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How Have Houston’s LGBTQ Influencers Been Keeping Busy?

Local creatives share their experiences during the pandemic.

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With quarantine restrictions still in place, many Houstonians have found some innovative ways to keep themselves and others entertained. But just how are Houston’s LGBTQ creatives using their time at home to perfect their crafts and build their followings? We asked some of our favorite local influencers that question, so read on for their insightful answers:

Jessica Zyrie

Model, actress, activist

My quarantine is in central Houston with my boyfriend, Alexander, and our cat, Bluebell.

This extra time and adjustment has forced everyone to focus on ourselves and where we are in life. I have used this time to find more ways of expression with my hair, makeup, videography, and photography. I’ve also found fun and creative ways to exercise at home. I have been studying Spanish, porque quiero aprenderlo. I’ve tried to check in more with people during this time as well.  

Working from home has been interesting, to say the least. I am fortunate enough to have a position in which I can work from home, but I continue to wonder how “the new norm” will be once the pandemic comes to an end. A lot of events, fashion shows, and acting opportunities are going completely virtual, which is changing the entire dynamic.

I also work as a case manager full-time, and dealing with vulnerable populations that were already experiencing multiple barriers is definitely challenging. I tend to find comfort in planning for the future, but due to the uncertainty of everything I have been trying to take it day by day.  

I recently went mostly vegan, though I have had my cheat meals lately. Burgers (vegan or not) are my ultimate go-to. My favorite place to order takeout for a vegan burger is Verdine in the Heights. For a non-vegan burger, I order from Whataburger or Five Guys. 

I have learned so much about myself during this time. I have learned how I was always rushing to get from point A to point B previously, and not allowing myself time to breathe and exist. This quarantine has forced me to do that. I also began creating some natural hair products, and trying new styles with my hair that I love. I used to shy away from trying new things because I didn’t want to fail. 

I’ve been binge-watching Game of Thrones and The Office (again). I typically enjoy true-crime documentaries and series. The series Self-Made: Madam CJ Walker was really inspiring to me. I also love thrillers. Sometimes I’ll watch a good Disney or Pixar movie. Literally everything, I guess! 

Some great podcasts to check out that are run by black trans individuals are Marsha’s Plate and Can We Talk?

A book I recommend, which I just started reading, is called Defining Moments in Black History: Reading between the Lies by Dick Gregory. After I’m finished with that book, I’ll be reading My Sister: How One Sibling’s Transition Changed Us Both by Selenis and Marizol Leyva. 

I know so many great organizations doing great work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To name a few specific to the trans community, check out Save Our Sisters (SOS), Black Trans Advocacy Coalition (BTAC), Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT), and Organización Latina de Trans en Texas (OLTT)

Keep up with Jessica Zyrie on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @thejessicazyrie


 

Peru Flores 

Actor/Comedian/Writer/Hospitality Worker

I‘m quarantining at my place, joined by my mother and my dog, Clover.

Creativity thrives under desperate circumstances, so a lot of writing and show pre-production is taking place for me right now. I’ve also been hosting an online comedy talk show on Instagram called Unpopular Opinions every week!

Working from home looks like the emoji with two X’s across the eyes. (Just kidding!) It looks like Zoom meetings and emails, emails, emails.  

I’ve been shamelessly ordering delivery and pick-up from Boheme a lot. Frozen mojitos FTW. And yes, also their Vietnamese fries, because dad bods for the summer! 

Working in hospitality is a bit tricky right now, but it’s nice seeing people supporting local businesses by ordering curbside pickup and delivery. Also, shout-out to all the essential medical workers on the front lines keeping everyone safe!  #Heros

I’ve learned during the quarantine that I have more discipline and focus than I thought I was going to have when it started.

I’ve been binge-watching the new TV show Defending Jacob on Apple TV. It’s a crime drama with eye-candy Chris Evans playing an attorney and a dad. Sign me up!

My nostalgic binge-watch right now is Daria on Hulu, because even in the ’90s that badass female was breaking ground while rocking the most iconic glasses. 

