Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Importance of the West Village and those God-Damned Christopher Street Kids

Dwayne Garner- 2008
I want to start this blog entry by prefacing that, yes, I realize the Christopher street kids are loud, that they loiter and yes, I feel for those residents plagued by the noise pollution, crowded and dirty sidewalks and youths running amok. I realize all of this and I sympathize with the problems and annoyances the residents of Christopher St. face regarding these children and their noise.

But I'd also like to say that I sympathize with the youth too. It's a fact- these mostly minority, almost all inner-city youths come to Christopher Street because for 40 years this street stands as THE known place where one can be as openly gay as they are. Just take a look around. If you want to know where community pride is- look to these kids. Many of them unapologetically effeminate, the young fems hold the hands of their butchie partners and all of them are decked out in some form of rainbow attire. They're here, they're queer and they are on Christopher Street to be just that. There is no Christopher Street in Newark or The Bronx or Brooklyn or Queens- so is it any wonder these kids take hour-plus train rides, escaping their homelands to be here, on this small strip of a street?

I have blogged about this several times: The kids are hanging out at all hours of the night, loitering outside of the bars, because that's the "cool" place to be and despite the best and deeply appreciated efforts of The Gay and Lesbian Center, the kids just don't find "The Center" a "cool" place to hang. I've said it before, to a tiring degree- It is not the kid's fault that they have nowhere to go but it is the fault of a city and a community too disinterested in creating a safe, well supervised, "cool" 18+ venue for these kids to go that isn't any kind of "Center." I'll vouch for it- I grew up in a white, wealthy, tree lined New Jersey suburb and although these kids' street-cred is far superior than mine ever was I still scoffed at the notion that my mother expected me to have fun at High School or Hebrew School dances. It's the same thing as a center- a party organized by authority. The two will never fit into the same equation.

Now despite the statements above the article below details a Center of the city that has some working ingredients: culture, dance, and expression. The article also offers a window into the mind of 2008 gay youth, upholding his sense of cultural history, The Ball Culture, through the years that passed while still upholding what Christopher Street means to all of us and why it is year after year that we regard this paved spread of blocks as a home.

From the NY Times:
ON a recent Monday afternoon, scores of young people gathered in a mirrored-wall dance studio at the Door, a youth center on Broome Street in the West Village, where they cranked out thumping house music and competed in vogueing, a dance style influenced by modeling poses that was popularized by gay people in the 1980s.

The center’s vogueing competition, which has categories like runway, performance and face, takes place weekly and is called a mini-ball, a tip of the hat to the grand balls of the established vogueing scene. The event was added to the center’s schedule two years ago. It is one of a series of programs intended in part to offer gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teenagers who flock to the Village from elsewhere in the city an alternative to hanging out on the streets and Pier 54, thus helping smooth relations between them and neighborhood residents who had increasingly complained about their raucous behavior.

Among the party’s regular competitors is Dwayne Garner, a lithe 20-year-old with full lips and high cheekbones who dreams of becoming a model and an actor. On a recent afternoon between dancing in the mini-ball and rehearsing a routine for Manhattan’s annual Gay Pride Parade, which will be held today, Mr. Garner spoke about the art of vogueing and coming of age as a young gay man in the West Village.


It was beautiful when I first came to the Village in 1992. I was 14. In the Village, every block you went on, you saw at least 20 gay people. I wanted to spend as much time as I could down there. I didn’t do drugs, didn’t smoke weed, didn’t smoke cigarettes, didn’t drink liquor, nothing. It was just a natural high to be around men who were attracted to me. When I went home, I had to become more butch. Down there, I could be free. I could breathe.

By the way I dress and carry myself, people in my community see that I’m gay. Some people treat me like a normal person. Some people say, “Oh, faggot.” Plenty of young people are dealing with the same issues I did, and the West Village is the only place that offers comfort.

