I’m thrilled my new chapter, “Dyked New York: The Space between Geographical Imagination and Materialization of Lesbian–Queer Bars and Neighbourhoods,” is out in Kath Browne and Gavin Brown’s new The Routledge Research Companion to Geographies of Sex and Sexualities. The chapter is the third in the fourth set of chapters and articles I’ve been writing about lesbian-queer and lgbtq neighborhoods, along with two book reviews I’ll be posting shortly on Ghaziani and Hanhardt’s lgbtq neighborhood books in Gender, Place and Culture. To be honest, writing about neighborhoods in and out of themselves drives me batty because it feels like an oversimplified notion to claim the existence of this absolute space that is, at best, always contested and contingent, partial and fleeting. But!, writing about gentrification and financialization thrill me because I am writing about processes of urban political economies as they are far from stagnant and help me to see into the always hopeful/fearful geographical imagination we all possess. It’s probably likely that it is at the intersection of the material and imagined I am most happy to think and research, read and theorize, as I find the most exciting ideas about environmental psychology at this nexus to unpack and share with my readers.
Again, honestly, I just figured this out. Alas, it should be no surprise to me that I just realized that a large chunk of the book I have been writing, the part on gentrification, will be its own book. But I did just figure that out too. On the plus side, it’s always wonderful to be in awe and learn something new. I equally imagine it must be swell to materialize a monograph and move on to the next! 🙂
I hope you enjoy this new chapter. In this chapter, I’m putting bars in conversation with neighborhoods and showing how the scales of place and local territory are wholly interdependent. A previous chapter sought to move away from lesbian, gay, or lgbtq notions of neighborhood to push territorial thinking to a queered point of view, and then the next was a short article for a German-based publication thinking about the role of margins in the lesbian-queer neighborhood. Finally, in “Crossing Over,” Again and Again: Lesbian-Queer Bodies Producing and Un/Doing Urban Territories and Borders in New York City, 1983-2008,” which is only out online from Area to date–or here ;)–I look at how territoriality is contingent upon places and bodies for lesbians and queers, rather than stand by a patriarchal, colonialist, heteronormative notion of neighborhood territory alone. I post the intro below and the full text, and the text for the four chapters / articles can be found below.
It’s funny – I almost never go to Park Slope [in Brooklyn]. I feel like it’s not a lesbian neighbourhood … my girlfriend’s aunt lived there in the 1970s and when we moved there in 1989 she was like, ‘Oh! It’s not a lesbian neighbourhood anymore! All of the Columbus Avenue [implying wealthy, predominantly white elite] people have moved in’ … all of the – I don’t know like institutions, like, The Rising [Café and Bar], they’ve disappeared. [Pauses.] But, I guess it doesn’t really matter I suppose because if people feel like something’s a lesbian neighbourhood then by dint of their believing it, it is. -Sarah (came out in 1985)
Activist and environmental psychologist Maxine Wolfe wrote, ‘That more lesbians go to bars than to women’s centres, and that the women who use them are more diverse in terms of age, race, and economics emphasizes the major role they still play in lesbian lives’ (1997, p. 315). In a similar vein, my research participant Sarah asserts in her quote that most roads to lesbian–queer spaces lead back to the lesbian neighbourhood and the dyke bar. For decades, the geographies of sexuality literature and lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) activists alike have often highlighted these key spaces as essential in the work towards LGBTQ justice. Even alongside the sea change in LGBTQ acceptance and/or tolerance, LGBTQ spaces are also marked as untenable or unwelcoming to women often because they work differently for lesbians and queer women (see Valentine 1993b, 1993c; Podmore 2001, 2006; Bain and Nash, 2007). What are we to make of gender in the production of lesbian–queer spaces, specifically bars and neighbourhoods, which play such a key role in general LGBTQ life? Reading a dyked New York over time sheds light on how gender helps to produce and limit urban geographies of sexuality, both real and imagined.
As Sarah asserts in her quote, New York’s only lesbian neighbourhood seems to be slipping out of the hands of each subsequent generation of women. Gentrification’s effects of skyrocketing rental prices increasingly limit the possibility of making a home in Park Slope for most women, especially people of colour, the poor and young people. Given the emphasis on the roles of bars and parties in lesbian–queer lives before the 1990s per Wolfe, it is revealing that while there were over 60 bars for men on a 2008 Pride map of lower Manhattan, and only two bars for women (Next Magazine, 2008). There are a myriad other types of places important to lesbians and queer women, but bars retain a prominence in LGBTQ life across generations that requires close examination. The mobility of lesbian bodies within the city and within these spaces especially extends Gill Valentine’s (1993b) classic idea that lesbians must enact specific ways of being and dress in specific spaces at specific times throughout their day. Whilst lesbians and queer women in my study tended to adopt specific avoidance behaviours in specific time-spaces, a closer examination of these spaces reveals that these practices are tied as much to the geographical imagination as the materiality of these spaces.
The setting of the urban is also important to consider. Whilst the city affords women freedom in their financial independence and anonymity, it is equally portrayed as a space of fear and danger for women both in the past and present (Pain and Smith, 2008). Building from these spaces and their social contradictions, my research of lesbian–queer life in New York City asks who and what can be learned from the experiences of lesbian–queer life over time? These quotes and facts reflect similar sentiments to New York lesbians and queer women whose description and, then, experiences of these spaces point to a disconnect between their material and imagined qualities.
I address my participants’ ideas and experiences of lesbian–queer neighbourhoods and bars in order to reveal the overlaps and distinctions in the ways in which these women imagine and experience these spaces. This chapter uses a queer feminist approach alongside the theoretical concept of the geographical imagination to rethink how the experience of contemporary lesbians and queer women in New York City from 1983 to 2008 may differ from more dominant narratives of generalized LGBTQ spaces. I suggest that the historical geographic study of lesbian–queer New Yorkers reveals how the geographical imagination of these women’s spaces is as important as their material production. Although the landscape of the city changed drastically during the contemporary period, the way in which these women negotiate their bodies’ relationships between the bar and neighbourhood remained consistent. Broadening our understandings of the interplay between the geographical imagination and material manifestations of these spaces offers insights into how lesbians and queer women continue to produce spaces in the face of even more limited economic, social and political power.
The four neighborhood-related chapters and articles are as follows:
- 2017. Gieseking, J. “Crossing Over,” Again and Again: Lesbian-Queer Bodies Producing and Un/Doing Urban Territories and Borders in New York City, 1983-2008. Area; doi: 10.1111/area.12147.
- 2016. Gieseking, J. Dyked New York: The Space between the Geographical Imagination and Materialization of Lesbian-Queer Bars and Neighbourhoods. In G. Brown and K. Browne, eds. The Routledge Research Companion to Geographies of Sex and Sexualities. New York: Routledge, 29-36.
- 2015. Gieseking, J. Urban Margins on the Move: Rethinking LGBTQ Inclusion by Queering the Place of the Gayborhood. Berliner Blätter – Ethnographische und ethnologische Beiträge, 68, 43-45.
- 2013. Gieseking, J. Queering the Meaning of ‘Neighborhood’: Reinterpreting the Lesbian-Queer Experience of Park Slope, Brooklyn, 1983-2008. In M. Addison and Y. Taylor, eds. Queer Presences and Absences. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 178-200.