If you liked the book Gone Girl, you should check out Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware. 

The Honeymoon podcast with Natasha Leggero and Moshe Kasher is a great listen if you need a laugh (or a hundred). Listen to the comedians roast callers asking for relationship and sex advice, and also listen to some secrets from their private hotline. 

The badass hospitality group I work for, Goodnight Hospitality, is doing free provision boxes every Saturday afternoon for those food and beverage workers affected by COVID-19 (averaging around 100 each week). If you can afford it, you can buy a provision box via our wine and cheese shop Montrose Cheese & Wine. For each box sold, an additional free box is made for one worker in need. Go to @goodnighthospitality on Instagram (or to any of the venues) for more information.

Tune into Peru Flores’ Unpopular Opinions online comedy show every Sunday at 9 p.m. via Instagram Live @heyperu. While you’re there, follow Flores’ account for occasional twink thirst traps, fun content, and dog pictures.


 

Jenny Block

Writer/Author

I’m quarantining at my home on Lake Livingston with my wife; my longtime canine companion, Walter; and my newly adopted puppy, Aurora. 

To keep busy, I’m writing and reading and doing tons of crafts, which I love. We’re also playing Rummikub and doing puzzles. I tried planting an herb garden, but that didn’t really take root. I’m doing tons of baking and cooking. My friend Geoff owns a meat company called Nicky USA, so I even ordered a “game pack” from him and made pheasant, elk, and wild boar, which are all new meals to me.

We spend as much time as we can on the boat, cruising around the lake or anchoring off of Pine Island to wade in the water or lay out in the sun. Our deck and my study are my happy places. So I mostly spend time with my two pups in one of those places, writing or reading all kinds of words. 

Oh, and since my 21-year-old daughter is quarantining with her dad in Dallas (she was on spring break there when this all started), my wife got me a Nintendo Switch so I can play games with her. I am an Animal Crossing addict. Who would have thought? Video games have not been my jam since Atari!

I’ve always worked from home, so this quarantine isn’t that much different for me in terms of [my work routine]. The biggest difference is that I volunteer as a bone-marrow courier for Be The Match. I travel at least twice a month to pick up bone marrow in one city and fly it to another. But I have been grounded since March 17—my wife is really nervous about me traveling right now, which I get, but I am ready to get back to my post. I also travel a lot for stories and for fun. So it has been really odd not to be on the road. 

Another big difference is that the tour for my latest book, Be That Unicorn, was really getting underway just as the world shut down. That tour has been indefinitely postponed. Instead, I’m doing lots of podcasts and radio and TV shows via Skype and Zoom. But I’m looking forward to getting back on the road and in the studio. 

My favorite restaurants to order takeout from are Local Pho and Jenny’s Noodle House. It’s time to drive to Houston!

I have long thought that I was an extroverted introvert, but due to the quarantine, now I know for sure. I am relishing this time at home, although, of course, I am devastated by the cost at which it is coming. I’m also learning to manage my fears and stress, of which there are many and much. My brain is always working. So it’s hard to distract myself, even when reading, playing Animal Crossing, or watching TV or a movie. 

I love Tales from the Loop because I cannot get enough of that sort of post-apocalyptic/sci-fi genre, which was true before all of this happened. I’ve also binge-watched Killing Eve, Hollywood, Ozark, Tiger King (because, Tiger King), The Pharmacist, Love Is Blind, and Wild Wild Country. I love things I can really get lost in. I love documentaries and things that make me think about anything but what is going on. It’s impossible for me to shut my brain off, so the key is to feed it and take it on alternate routes. (Other than down the rabbit hole, that is.)

I love the podcast The Dream. I also just read Follow Me by Kathleen Barber and Strung Out by Erin Khar, which are totally different and totally amazing books. Now I’m reading Kept Animals by Kate Milliken, and I can hardly put it down. I watched The Killing of a Sacred Deer the other night, and was totally mesmerized. And of course I cried through Netflix’s A Secret Love. Wow. 