There was a lot of protest last year about young people being down there late at night. Residents think we’re rowdy. But if I was a resident of the West Village and had people who don’t live in my neighborhood there all day every day, standing in front of my building, smoking, drinking and having loud conversations while I have to get up and go to work the next morning, I would be upset, too. I understand the animosity.

I’ve been coming to the Door since I was 15. Me and my friend Joshua used to play around in the Door’s dance studio trying to learn how to vogue. People came and watched us dance. We said, “Since you’re watching us, you might as well make yourself useful and judge us.” They judged us on our vogue, our stage presence. After we were done battling, they chose a winner. We were like, that’s cute. We just did our own little mini-ball.

Breathe with these kids. Sympathize with them- because whether it was Christopher Street or any other Mecca of gayness, at one time or another each and everyone of us have come upon these lands and said, "I'm home."


Sam J. Miller said...

"I feel for those residents plagued by the noise pollution, crowded and dirty sidewalks and youths running amok"


in my experience, the people who hate on the pier kids are just rehashing white middle-class cliches about youth of color in general - "i'm scared of them, they want to hurt me, they're always STANDING AROUND LOOKING MENACING, they bring down my property values, why can't the police just lock them all UP!?!?"

you've written a nice post, so it's a shame to kick it off by tipping the hat to those "community-minded" folks who want this city to hurry up and get so gentrified that they can no longer afford to live there.

Mark said...

eric, the same streets were mine in exactly the same way, way back when I was a 16 year old gay kid, happy to be in that environment, instead of stodgy, stuffy old Brooklyn.

i actually think its great that the kids still congregate there, and i find them a hell of lot less offensive than the Sarah Jessica Parker clones that push you off the sidewalk at Bleecker Street.

i mourn the loss of the neighborhood for all of "us", because in the end, money will win out, and the very reasons all us kids came to the Village in the first place for will be gone, replaced by yet another Ralph Lauren boutique.

Aaron said...

Christopher St. is just like Sex and the City now, except with strollers.

And that is wonderful, except that new spaces for gay people -- and gay youth -- are not being created as the old ones are taken away.

People say, "Oh, we have the Internet now." But the early part of this decade taught us that Manhunt hookups and a dinner plate full of crystal meth do not create communities.

People, coming together in real life, by intent or accidence, do.

Terry Miller said...

Nicely done!

And of course it's not the whole west village that's overrun by sometimes-loud youth, but mainly six blocks on one street that was already commercial, and filled with bars and nightlife.

pdxprofessor said...

thanks for this post. there's a reason i keep coming back to your blog and this is one of them. i was one of those queer kids of color who would walk down from 147th and 8th to get to christopher street to hang out and just be my sissified gay self without fear, or to go to GLYNY (gay and lesbian youth of NY) meetings at the center. i can't tell you how valuable it was to my emerging sexual identity and sense of myself as a gay man to have those spaces and to feel like i belonged in them. people complained back then too, but as one of your posters mentioned, people always complain when groups of young people of color are anywhere.

to all the haters i say: give the kids a freakin' break.

NG said...

Before The Queer Justice League became a dismal failure, I seem to recall a mediation of sorts between neighborhood groups and groups that were representing the kids, the ones the old queens keep bitching about.

Whatever became of that?

RG said...

Aaaah, the battle of gentrification versus what has always been.

We have the same struggle going on here in Cambridge in Harvard Square.

Jim de LifeLube said...

Thanks for this. In Chicago's "Boystown" we are facing the EXACT SAME thing. The City and Community create a gay destination and then priveleged folks FREAK OUT when young gay people show up and want to do more than attend various programming activities... We, too, need juice bars and fun places for the under 21 set to hang out without fluorescent lights and clipboards!

David said...

Sam, I have to disagree with you. Yes, some of the residents' complaints come from a place of white privilege. Others come from a place of "wouldn't it be nice if my front step wasn't covered in empty Burger King wrappers every morning." It this was Bushwick then you get what you pay for, but this is the West Village and if young people want to come in by the subway full and create a safe space for themselves then great, but they have to do so understanding that they are doing it in someone else's backyard and offer a smidgen of respect. If it's two in the morning, maybe it's not the best time to bellow at each other with joy on a residential street. Maybe save that for the Pier where no one is trying to get their 6-month old to stay down for the night.

