All right, calm down everyone. Mainstream media has latched on to the theory that our ‘hoods are vanishing, and soon we’ll be left with, well, Topeka. No more Castro, no more Village, no more Boystown, no more P-town. It’s a scary thought. And it would be quite a loss not just for us but for the rest of the world as well.
And while it’s undeniably true that gay ghettos are undergoing rapid transformations, there’s no need to get hysterical. They’re changing, not dying. In some ways, they are in fact changing for the better, and that they’ll be around for a lot longer if they we keep improving the institutions we love that find their homes in the urban areas we love.
If you don’t believe us, just check out Sunday’s Castro Street Fair. Yes, there will be non-gay people there, some of whom moved to the ‘hood to claim their part in the great life we have created. And lots of visitors, too. But it will be run by local merchants and feature tens of thousands of local LGBTers. Today the Castro thrives as never before.
Here are five reasons why we’re confident the gayborhood is here to stay:
If you want to get right to the meat of it (and we do), queers will always need a place to flock together if for no other reason than to satisfy their libidos and find a mate (or mates). Decades ago, that might’ve been a public bathroom. More recently, it’s been bars. And no matter social networks and smart phones, at the end of the day you’ll always need to close the deal with, you know, actual pants down experience.
We’ll always need gay bars in our gay ghettos. And we’ll need some sex shops, too — you might be able to subscribe to Boy Butter on Amazon, but there’s no substitute for an expert harness fitting at Rough Trade.
Of course, having more straight people at gay bars throws a wrench in your hookup plans. You might order a drink and try to chat up a handsome stranger, only to find out that he’s there with his wife. And, yes, it’s annoying when a screeching group of heterosexual bachelorettes descends on The Abbey.
But somehow, we are confident that gay sex will endure the presence of a few breeders. In fact, our new straight neighbors might actually help keep our favorite gay bars in business. After all, times are tough for homosexual watering holes. Business has been drying up thanks to the rise of sex-locating apps.
Drag queens aren’t going anywhere. Seriously, just try to get ’em to leave a place. They won’t budge.
Just look at San Francisco’s SoMa: it used to be the city’s gay ghetto up until the ’80s. And even though it’s become more homogenized, it still boats leather shops, sexy street fairs and clubs like The End Up and The Eagle. Trannyshack’s always been at home in SoMa, thriving throughout a move from The Stud to DNA Lounge and to a new location before year’s end.
Once upon a time, cities neglected their gay ghettos. Now they are embraced and showered with amenities, such as the wider sidewalks and trees that line Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood and the rainbow crosswalks and historical markers in the ‘Stro.
Those amenities aren’t just for the benefit of residents. They’re also there to bring in visiter’s dollars. When gays go traveling, we’re apt to seek out the gayborhoods for a good time. So even if the locals are bored with the same old bar, visitors are only too happy to explore.
And of course, Pride draws monumental crowds. Even if it’s just once a year, Pride celebrations require an epicenter.
This might not be the sexiest reason for a gayborhood to exist, but the social services offered by queer-focussed nonprofits can literally be life saving.
At some point, you’ve probably been to a clinic to be tested, counseled or treated. You may have gone to the local AA meeting held at the MCC church. Perhaps you’ve been to a job fair at the community center. Maybe you signed up for the softball team your favorite watering hole sponsors. Or hooked up with Frontrunners for an early morning jog. If you live near a gay ghetto, there’s a good chance you’ve taken advantage of these opportunities and services.
Many orgs offer youth-oriented services, which is particularly vital for kids who are kicked out of their homes and head to the ‘hood looking for help and a home. Homeless queer kids often find themselves drawn to gayborhoods, since they’re often the safest place for them.
Just as with cultural institutions, gays may drift away from a geographic location, if only because of high real estate prices, but they’ll always come back for social services and social outlets when needed.
You know what? Cities change. Neighborhoods evolve. Demographics shift. Even hairstyles can’t stay the same.
Even if a particular gayborhood withers, scattering its queers to the wind, they’ll all take root somewhere else. Just look at what’s happening in the Bay Area right now: the city of San Francisco is losing modestly priced dwellings to the whitewashed lofts of millionaires, and since gay households tend to make less than straight households, it may well be that we are disproportionately affected. But this doesn’t spell the end of gayborhoods — they’re just resettling across the bay, in Oakland or Richmond.
The East Bay has always enjoyed a large LGBT population, and over the next few years, that population is likely to coalesce around a geographical point. Just like how the gayborhoods moved and spread from Polk Street to SoMa to the Tenderloin and to the Castro over the last century. Or how it moved from Hollywood to WeHo.
