Text by Wade Wallerstein
Photography: Julia Comita
Make-up: Clara Rae
Hair: Gabe Jenkins
Assisted by: Amanda Yanez
"We're not fucking!" Michael Zakar told me. Let the record show. Apparently a lot of people ask this question of models and twin brothers Michael and Zach Zakar, who are known for their intimate dual portraits. "Would you fuck your sister? Then I wouldn't fuck Zach." The connection between this dynamic duo is powerful, their on-camera chemistry palpable. And, to be fair, they are half-clad in nearly all of their instagram pictures, so I can almost see how someone might jump to this conclusion. That being said, ew.
24 year-old gay models, writers, entrepreneurs, leaders in the LGBTQ+ community, and lovable goofballs Michael and Zach Zakar are known not only for their identical good looks but for trailblazing a path forward for queer people who come from Near and Middle Eastern cultures. As smart as they are funny, the pair penned a 66,000 word memoir last year called Pray the Gay Away: a dual-account tragicomedy about growing up with deeply religious Iraqi immigrant parents. While they await the slow publication process, the two have started work on a new app called My Twin, which will connect them to their fans and allow anyone to reach out to the Zakars any time for advice, support, or just to crack a few jokes. All of this while flying between Los Angeles and New York to model and audition for television pilots—the Zakars are busy guys.
All of their work stems from the twins' deep commitment to providing queer youth across the country and specifically boosting the visibility of queer Near and Middle Eastern people. Growing up gay, first-generation Iraqi-American was hard: “it was confusing for our Mom,” Zach said, “in Iraq, being gay isn’t something that you discuss openly. She was worried about how the community would talk about us a negative light. It was hard to see her take it so hard, she basically cried and prayed for 90 percent of our coming out process.” Every day, the Zakars receive hateful comments (in English and Arabic) on their social media accounts. By now, they've learned to laugh it off. As Zach put it, “It’s all about how you react to a situation that defines you.” But their goal in all of their public activity is to normalize queerness in Near and Middle Eastern culture, and show other queer youth that they are not alone.
This is because Michael and Zach were never alone: they always had each other. They came out to each other before anyone else, and told their mom together (less chance of backlash on a united front). One of the most upsetting, and hilarious accounts from Pray the Gay Away is their mother's reaction to their coming out. After a few days of their Mom camping out at the local church and literally trying to pray their gayness away, the twins came home from school to a darkened kitchen illuminated by dozens of tea light candles. “Mom asked for us to get on our knees and repeat after her,” Zach told me. “We did what she said. She pulled out the camera phone that she barely knew how to use, and started to record as we repeated her Arabic prayers. She said this was leverage for when we go to Heaven,” he laughed “to prove that we were good Christians. As if God has a phone to text.”
Despite some of the negativity that the twins receive, they take everything in stride and remain undoubtedly powerful voices in the queer community. “Other closeted Iraqis message us for our courage, and it’s nice to give a face to a something that has been shed in a negative light in our culture in the United States,” Michael explained. For a long time, the twins tried to keep their sexualities a secret—even from each other. “It’s shocking how now [being gay Iraqis] is what we’re known for. In a way, our sexuality is empowering because it is so looked down upon in our culture. Coming out has taught us to be better people regardless of our sexualities.”
When My Twin launches sometime in the near future, Michael and Zach will have a direct line to their fans: a place where anyone can reach out to them, and find a twin there to lift them up. They’re not just telling people that it gets better, they’re leading the way. “Every family is different and that’s what we want people to understand,” Zach explained. “SOMEONE has gone through what you go through and it gets better if you truly want it to be. Find people that accept you and cut out the negative people in your life. Sometimes, family isn’t blood-related.”
Follow Michael and Zach’s story at www.zakartwins.com, or on their instagram page @zakartwins.
The images in this story come from Julia Comita Photography's "One Face" editorial.
In the making of DRØME we hope to showcase a community of doers and nourish an attitude of empathy in a world that teaches us to pass judgment rather than practice kindness. The stories, images, and people shared in this magazine are an amalgamation of perspectives often overlooked or explicitly excluded from art and media worlds. The dearth of diverse identities and viewpoints within the arts is harrowing, especially for a young generation that is fighting its hardest to overcome conservative notions of order ultimately practiced as acts of discrimination against the very people and things we find most inspiring. In DRØME, the featured creators and creations encourage us to never shy away from who we are and what we want. Each artist, in sharing their story, embodies their own definition of agency. Against a mainstream ideology that indoctrinates patriarchal, capitalist, and hateful theories turned into policy, the artists in our first issue represent the ways in which art can take power back from society's denigrating control.