Consideration and respect is a two-way street.

ewe said...

I disagree with the post as well. It is all well and good to feel gay and safe in the west village but not on the sidewalk loitering loudly at other peoples expense. I have walked down the street and have been asked "you got a dollar because i'm beautiful?" I am more than double their age and can say i am still more beautiful than they ever were or will be. It is rude to approach strangers like that and i don't give a shit if people think i am being uppety when i say that. Leave me the fuck alone when i am walking down the street. Now i did let that young queen know how i felt and all her sistas called me nasty. I could care less really but people should not be subjected to that type of assault on the street because young people of color need a place to hang out. Go indoors for god sake. Just because it is Christopher street does not make it ok. It is a street like any other. And no, you do not have my understanding. too bad if someone does not like it. Keep it up and we will get the police to issue tickets of disturbing the peace. This is a two way street so to speak, not a god damn weekend place to party without regard for the residents.

fatima said...

the issue is entitlement. the folks who live in neighborhoods where resources are readily available have chosen to see themselves as entitled to those resources...and thus when folks from other neighborhoods come in to utilize those spaces, they are seen as intruders...coming into spaces that are not theirs.

it doesn't surprise me that this issue has trickled down so far that it is affecting the politics of one particular street.

while i think that residents' frustrations with noise and littering is legit, what pisses me off about these conversations is this:

somehow on north halsted (in chicago), where the center on halsted lgbt community center is located, residents can handle the drunk and VERY obnoxious cubs fans that frequent all the bars in the area but somehow 16 year old black trans youth are a huge threat...

so yah, its an issue of entitlement. and especially entitlement based on race and class. so the message is if you aren't white and/or at least middle class then don't go into neighborhoods that aren't yours because you don't deserve to access those resources. lame.

ewe said...

I don't think it is lame at all. Keep all your bullshit about race politics to yourself. We are also talking about real estate here not just outer borough teens quality of life issues. They are rude and deserve no less right back in their faces. I used to live right on the same corner as a bar. I did not care what damn race the noisemakers were who woke me up. Go try and silence some other poor sap who believes your crap Fatima.

Anonymous said...

In the words of Suze Orman (ewe), 'first people, then money, then things'.
I can understand your frustration because I deal with it too. But fatima does make a good point. I've been harassed more by cubs fans then I have any of those youth on halsted (regardless of their race). And these are older, middle class white men and women who are drunk out of their minds. Not to mention that some of these same individuals, who are also white, are on the streets late at night-and they're drunk and making all types of noise. So why is it okay to address only one aspect of the issue. Are you saying that it's okay for the whites to make noise and not for the black youth?

I can also agree that the youth have the potential to be rude, but when I see that, I make sure to check them on it, and let them know that they're lucky that they even have a place up here to hang out. I don't snap back at them, I just have a conversation with them because I feel that if they want to come up here to hang out, they have to show some respect (yet when i try to have the same conversations with cubs fans it's always a mess). I think that the issue lies deeper then property values, and if people have a problem with it they should address the problem and do something about it instead of just trying to push it all under a rug.

P said...

Ewe = eeew.

It is clear from your tone and choice of words that you are not now, and probably never have been, truly beautiful.

Your opinion is as worthy as any other. The problem of the neighborhood is real. But your attitude makes my skin crawl. I literally got that cringey heebie jeebie shudder after reading your entries. Shame on you for smearing all your ugliness over our beloved, and often troubled, youth.

Quality of life and real estate values are important, but if it turns you into That, then your beauty is lost in the snarl, and your only value is that on a spreadsheet. We need you to be more than that. Ewe... be beautiful, on the inside too, or you are as much a selfish blight to our community as you believe those kids to be.

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