No matter what city you live in, there will always be a gayborhood in transition, for better or for worse. You just need to know where to look.
It’s not that there will always been a landing center, it’s that wherever straight (mostly white) people land, they bring their judgmental views with them. Our history is always white-washed and the whores driven out of town on a rail. It starts small, a few ‘common sense’ rules here and there. Next, you have the moral police outlawing things they find objectionable because it might offend grandma from Kansas City, MO. Then, before you know it, ‘god-fearing christians’ are claiming that they came into the dins of sin and cleared out the sodomites and whores so they could revitalize these ‘ghettos’. You have pop-up churches appearing in once thriving store fronts, private (aka christian dogma) schools and hair salons take over favorite meeting locations, and the old gay water holes are turned into bars even bikers avoid. That’s when the ‘black people’ are blamed for moving into a neighborhood they’ve lived in their entire lives and ruining it, and the straight white people move onto our latest ‘gay ghetto’ to start the process all over again.
The gayborhood in DC has pretty much been gentrified out of existence. Dupont Circle is where young yuppie couples live, and the migration East towards Logan Circle has dissipated. Neighborhoods where gay bars were the only commercial life have now turned into expensive tourist traps.
There are plenty of gays in DC, but now we are disbursed around DC and the VA and MD suburbs.
PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS
It is not just Gayborhoods, It’s EVERYHOOD
Developers are gobbling up every available bit of land in most popular cities and towns and turning out cookie cutter boring boxes with overpriced apartments targeting as close to the 1%ers they can…………
Local landmarks that give neighborhoods culture and flavor are being forced to close when hit with staggering rent increases making it simply impossible to sustain the business. Unfortunately governments cowtow to these mega rich developers who gain their influence by being able to funnel monies to campaigns in a variety of ways now are virtually unchecked.
In NYC along with the Gayborhoods, Little Italy and Chinatown are but a shell of their former glory. Some of the instutitions able to hold on surrounded by nondescript monoliths and ripped right out of a mall chain outlets………
For our honeymoon, my husband and I spent a week in San Francisco. We loved the city though the food was rather unremarkable. We finally found places in Chinatown that served food with flavor. BUT THAT ASIDE…
The Castro. All our lives we heard about “The Castro!” Loved “Milk”, we wanted to see “The Castro”. The trolly dropped us off at the end of the street. The Castro reminds me of Back Bay Boston; an affirming and safe place to live to quell the anxiety surrounded with living in a society that still ignores focused attacks on gays.
But The Castro, in of itself, is BORING. There is northing to do there except go from one carbon-copy bar to the next to the next. The crowds seemed nice; social, but all they did the nights we were there was move from one bar to the next depending on who had a happy hour special. There was no “dress code”, the leather bar had preppies, the cowboy bar had leather, and look! Drag queens walking down the sidewalk en masse! I live near Providence RI, that’s part of life here. After an hour or so, given that neither my husband nor I are big drinkers, so the Castro bar crowd was more drunkenly irritating than entertaining.
We DID feel safe in The Castro. We walked, we shopped, we ate, we held hands. It was P-Town x 100. Honestly, we felt that way about all of San Francisco. The city was so warm and welcoming. All those little nits were just that; nits. The city, like Boston or Providence, IS gay, not just The Castro.
As for a decline of the “Gayborhood”? So long as there are people struggling with their sexuality in an area where they are oppressed, Gayborhoods will always thrive. They may move a block or two, or move from one center to another (Dupont Circle in DC). The Castro, Fort Lauderdale, Greenwich Village, Back Bay, Provincetown will always be there to help people find their footing.
We look forward to returning to San Francisco; not a bad destination for those anniversaries.
Well, the death of Boston’s South End is a fact. No exaggeration necessary. And no other neighborhood in Boston has replaced it, so Boston is as of today without any gayborhood.
We are everywhere.
From the West Village in NYC to West Hollywood and all in between I say GOOD LUCK in paying those rents with stagnant wages. Most gays who don’t LACK common sense realize what they can and cannot afford. I see no sense in living six to ten in an apartment with nearly rotating shifts for sleeping on the floor just to say I live in an area filled with self centered Facebook/Myspace raised children.
It is really shocking that there are no organized protests across the entire country in regards to wages and rents. But to do that would mean one has notice they are struggling instead of living and its time to do (or at least say) something about it. That’s the last thing developers would want (or allow to happen). The most cruelest place of all is in NYC, where developers can get a half-million for a broom closet with a view of the back of another building.