I have been so impressed by the work of the SPCA of Polk County. They are really suffering right now, having lost funding from a variety of sources, but they are working incredibly long hours to care for the overwhelming number of animals they have—a number which grows exponentially every day. And they are doing everything they can to find safe and loving homes for the dogs, cats, and other animals—including teeny baby raccoons and an enormous turkey—that come their way every day. 

For more information on Jenny Block, visit thejennyblock.com, and learn more about her new book, Be That Unicorn at bethatunicorn.net. Follow Block on Twitter @Jenny_Block and Instagram @TheJennyBlock


 

Aryka Randall

Filmmaker/Photographer/Blogger

I’m quarantined in San Diego with my 94-year-old grandfather. It has been interesting, to say the least.

Keeping busy while social distancing has been easier than expected! I’ve been able to write a few screenplays, finish projects, network via Facebook groups, host a virtual table-read, clean up, organize, and restructure a few things with my business. I’ve also been given ample time to get back to maintaining my blog, TFF MAG, and create events for femme queer women. My grandfather and I have also made a habit of taking car rides through the city, which is relaxing.

For me, working from home looks like editing photos, creating treatments and character breakdowns for shows, and learning as much as I can about screenwriting and filmmaking. Zoom calls have become the norm, and conference calls via phone happen a few times a week. Not much has changed for me, because I work from home year-round. 

The main thing I’ve learned about myself is that I when I allow myself to be still and recharge, I am the best creative version of myself. We get so caught up in hurrying through, day to day, so it’s nice to just sit and have a chance to think and create without feeling rushed. 

I enjoyed watching Little Fires Everywhere on Hulu, and Never Have I Ever and Gentefied on Netflix. All of them are similar in the sense that the main characters are women, and the casts are diverse. Little Fires Everywhere was full of drama and intensity, and Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon are amazing actresses. Never Have I Ever had a super-cute, unexpected queer storyline that was enjoyable, and the show itself was awesome. Gentefied also has a queer storyline between two women, and the storyline shed light on “gentefication” and some of the hardships queer artists feel when sharing their work with the general masses. 

If you’re looking for a good book to read, check out Be That Unicorn by Jenny Block. My book, She’s Just Not That Into You, is also available on Amazon Prime and at Barnes & Noble. Molly’s Game on Netflix is great if you want a good movie, and my streaming series, 30, on Amazon Prime and YouTube is a winner if you’re looking for a good streaming show!

I have seen a few local businesses serving the public as well as raising money for their employees, which is very admirable. Pearl Bar and Sinful Bakery have both done a great job. I have also seen local queer comedian Trinity Newman turn her home into a full-fledged mask-making shop, which is amazing.

 Learn more about Aryka Randall’s production channel and photography business (respectively) on Instagram @arykapproductions and @arykapphotography. Follow Randall on Instagram @APRLOVES, and check out her series, 30, online at youtube.com/girlplaytv.


 

Harper Watters

Houston Ballet Soloist

In the words of Beyoncé, “me, myself, and I” is all I’ve got during my quarantine—plus my adorable dog, Roxy.

The first part of my quarantine was spent learning TikTok dances and recreating iconic choreography like Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” and Beyoncé’s “Ring the Alarm.” But I quickly realized that this time wasn’t going to be a short little moment at home—we were in this for the long haul to “flatten the curve” and help protect our community and loved ones. 

So then I began to implement more of a schedule and daily routine, which has helped immensely with my focus and overall attitude. Houston Ballet offers a company class through Zoom now, so I take that every day. And I’m working on a social-media project, with creatives of all disciplines collaborating together to make short dance movies, overcoming the restrictions of social distancing. 

The Houston Ballet is committed to providing new and creative content through our #HBAtHome initiative, which is taking place across our social-media platforms. It’s certainly a new reality for us, but we are approaching it with the same level of tenacity, dedication, and attention to detail that we would for the work we present on stage. That starts with company class every morning, holding on to my kitchen counter for a barre. We have full 60-dancer meetings three times a week where we lay out our plans for the content we plan on filming that week. Projects have ranged from hand-washing videos, workout routines, and individual at-home videos. I even recreated Stanton Welch’s Clear, one of my favorite ballets, for all dancers. We have even more incredible projects coming up that are equally delicious and artistic, so be sure to stay up to date with that!

