Global Gay Nation > Gay Identity - Queer as Volk?

Is Christopher Street turning fuddy-duddy?

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Or is it racism?

In New York, culture clash among gays: Some older gay residents in the West Village are not so comfortable with the influx of young gays and lesbians

--- Quote ---They come to this Manhattan pier at night from Brooklyn, Staten Island, the Bronx, New Jersey. The black and Hispanic gays and lesbians say this is the only place where they can be themselves.

Here, boys in Timberland boots and fluorescent sweatshirts know they won't get beaten up for kissing each other, and girls with cornrows beneath backward baseball caps are not embarrassed to cuddle other girls.

"This was like the first place I could really be exposed to people of my kind, without having to worry about getting bashed," said Cliff Jones, 20, of Harlem.

Jay Jeffries, 65, is white and gay. He has lived for 40 years in the West Village, where he participated in the first gay rights marches. From his second-floor window he watches the roller-skating boys with boomboxes pressed to their ears and the fist-fighting girls wearing do-rags and jerseys.

He has never felt so out of place.

Residents such as Jeffries say they want the gays of the hip-hop generation to take their rowdiness elsewhere. They have demanded stricter curfews at the pier. They have lobbied to close a train stop on weekends to make it more difficult for gays from New Jersey to travel to the West Village, and to ban loitering in their neighborhood. They have suggested that park patrol officers -- who police the pier -- carry guns.


Bob Kohler, 80, a gay rights advocate who has lived in the West Village for 60 years, said the discrimination young people face in the West Village is no different from decades ago when gays could not hold hands in public. He said his neighbors simply "don't want black faces on Christopher Street."

But Jeffries, a playwright, said the newcomers disrupt the area. He can't sleep at night because they yell and curse outside his window. Sometimes they jump high enough to peep inside his apartment. He says he has watched drug deals and prostitution solicitations from his futon. He doesn't dare use Christopher Street when it gets dark because he said boys grab him and shout, "Hey, papi!"

Before, "You could walk down the street and not get mugged, and not get harassed. I wouldn't dream of it now," he said. "They come from a whole different background."
--- End quote ---

Yes, old people are very odd by times -- them being Gay or straight. But surelly there is also racism, and the dislike of poors which is widespread among wealthier people. Older white Gay racists should ask themselves, whom they have real reasons to be afraid of - the white straight fascists next door, or the black gay teenagers who smoke cannabis in front of their windows. Just guess, who is more likely to put a knife in your back or strike you with a metal stick upon your head?

This particular topic is one that is so near and dear to my heart, that I really don't know where to start.  

The piers are central to my identity as a gay man, as they are for many gay men of my generation and background.  That's where we first felt liberated.  Where I was propositioned by Grace Jones and her bi-sexual boyfriend at the age of 18.  Where we kissed a boy for the first time.  Where I sucked a dick for the first time.  Where we learned about gay culture from the "gay mothers" and "gay fathers" who adopted us.  Where I learned to vogue.  Where we learned the local gay vernacular.  Where we found ourselves and the courage to take our newfound identities anywhere that life took us, because if you couldn't hold your own on that slice of the Hudson waterfront, you just couldn't hold your own at all.  Coming out on that "pier" was more than just coming out.  It was coming out and living out.  Once you set foot on the West Side Highway there was no going back.  You tasted gayness in all it's richness and perversity and you either knew that you were finally found or that you were finally lost, but you KNEW!

I've been following this issue here for quite some time now.  I'm a "graduate" of those piers.  The original ones, way back in the early 80s, long before the neighborhood went co-op crazy and when the piers were real rotting wooden relics of a by-gone era.  

Back then, the numbers of young gays of all colors was astounding.  Today's scene, while still young, gay and predominantly non-white, is tame by comparison.  Today's gay youth are not the product of the derelict 70s or the drug binging, self-obssessed 80s.  They are way more sedate.  Most are not not cast out by their families and homeless as was the case back then.  