In 1980, a year before the AIDS epidemic was to wreck havoc on gay society, I moved to the Castro. I moved to ground zero, 18th and Castro, right next door to the Jaguar Bookstore with its infamous back room. In those days, the Castro was like a small town, with its own grocery stores, movie theater, bookstores, banks, churches, newspaper, and the like, except in this small town, everyone was gay and it was surrounded by a big city. It was the most amazing place ever. In the wider world, gay was rare, exceptional, not the norm. In the Castro, the reverse was true. If you met someone at the laundromat, you knew they were gay. Stood in line with someone at the bank, they were gay. You didn’t just meet gay people at a gay bar, you met them at grocery store, while picking up your photos (photos had to be taken and then developed in those days), and even praying in church.
Then the Holocaust started. People were dying. People I knew were dying, people I didn’t know were dying. My milk man died, the kid who bagged my groceries died, the artist painting street scenes died.
Today, Castro is gayish. The pharmacy is a corporate, the little antique stores are gone. Hibernia Beach is no more, even naked people aren’t allowed any longer. We’ve gained much in these last decades, but we lost some place very special along the way.
In spite of this rose-colored-glasses take on GENTRIFICATION, it is destroying all the ghettos — gay, black, latino, asian (of all sorts) and so forth. It may be time for us to reach across those lines, look at what is happening to our homes, and find common cause in protecting the places we live. Otherwise, we’ll end up being re-dispersed and integrated into what is left over after gentrification’s done its worst to us.
It has come down to assimilation, just like the Borg: “Resistance is futile!” Well it is not futile, except that you’re fighting against economic giants attempting to put up condos everywhere to bring in two-job str8s with children. Since the dollar rules, San Francisco has lost the body freedom of having a gathering place for nudists as used to be, not erect exhibitionists, just simple nudists. Couples with strollers walking around the area are horrified by a simple nudist or two sitting and reading the paper, etc. Key West has suffered the same economic fate, almost unrecognizable now from what it was 10 years ago. And I’m sorry, but not every gay man wants to get married and start adopting children. Fine if that’s your thing, but it’s not mine. Gay culture is different from the “norm,” whatever defines that in your minds. Austin TX is another tolerant and accepting city, in which the gay watering holes are more dispersed around the city instead of a gay ghetto (except for 4th street). And residences are the same. But if you’re visiting or looking to relocate, some cities are much easier to find the area of gay culture, which to me is a good thing. There are pros and cons of having a gay area or “ghetto,” as some call it. But if I am travelling around I appreciate finding a designated gay culture area in the town I am visiting, where I can easily locate clubs, bathhouses, community centers, etc. (an example would be Long Beach). I say that our community all over the nation has to organize and fight back against the developers, and successfully convince the political authorities that having culture areas which are appealing to gay tourist dollars, etc. is better than gentrifying everything for the sake of a few more boring condos. I totally agree with BobLaBlah:
“It is really shocking that there are no organized protests across the entire country in regards to wages and rents. But to do that would mean one has notice they are struggling instead of living and its time to do (or at least say) something about it.”
Let’s do it!
I moved into the West Village 25 years ago when I was about 18. Trust me, the Village is no longer a gay neighborhood; it is an affluent hetero neighborhood. The restaurants and bars are largely young, mostly straight, and with coin to spend. That the gay book shop on Hudson is now a maternity clothing shop, a once prominent gay bar on Greenwich Ave is a frat bar, and that, during gay pride, the gays are hoarded like cattle in metal dividers to keep them away from locals, says it all.
Here in San Francisco the Castro is dealing with an influx of straight couples, which is forcing out the GLTBQ community. Stores are also changing to be more chain oriented and products focused mostly on men that are young and in great shape.
The biggest mistake is San Francisco was locating the LGBT center on the eastern edge of the Castro District. What many people do not seem to understand is that when the world thinks of The Castro they are thinking about Castro Street between Market and 19th.
There is also a huge shift in the gay male community. “Tribes” are becoming more and more segregated and far too many young people are falling into the trap of becoming what they think gay men like them are supposed to be. It’s quite sad.
@dannysax: “And I’m sorry, but not every gay man wants to get married and start adopting children. Fine if that’s your thing, but it’s not mine. Gay culture is different from the “norm,” whatever defines that in your minds.”
Do you some how get the feeling that if the gayborhoods started protesting rents, wages and so forth that above mentioned group would…….nah, they wouldn’t do that. Or would they? Suburbs, kids, health insurance, individual and joint mutual fund and retirement accounts that include REIT’s (real estate investment trust)…….nah, they wouldn’t dare……psst, I bet they WOULD. I’ll let the reader figure OUT just WHAT they would do or worse yet start calling YOU. With all that affluence they just might have forgotten THEIR roots.
@PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS: Spot on! SO many of the places I lived and loved are nothing but a streets of reoccurring GAP, Starbucks, GAP, Starbucks….It’s all gotten bland but somehow more expensive!?!
I live outside of DC and used to go to Dupont Circle all the time from 80s to the early 2000s. I usually went into Lambda Rising Bookstore and hang out there for hours. They closed their doors a little while later because the owner didn’t think there was any more need for it since GLBT books were no longer unavailable in any other store. As for the Gaybo always wi I think that it’s less about heterozation as it it’s all about gentrification. Who are being driven out? Not the gays and lesbians who can afford to live there. It’s classification. In the Gayborhood, sexuality is trumped by $$$.
I have lived in the Castro and have been attending this street fair off and on since Harvey Milk founded the fair in the mid-1970s. Back then the fair felt it had a relationship to the neighborhood. I went today to the fair today and I have to say it all felt very wrong, as if everyone that has anything to do with organizing this event lives somewhere else, and has no idea what this community, Eureka Valley, represents historically or today. The organizer of this event seem to think gay men all love twerking in bare-ass jockstraps to loud electronic music and buying truly awful art and crafts. I’m a gay man who was living in this neighborhood before it was a gayborhood and I’m hoping it will soon no longer be a gayborhood. The vibe at Hardly Strictly Blues Festival in Golden Gate Park today was so much better than the sad spectacle on Castro Street today.
In the mid 90’s I moved to Chicago’s Boystown when I was in my early 20’s. People were sounding the alarms over the deaths of the gayborhood back then as well. But you know what? It survived, Yes it changes, yes it even shifts locations. (Hello Andersonville…). But it remains , because we still need it be there.
At the time living in a gay neighbourhood. Was an incredibly liberating experience. It is a place where countless young gays and lesbians like me came to be Ourselves, for the first time in our lives. Boystown is where I walked down the street holding another man’s hand for the first time. It’s where I participated in my first Pride Parade. Its where was able to move past saying I was an out Gay man and start living confidently as one.
And when years later I moved to San Francisco, I didn’t feel the urge to live in the Castro but the NEED for these gay-spaces where LGBTQ is the NORM, hasn’t changed. Gay Neighbourhoods provide critical safe places for many of us to complete that all too painful at times, journey of self acceptance that is coming out.
Yes these places will invariably gentrify. But New ones will grow in their place. WEHO in LA, Montrose in Houston, Hillcrest in San Diego, Boystown in Chicago, The Castro in SF, Cap Hill in Seattle, or even Soho here in London, are all already way too expensive for the average just-out of school gay or lesbian kid from “someplace else” to live in. But they provide an anchor of tolerance in our cities that still provides a vital support for many in their journey out of the closets they have had to live in for most their lives.
I say long live the Gayborhood.
@David, “People were sounding the alarms over the deaths of the gayborhood back then as well. But you know what? It survived.”
Not everywhere, no. Boston has no gay neighborhood at all any more, for example, and something really nice was lost in my opinion that is not replaceable with the online “community” that took its place (basically, it’s now Grindr). Other cities are on the same trajectory.
@bearonthepeaks, “The organizer of this event seem to think gay men all love twerking in bare-ass jockstraps to loud electronic music and buying truly awful art and crafts. I’m a gay man who was living in this neighbor.”
Well, that’s always been the case. Already in the 70s lots of people felt marginalized by the “clone” culture then. There were always cliques and vulgarity of tastes in the gay world and probably always will be, but at least there was a space in which people of different classes and ages could afford to mingle other interesting things in lifestyles, arts, and culture could happen. But what is happening now is not change but complete erasure of diversity.
*to mingle AND other interesting things…
There will always be gayborhoods as long as there are gays. Even in Montana, they find each other and create a living environment. Shabby, down-trodden areas are gentrified by creative people enticed by opportunity and self-expression, whether in London or the U.S. so, do not lament. Some may be lamenting the loss of their youth, rather than the loss of a specific place. The loss of creative spark is a contender.
Having recently visited the Castro area after living the life back in the 70’s and 80’s, I was so saddened by what I witnessed….breeders all over the place. YUCK!!!!!
Sure, the bars were packed and hoping but the streets and far too many shops have been taken over by breeders needs.
They even feel free to do their public display of affections….GASP!!!!
Far too many breeders (and homo adopters) now expect everyone to make room for their damn strollers, put up with obnoxious and loud kids, sanitize our culture so it doesn’t offend their ‘family’.
Str8 freaks can go to live or shop any damn place they want while celebrating all things hetero.
We have a very few (shrinking everyday) neighborhoods where we can hopefully feel safe and free to shake off decades of suppression and depression.
