Thursday, July 17, 2008

Shared Spaces

I ran into Aaron at Nowhere Bar and we got to talking about the whole "Save the Roxy" topic and the case for dwindling New York City nightlife. He opened up a topic which is always on our minds but easily brushed over once talk of policy, neighborhoods, liquor licenses and cabaret laws come into play.

Quite simply: The fight isn't about nightlife as much as it is about preserving our shared spaces. Despite the fact that online development is enabling non-bar types to stay in and orchestrate friendships without venturing out to the local gay bar, Aaron reminded me of the importance for gay people to be able to physically see and be around one another.

Before the internet going out was the only way to be out and many of those pre-Web men still prefer being out opposed to ordering in on the internet. Today, there's a lot of discussion about gay assimilation to the mainstream and the threat of losing our gay culture and flavor as the we, the marginalized, inch our way closer to normalcy.

I come from a time period and a profession where stating, "I'm gay" is as easy as saying I prefer blue over red but for many men from either yesteryear or even today's suit and ties of the financial or business world saying "I'm gay" or being around gay people just doesn't come that easy.

Straight people get see and interact with one another all the time. If one of their places or hang outs closes they just mosey on over to the next one. But for us, our spaces are specific and limited- we can't just move on to the next one. A space has to either already exist or be created for us, and always, by us. Nobody else will do it for us.

When boiled down Aaron's case is: Our shared spaces must remain and be protected because we're not granted the opportunity of day to day interaction. We must venture to specific places to be with our people and thus these spaces must remain open for that fact alone.

I know we've all been there- be it a wedding, or a 4th of July picnic or a family gathering where it's all so straight that we feel we have to break from it and run to our people for a sigh of relief. At the end of the day, we need these spaces to exist so we can all loosen our tie and be around those who understand us.


Marc said...

While I can understand Aaron's point, and do agree to some extent, shouldn't we also consider the flip side of that argument? Namely, advancing the understanding and acceptance of homosexuality so that the 4th of July picnic or the wedding isn't "so straight" that the first thought is escaping to the closest gay bar? Not in an assimilation type manner, but a true acceptance and integration into a diverse community.

Maybe I'm just being a Pollyanna here, but rather than working to perpetuate our segregation, shouldn't our efforts go into integration?

Aaron said...

To make it clear, I did not express any opinions about assimilation or integration.

I do believe that, instead of segregating ourselves from the mainstream culture, we should go out a "queerify" the mainstream.

At the same time, no one would ever suggest that, for example, Jews and Muslims take their religious practices into Christian houses of worship instead of their temples and mosques. (Although I am a fan of ecumenical "worshipping together" of all sorts.)

If we want to respect and embrace diversity, we also need to respect and embrace the concept of spaces that people "who are different" -- especially different from the mainstream -- can use as a place to experience/express/enjoy the things that make them different (and culture diverse) in the first place.

So I would say, we should:

* Integrate

* Change the greater culture

* Retain things about ourselves -- including our spaces -- that help us life, laugh, love, thrive, etc. despite the fact that we are in fact different from most people in society at large

I don't think that these things need to be contradictory.

Marc said...

Good points, Aaron - thanks for the clarification; I would agree with you 100% on your To-Do list.

Let's hear it for "Queerification"!!

Anonymous said...

Can we just talk about sex for a moment? Or, at the very least, desire? I find that we tend to talk around the notion that we so very often go to those spaces to seek out those who we desire, those with whom we can get naked with, and while the word "gay" implies a community of homosexuals, we are nonetheless defined by our desire, not our urge to get together for refreshments.

Until we can openly display our desire in the same environment in which our heterosexual brethren and sistern socialize -- and express their desire -- a segregated space isn't just necessary, it's common sense.

In other, related, news, could marc rock the Silver Foxiness more? I think not. Grrr.

Marc said...

{blushes} Thanks, B, you've got the foxy down pretty well yourself! Was kinda hoping to run into you in Toronto during pride. Alas :(

As for the sex - this goes back to Aaron's queerification theory - why shouldn't we be able to display our desires at the ballgame (think of the lesbians being admonished for kissing in seattle a few weeks back) or on a park bench (the 'news' - and i use that term VERY loosely - feature on same-sex PDA) or hold hands while walking down the street or . . . well - i know as well as you why, but it should be. {gets off his Pollyanna soapbox yet again}

Knucklecrack said...

Well shit- if we're not meeting in shared spaces we're now meeting on blogs...ain't that right BStewy..

Double Silverfox alert!

Marc email my ass up

Anonymous said...

Blogrolling is the new cruisebar.