The current residents' complaints are really quite basic...back then most people rented their apartments in the Village and the majority of those people were gay men of every ethnic background.  Most of those gay men succumbed in the AIDS decimation of the neighborhood in the 80s.  Today, most people own their apartments and the increasing majority is made up of straight couples with young children.  The yuppie influx of the 80s swamped Greenwhich Village.  Gay men were dying and vacancies were soaring (something unheard of in Manhattan).  These yuppies made a killing in a white-hot stock market throughout the 90s and now want a little slice of suburbia in Manhattan.  They originally moved to "the Vill" because of its "bohemian" chic.  That bohemian chic has now become too hard to bear on their newly acquired arriviste mentalities and their property values.   They don't understand the haven that those "piers" have played in the lives of black and Latino gay men in New York for several generations.  Young gays from neighborhoods where being out was not an option had no other option but to take the long subway ride to Christopher Street and walk the blocks down to the riverfront and breathe the rarified air that only comes when you know you're finally comfortable in your own skin, your own clothes, your own particular way of walking, your own particular way of talking...out, loud, proud and unabashedly gay.  It was (and still remains for some) a costume change of the highest order.  Once out of the subway, your voice raises a couple of octaves, your stride becomes less stiff, your hands less begin to smile.  The analogy between the inner darkness of the subway tunnel and the outside brightness of a Christopher Street afternoon is too real to be contrived.

Yet, I understand too well that in many respects we can point fingers at the Vill's new residents, but ultimately it is our community here in New York that bears the responsibility and the blame for the constant harrassment of gay youths in the birthplace of the gay liberation movement.  We still do not know how to bridge the gap between being a proud gay adult and a questioning gay youth. Our people are the only people on the planet that do not have the luxury of passing on our values, history, traditions and culture directly to the next generation.  The next generation must search for it, just like I searched for it.  

And search for it I did.  I had read in a library book about a magical place called Greenwich Village when I was still in junior high.  I had no clue where it was but I got a sense from reading the book that it lay somewhere below 14th Street.  I conned my cousin and his best friend to get on the subway and take a ride downtown with me (something forbidden for us at that age).  We secretly went down there on a bright summer afternoon.  They had no idea where I was trying to take them...only I knew I wanted to find Christopher Street.  In truth I never did find it that afternoon.  I walked all the way down 14th Street in the direction of the Hudson River and ended up in the Meat Market District.  Back then this area was still the center of NY's meat distribution.  It reaked of rotting blood and leftover bits of animal carcasses.  At the very end of 14th Street I found something close to what I was assorted gaggle of transgenders, drag queens and their johns and pimps plying their trade.  We were cat-called, whistled at and reprimanded for being so young and hanging out in such a dangerous area.  Amazingly, I still recall exactly what the area looked like back then, but I couldn't be able to even begin to tell you what it looks like now.  So much has been ripped up and demolished.

I did eventually find Christopher Street with the help of two high school friends who came out of the closet the same day I did.  And to celebrate, Jose (who lived blocks away from the Vill), got us drunk and high and we ended up stopping traffic to a dead halt as we sang "I Am What I Am" straight (or gay) down the middle of Christopher Street...the same route the Gay Pride March takes on its last leg.

When my gay mother, Willi Ninja, died of AIDS-related complications last year, I decided that I wanted that little intersection where Christopher Street meets the piers to be renamed in his honor.  It's something I still need to do some work on and a whole lot of support for.

For many gays and lesbians, Greenwich Village is their "spiritual" home.  For may Latino and black gays and lesbians in New York, the piers are our spiritual home.

Those piers may be nothing more than a brief break from the day to day pressures of work and child-rearing for some.  But, to us, they represent not only our young adulthoods, but the place where we began to love our gay selves.

And in response to your question...