Up here in Humboldt County the same crap is going on. If I hear ‘family friendly’ one more damn time my head will explode.
If people (str8 & homo) want to bring their kids to an adult oriented event, then be prepared for adult entertainment and expressions. Why should the rest of us curtail ourselves so your precious little darlings don’t see anything that might stimulate questions that the parents aren’t able nor comfortable to answer????
I, nor our hard fought culture, am not responsible for your damn kids.
I will resist and am constantly disappointed by all the demands from our own people for assimilation.
We are not like everyone else.
That’s why we are so special.
Sure, we must expect and demand to be legally equal to all other ‘mericans but we don’t need to adopt all of their culture while losing ours.
We win a few pitiful battles but it seems we have lost the war.
@frenchjr25: I live near the Center. NOW I’m supposed to be the eastern part of the Castro? I know they plan to bring those butt-ugly “history” plaques down to this area along Market. I’ve already got the Hayes Valley neighborhood people claiming my area (stay on your own side of Haight, you land-grabbers) and this attempt to re-make the boundaries is going to fail. There isn’t enough cohesiveness along Market to make an artificial neighborhood.
The location of the Center is it’s biggest problem. I’ve only ever been in there a few times since it opened and I know people who’ve never been in. It just isn’t convenient to transit and there really isn’t any reason to just drop in and see what’s going on. That’s what happens when you try to institute something downward–it was a matter of “We need a community center. How can we be a gay mecca and not have a community center?” Groups living hand-to-mouth can’t afford the fees; it’s not a very welcoming space–everywhere you look it’s grey concrete and with no foot traffic the cafe couldn’t make it, so there’s no place to sit, relax and chat. Ideally it should have been closer to the Castro with a dedicated section for the youth group LYRIC and with actual reasons to visit–a collaboration with the historical society, maybe.
Heck, you speak of gayborhoods disappearing, yet where I live the entire city is a gayborhood (and we’re spreading to all the nearby cities, too). Indeed, here in Palm Springs the LGBTQ folks are the majority (and have been for years), and this isn’t going to change any time soon (it better not; this is why I moved here). And unlike the gentrified former gayborhoods, there is affordable housing, local LGBT-owned businesses, and freedom to be who we are.
I’m not sure SF would give a person a good perspective, as my small city becomes more tolerant and comfortable, gay clubs are dying off fast. It’s absolutely about sex and technology. Twenty and thirty years ago, if a person didn’t go to the clubs downtown on Saturday night, they might not interact with another LGBT person all week outside of their circle of friends. People came in from all of the surrounding counties. I don’t want to go back to those days of course but it was an amazing time, great fun. Gay neighborhoods may not die completely but they will never be the same. A place of solidarity, sexually charged, total freedom in some cities. Now they are a place of gentrification. Outsiders are already having a very big influence culturally and politically.
This issue is much bigger than changes in LGBT culture, the most notorious gayborhoods have been in the largest cities. NYC, SF, LA, Chicago. As our culture is devolving into the haves and have nots, these places have become unaffordable. Gay or straight, only the wealthiest and most successful will migrate in the future. These towns used to be a place of refuge for LGBT people and anyone else who didn’t fit in, part of what has made these big cities so diverse and interesting. In fifty years time they may only resemble big gated communities.
On the positive side, we’re already seeing a strong creative vibe growing in middle America and the South. Younger people don’t want to flock to a place to pursue their art and wait tables when a studio apartment is $1600 per month. Today, younger LGBT people don’t have to escape in desperation to feel accepted by their communities.
@sfhally, @frenchjr25, wasn’t the community center opposed by a bunch of rich white older Castro gays themselves who didn’t want it in their gentrified neighborhood? (Because God forbid property values should be brought down by the presence of young people of color attracted by it hanging around on the sidewalk.) Wasn’t there a big fight about that?
@kofender, did you move to Palm Springs to work or retire? Palm Springs doesn’t really have the industries to support most gay people I know, so it is not really a realistic option for most.
@vive: Actually both. I telecommute to my job in New Jersey, but the ultimate goal is to retire here when I’m 65.
@vive: Palm Springs really is only an option if you are fortunate to have a virtual job. My partner and I do and we moved to Palm Springs a couple years ago. For us being younger, we felt it did not live up to our hopes for a strong gayborhood. Although it is true that you will not find a more gay dominant city with affordable housing and strength of the gay community, it was just too old for us. The energy level is low. And I don’t mean the bar scene. We are not bar flys. And we felt that if either of us lost our jobs we would be forced to me anyways because there are no industries there other than tourism. Ultimately we moved back to our old gayborhood Hillcrest, where there is life, strong community and good energy.
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