Ryan Charisma said...


I "think" that both Posh & The Ritz are owned by straight men.

at least I'm pretty sure.

ewe said...

Every bar is a gay bar the moment i enter.

Joey7777 said...

On another issue (don't know where to post this) the so-called Straight Pride reggae parade in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, is still on for Aug. 31 to defend their "murder music". It's never too soon to start planning the protests, but I haven't heard of any yet from any group. I know it's still early though.

Anonymous said...

There's a difference, you see. In the gay community, open expression often has gone beyond what the non-gay community believes is 'acceptable' behavior, and that means more open sex and often requisite overall energy, a racyness.

I've been to gay bars across the US and EU, and there's a dividing line. That line has to do with exposure of genitalia, and sex. A secondary dividing line has to with gender-orientation, with a tangent that then describes a litany of purposes: watering holes/pubs, pickup bars, art/music/creativity, and so on.

In the midwest of the US where I live, gay bars are pretty tame. I'd prefer more of the Amsterdam/Paris/Cologne approach of heated fun. Yet I detest techo music, kitschy interiors, and high snoot factors where others thrive on this.

In NYC, IMHO, it's not a matter of assimilation rather of character and the more tribal nature of being gay. Being gay is both an orientation and a state of culture, and culture has tribal affinity. What's lost in NYC is some of the energy of being just liberated. Once liberated, the energy of the struggle is over and the energy still seeks a struggle. Christopher St is an historical place now, not the testosterone-fueled, racy place it once was. And racy is still fun, it's just looking for a new spot marked X.

Greg said...

Orange County, CA, has already lost most of its gay/lesbian bars. The Boom Boom Room (supposedly bought by George Clooney); Main Street (across from The Boom) changed its anme to Bounce and began attracting a more drunken straight clientele. Metropolis disappeared without a sound. The Ozz was forced to close due to eminent domain. Only one tiny bar that I know of still survives - The Tin Lizzie - but most gay men and women head to LA County now.

It's sad, the feeling of not belonging to the community in which you grew up. I'm just glad that other bars, clubs, restaurants and churches are still within each, even though they're in a different county.

jawnny said...

I agree with pretty much everything that's been said here. The problem is, as Anonymous hints in the comments, we're now nearly 40 years past Stonewall, and queers don't have the same fight in us that we used to - because we've made an awful lot of progress during that time. Progress means being able to be out without fear, which means not all gays need spaces like bars and bathhouses to feel accepted and linked into a community.

There are other, non-queer-specific factors as well. U.S. cities, including New York and San Francisco, have experienced an incredible resurgence in the last 20 years or so. This drives up real estate prices, which has the effect of scattering gay communities, since higher expenses drive out those who can't afford them. We used to have downtown areas to ourselves because no one else would go near them. Now they're the hottest real estate there is. There's also the Internet, of course. I'm sure I don't need to elaborate on the effects of the Internet on gay culture to this crowd.

And frankly, there's the AIDS crisis. A bartender here in Philly told me a while back that two things were responsible for the demise of the most vibrant and crazy spots in town: the Internet and AIDS. AIDS killed off a huge number of our people - specifically, it killed the ones who remembered Stonewall, who remembered having to fight hard just to be out. They're also the ones who defined the scene during the 1970s and 1980s. When they died, the demographics and attitudes of gay people shifted dramatically.

There's also the effect of gay marriage, both as a concept and as a right. I'm surprised no one has mentioned Boston in the comments. Boston is a prime example of the death of gay culture. There are more gay bars in Providence, Rhode Island - a city 1/4 the size - than there are in Boston. Why? Gay marriage and the cost of living. Boston is super expensive to live in, and it happens to be in a state where gay marriage has been legal for years now. Gay culture has nearly died there because not enough people there need gay-specific spaces - at least not enough to pay Boston prices to live near them. Queers there are settling down, many in the suburbs, even if they're not getting married. The gay ghetto is nearly obsolete in Boston.

So on a certain level, we actually don't need gay bars – at least, not like we used to. And this is not something anyone else did to us, either. Things just changed, mostly for the better. If we need anything in terms of shared spaces, it's not more gay bars. It's better gay bars. Our current nightlife seems to me to be stuck in the past. Most gay bars – and there are exceptions, so don't get twisted here – are kind of all the same. But the ones that aren't the same are so refreshing that you wonder why you've put up with the places you've been going to. We need gay bars that reflect who and where we are now, not who and where we used to be.

Unfortunately, I'm going back to school in the fall, so one of you is gonna have to open one up.

Since this got so long, I ended up posting it at my blog as well, so come check 'er out!