Friday, July 18, 2008

On Gay Bars: A Response to Eric Leven

Below is a comment I posted at Eric Leven's excellent blog KnuckleCrack.

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.

1 comment:

scott said...

I recently went to SF, and decided I needed to go out in the Castro. You know, a kind of gay pilgrimage. I'd never been, and you know, it's Where It All Happened.

Now, I live in the gay ghetto here in Chicago, and my response was: oh em gee, it's the same bars and the same fags. It's got hills, and cuter architecture. But it's fundamentally the same.

And the 50 best gay bars in America? The two listed in Chicago are in fact, the only really worthwhile bars in the gay ghetto here.

I'll also point out that I went to a hipster electro show last weekend, and had absolutely no trouble finding the gays---and getting cruised by them. The way things are rolling, we don't even need "shared spaces" to have our tawdry sexuality in public anymore.

It's been a strange and surprising realization that the queer undergrads I teach organize their lives very differently with respect to sexual orientation than even we did when we were in college. It's simply less important to them. At first I thought it was frustrating (and it made me feel old). But I think I'm beginning to get it. It's part of the same phenomenon you're pointing to here.