapperQs. Before earning her BFA in Advertising at Art Center College of Design, she studied acting and musical theater. Keri won her first (and only) amateur boxing match by TKO, and she still has her membership card to the official Buffy the Vampire Slayer Fan Club. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @kerizierler.
Thank you to The Cloud Room, our KUOW Curiosity Club partner. The Cloud Room is a stylish co-working community and bar that’s enriched by the people who occupy it.