I live in Montrose, so I’ve been frequenting Paulie’s and popping over to Camerata for an adult beverage to pair with it. When it’s nice out, I make my way over to Blacksmith to grab a coffee and a scratch biscuit. I’m a terrible cook, and because Italian is my favorite type of food, there is a high chance that I’ve ordered both Coltivare and Dolce Vita in the same week. You can’t go wrong with coffee, pizza, pasta, and wine.

My go-to shows all have great seasons currently airing. The Real Housewives of Atlanta is about to have their first-ever virtual reunion, and season 12 of RuPaul’s Drag Race is about to crown a new winner. I binged Tiger King in one day, along with Too Hot to Handle on Netflix. I’ve also watched Beyoncé’s Homecoming a few times, which honestly is essential viewing and should be taught in school curriculums. My quarantine TV programming is [the same as] my airplane viewing content—not too serious or stressful, just enough to distract and entertain. 

I’m obsessed with all things pop-culture, so Keep It and Shut Up Evan are my two favorite podcasts at the moment. I think everyone should be listening to the official new anthem of Houston, the Savage remix by Megan Thee Stallion and Queen Beyoncé. I haven’t stopped listening to it, and knowing it was made by two Houston women is so inspiring and powerful. Stream that nonstop!

I want to shout-out the Houston Ballet wardrobe department. Houston Ballet is extremely fortunate to have our team of seamstresses and costume designers onsite. They diligently made individual masks for the company and staff to wear when we have to go out for essential errands. Using their resources to help is a true testament to the organization’s heart, and a great example of how no act is too small in making a difference right now. 

Follow the Houston Ballet on Instagram @houstonballet, and keep up with Harper Watters on theharperwatters.com and on Instagram @theharperwatters


 

Cabe Nowlen

Hairstylist, singer/songwriter, owner of Craft Salon

I’m quarantined at home by myself, with the exception of a couple of close friends and co-workers.

At first I was sleeping a lot and enjoying the rest. Then I began painting, rearranging, and organizing my apartment. I also spent a lot of time in front of the TV, watching shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Now I’m trying to get out more and ride my bike. Being too sedentary is getting to me.

My favorite restaurants to order takeout from are Nobies, Barnaby’s, Riel, and El Tiempo for their to-go margaritas.

I’ve learned during the quarantine that I’m actually much better with the lack of social interaction than I thought. But not going to work every day, and not having a routine or a gym to go to has given me a great amount of anxiety—an existential crisis.

Outlander has been a favorite show of mine for a while. I love period pieces. I also binge-watched a lot of competition shows, like Making the Cut and Next in Fashion. I love watching shows with people really pushing themselves and using their talents to create amazing things and following their dreams. I find that very inspiring. 

The Montrose Center is a really amazing organization that provides invaluable resources for an already many-times underprivileged and overlooked community. Of course they have a heavy focus on LGBTQ people, but all are welcome at the Center to [benefit from] the services provided. 

The elderly are especially prone to loneliness and going without, and the Montrose Center has social programs that help curb that. The free lunch programs allow some of them who are living with food insecurity to just have a meal a few times a week. To many of us, that sounds so sad, and it is. We live in such privileged worlds, but there are many who are still going without. I think in times like this, when we are watching people’s fear take over (and hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer), we realize just how fragile our charmed existence can be. But when this is all over and we go back to our regularly scheduled lives, I would encourage everyone to think about supporting those who live in fear and insecurity, even without a pandemic. Getting involved at the Montrose Center is definitely a great place to start.

For more information on Craft Salon, visit craftsalonhouston.com. Keep up with Cabe Nowlen on Instagram @cabenowlen

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Lourdes Zavaleta

Lourdes Zavaleta is the managing editor of OutSmart magazine.

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