It is racism, and much more.  It's classist, racist, ethnocentric xenophobia.  A large proportion of the Village's new residents were not born in New York and did not grow up here.  Gay or straight, these people find it very hard to understand the native gay culture of this city that has traditionally been all-inclusive.  No surprise that ever since the yuppie and guppy invasion of the 80s, it is easier to find straight white couples in a gay bar or nightclub in Chelsea than a gay Latino or black.  The culture they've brought with them is one of segregation that was unheard of in the Greenwich Village of my youth.  A walk down the streets of the Vill on a warm summer weekend will reveal that different groups socialize on different streets and in different establishments.  The only ones that have no place are the young gay and lesbian Latinos/as and blacks.  Nobody caters to them.  It wasn't like that when I was coming up and that was one of the beauties of my hometown that has been destroyed.  It is one of the reasons why I, a fixture in the downtown club scene in the 80s to early 90s, rarely venture out anymore.

If you had a chance to see the movie "Party Monster", you saw the attitude directly responsible for the demise of New York's traditional gay nightlife culture.  Michael Alig's attitude as portrayed by Macauly Caulkin, was mild to say the least.  He was racist to the core.  He spearheaded the segregation of NYC gay nightlife into what is now the derigeur racial theme parties...i.e. "Latin Night" or "Black Night."  Funny, there are no "White Nights" at gay clubs.  

He and James St. James even went as far as to lay claim to the title of Manhattan's original club kids.  Not true.  Take this from one of NY's original club kids.  We were at it long before Michael arrived here from Iowa or St. James ended up here from wherever the hell he's from.  But we saw the change coming.  The clubs started turning us away and catering to the newly arrived and moneyed whites who were quickly swamping our gay havens.

Rain, I have never been to New York City (and rarely had the urge to go, either). But every time you write about some aspect of the city, it kindles an interest -- a fascination -- in me about the place. I suppose partly it’s the city, and the myriad aspects of its many neighbourhoods (not least of which is its importance to gay history and culture). But partly it’s your writing, too.

I remember when Ronald Reagan died, and folks at 365 were reminiscing (and “venting”). Some folks were saying he had got off too easily with Alzheimer’s, because in the end he wasn’t even aware of his own deterioration and ruin -- they wanted him to suffer, and be aware of it; other folks thought that attitude was brutal and barbaric (I didn’t.) You, however, wrote a fairly lengthy piece, remembering several friends who had died of AIDS, while Reagan couldn’t bring himself to even say the word “AIDS” in public, let alone allocate funds to address the crisis.

I wish I’d saved that piece. It moved me to tears... I will never forget you telling of the friend suffering from AIDS-related dementia who died alone in abandoned car, lost on streets that he had once known so well. It was a very evocative piece, and it encapsulated the rationale behind my loathing of Reagan far better than any of the (totally understandable) venom that was being voiced by folks like Byron. I wish I’d saved that piece.

You have also written about the history of New York as a centre of liberalism -- to the point where there was once talk of breaking away from the United States. I wish I’d saved that one, too. You’ve written funny bits about seeing delicious young hotties on the streets, informative pieces about the history of Ballroom and Vogue-ing, a lovely eulogy for Willi Ninja, about the perspective of a gay ‘person of colour’ growing up in ‘the hood’, about Pride parades, and the meaning of Stonewall... I find when reading what many of us from the old 365 board (and later HEZ and now here) have to say, well, we could be saying it from almost anywhere, (usually). But you are, undeniably and unmistakably -- and gloriously and proudly -- a New York City homo.

Thanks for entertaining me, for teaching me, for making me laugh and for making me cry. Thanks for helping start up HEZ so that some of us 365 folks had a place to ‘land’ after that forum got yanked out from under us, and thanks for coming over to this one. Outside of KT and Feral (who will *always* be my sweeties) you are one of my most favorite forum posters, and it is always a treat to see a lengthy dissertation from you when I log on. (I am still uncertain as to who is THE biggest repository of knowledge that I’ve ever met, you or Feral. :D )

Now, back to the city (in a way)... I just recently watched “Shortbus”. If you’ve seen it too, what did you think? Let us know here.


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