But My City Was Gone

Jim Burroway

June 2nd, 2016

The demise of gayborhoods across the country elicits a range of mixed emotions. Some of them, I suspect, cut across generational lines. But when I read about an outpost disappearing, I can’t help but be sad about it, even though I enjoy living in my outer quasi-suburban neighborhood myself. Washington DC’s City Paper looks at what’s been happening in Dupont Circle:

Today, Lambda Rising’s final storefront, at 1625 Connecticut Ave. NW, is a Comfort One Shoes. Other LGBTQ spaces have vanished from Dupont, too, including Mr. P’s, the Fraternity House (later, Omega), Phase 1’s Northwest outpost, and the Last Hurrah (next called Badlands, and most recently, Apex)—watering holes that catered to gay men. D.C.’s queer quarter has diminished with the fading of such institutional anchors, places where LGBTQ individuals could play out their identities and lower their guard among birds of a feather.

…(Rainbow History Project’s Prof. Bonnie) Morris recounts when Dupont was affectionately called the “Fruit Loop”; these days, people give her blank stares when she uses that term. Bookstores and bars have closed. “Young people gained more rights, more people were accepted in their own families, they didn’t have to go to a ‘gayborhood’ to get that feeling,” she explains. “I miss the sense of a subculture.”

The article isn’t entirely doom-and-gloom. Where old LGBT businesses have closed in Dupont, others have opened elsewhere in the city. And I think everyone reaches a point in their lives when they feel that aspects of the “good old days” were better than they really were. I’m sure I’m guilty of this. So it’s natural for different people to have different reactions to different parts of this article. With that in mind, this… this jumped out at me:

Ross says big-name LGBTQ spaces like Nellie’s and Town have started attracting a fair share of straight customers, not all of whom are educated about or sensitive to the community’s culture. “It’s disconcerting,” she says. “I’m in my safe space—why am I being hit on by a guy? I don’t know if there’s some type of straight entitlement where straight people feel they can come into our spaces.”

In the kind of “crossover” now apparent along the U Street corridor, Ross says she would like to see more respect for the norms of the queer community (no homophobic comments or staring, please) as well as a greater understanding of D.C.’s LGBTQ history. “It’s like they’re sightseeing in gay bars.”

The very first gay bar I ever went to was in San Diego, when I was still struggling to come to terms with my sexuality. I circled the block dozens of times for about three hours before I finally found the courage to show my I.D. at the door and go inside. That was the scariest three hours of my life. I was inside that dance bar for all of an hour when I was felt up by a drunk straight chick — the very last thing I wanted or needed at that point.

The first time I visited Town in D.C., in 2008 and many years later, a bachelorette party was in full swing. And that angered me on two fronts. First, gay marriage was illegal in all but a small handful of states. Having a bachelorette party seemed the the most insensitive and insulting thing those girls — and Town — could have done. And that anger was only compounded by this fabulous drag show, among the best I’ve ever seen, being treated as a kind of a minstrel for those tourists’ amusement. Which is why I’m still not comfortable with bachelorette parties in our spaces. That’s just my thing. I can’t defend it on any logical level. But it feels wrong. It’s a kind of slumming, and I’m just not keen to play the colorful native.


June 2nd, 2016

The city where I grew up and lived for most of my life never had a gayborhood. For that I’m thankful. Gay men and women lived through the city with other people of different backgrounds and sexualities. Personally I believe that’s more healthy for a city.

Now that I live in San Diego a mile away from Hillcrest – I just shake my head when I walk through that neighborhood. Its everything I never related too about “gay life” and thankfully never wanted to emulated. For me the gayborhoods can’t die quickly enough.

And before every one freaks out – “gayborhoods” aren’t unique unicorns. Neighborhoods that cater to people of different faiths and nationalities have existed forever (e.g. chinatown, little italy, etc). As the the children or younger members of those groups moves away from those neighborhoods – those neighborhoods changed and evolved into something every different (or were turned into tourist traps). Its healthy part of an evolving city.


June 2nd, 2016

Can’t say I miss these gayborhoods; my experience with them has been a den of neuroticism that I can’t run away from quickly enough.

Nevertheless, I do agree that we’re not at the point of safety and acceptance where gay people can just mingle on open straight bars. Safe spaces are still needed.

Unfortunately, I also feel too many gay men have spoiled their straight female friends into thinking our spaces and experiences are up for grabs. We are not their cheerleaders; we have lives of our own to look forward to instead of all these gay men who I see sadly trying to live vicariously through straight women.

Steve Teeter

June 2nd, 2016

I empathize with your feelings about Bachelorette parties. They should find their own places to party.

I live in New Orleans, which has the oldest gay bar in the country, the Cafe Lafitte In Exile, plus famous places like Oz and the Bourbon Pub. They’re all struggling. Friends of mine think they’re in trouble because of one thing: Grindr. Guys who used to go the bars to cruise, or even just stand around and be admired, aren’t doing that any more. They just pull out their phones and dial up a trick. And so social space and socializing, that used to have value in themselves, are just disappearing. The baths are already gone, because they don’t have any business any more. Grindr again. I think the Grindr dudes are going to look up from their phones one day, wonder where’s there’s a nice family place to go get a drink, and find there aren’t any left.


June 3rd, 2016

I live in NY and having access to safe spaces is still important.

The fact of the matter even today and even in gentrified Manhattan gay people are still cautious about public displays of affection anywhere north of 23rd Street with exception of the 9th ave corridor in the 40’s that has become a new gay strip.

I dare any gay couple to go into one of the sports bars in the area around Madison Square Garden holding hands or displaying affection. You’ll bump up against the limits of acceptance pretty quickly.

In order to feel safe we still have to check our behavior and censor ourselves when we don’t have the strength of numbers on our side.


June 3rd, 2016

So happy to read about the continuing demise of “gay neighborhoods,” which really functioned as a mechanism by which an urban gay subculture could imprint its unhealthy values onto LGB people, and LGB youth in particular. From the 1970s until just a few years ago, to enter into a “gay neighborhood” is to be bombarded with false claims and unchallenged assumptions about what it means to be gay and how to live one’s life as a gay person. To state it plainly, in gay neighborhoods” LGB youth learn that it is normal and good to spend decades hanging out in bars and hooking up with strangers, and that anyone who doesn’t subscribe to these beliefs is inauthentically gay. Let all of it die out. It can’t come to an end quickly enough. Yes, the Castro and Chelsea provided tiny swatches of seemingly safe territory, but the price was unnecessarily high.


The awards for idiocy and irony goes to:

“Ross says she would like to see more respect for the norms of the queer community (no homophobic comments or staring, please)” Yah! No calling the “queer community” queer!

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