Category Archives: Pre-Class Thread

Fourth Class: Neighborhoods and Communities and Gayborhoods, Oh My

…it’s funny—I almost never go to Park Slope [in Brooklyn]. I feel like it’s not a lesbian neighborhood. …my girlfriend’s aunt lived there in the ‘70s and when we moved there in 1989 she was like, “Oh! It’s not a lesbian neighborhood 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. [Pause.] But, I guess it doesn’t really matter I suppose because if people feel like something’s a lesbian neighborhood then by dint of their believing it, it is. – Sarah ‘85 (from Gieseking 2013)

A neighborhood is understood as being “dominated by residential uses,” “walkable” in scale, and a concept of a (physical) territory that is often conflated with (social) communities that live within those territories (Gregory et al. 2009; see also Colombo, Mosso, and De Piccoli 2001). While lgbtq people have always existed in urban areas, lgbtq spaces were most clearly articulated in neighborhoods (Chauncey 1995; Weston 1995). Lgbtq people in the 1970s formed spatial concentrations in urban residential areas which, over time, became more visible and fixed as “gay ghettos” (Levine 1979). Those who lived in or used these spaces often experienced a reprieve from isolation induced by homophobia and grew communities from which to work toward social and political gains (Knopp 1997; Enke 2007).

Ghettos, however, hold negative connotations of being forced into a space with a lack of resources. By 1983, Manuel Castells argued that gay men in San Francisco’s Castro district were living not in a ghetto but in a neighborhood based on the confluence of their unique production of culture, economy, and physical spaces. Furthermore, the difference between marginalized ghetto space and gay space was one of agency:

While…others used the term ‘ghetto,’ gay militants speak of ‘liberated zones’: and there is indeed a major difference between ghettos and gay areas since the latter are usually deliberately constructed by gay people to create their own city, in the framework of the broader urban society. (Castells 1983, 272)

The majority of research on lgbtq spaces continues to expand upon Castells’ understanding of cultural and economic territorialization in the form of physical, geographical neighborhoods. Through its popularity and idealization as a “safe space,” the lgbtq neighborhood continues to be read by many as a space of liberation, community, and possibility. At the same time the neighborhood failed in many ways for many kinds of people, namely in regards to respecting and creating room for difference. The (supposed) lgbtq neighborhood, or “gayborhood” as it has affectionately been called, is still the most often referenced lgbtq space in both academic and popular literature, even as others question its demise.

Beyond physical neighborhoods and gayborhoods, there is also the related and hotly debated issue of community. The term community was first used by the burgeoning gay and lesbian movement of the 1960s and 1970s (D’Emilio 1983a; Weston 1995). Benedict Anderson’s (1983; 1983) concept of “imagined community” if often used in studies of lgbtq spaces to explain the fleeting, fragmented nature of their spaces but the congealed social and cultural life shared across them. Anderson defines an imagined community as follows:

It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion. Communities are distinguished not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined. (1983, 6–7)

My reference to “The Wizard of Oz”‘s “lions and tigers and bears, oh my” in the title of this week’s class harkens back to what we hope and fear we will find in the forest of our search for lgbtq life and culture: neighborhoods, communities, and gayborhoods.

Our Discussion Questions

Why are these spaces so important, and also so contentious? Why do we return to them again and again but so many of us find no home in them? Are they real or imagined, historic or present in our everyday queer lives? What future is possible for the gayborhood, if any? And do we desire a gayborhood to continue?

Third Pre-Class Thread: May 15th: Street Life

“Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is intricacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance — not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole. The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any one place is always replete with improvisations.” -Jane Jacobs

“Out of the bars and into the streets!” -Harvey Milk

In a walking city, the ability to claim or be claimed on the street is a core aspect of everyday life. As noted in her quote above, Jane Jacobs suggested that it was not neighborhoods that allowed us to flourish in urban environments but the city streets. The “sidewalk ballet” afforded a form of intimacy that any larger scale erases. New York City’s streets are famous, especially in the lgbtq imagination and it was no surprise that Harvey Milk paralleled the interior of bars to the public streets as a framing for protest and change in 1970s San Francisco. From Wall Street to Christopher Street to Riverside Drive to Fifth Avenue–in both Brooklyn and Manhattan, streets have defined and served as the hubs of queer life. How? Why?

George Chauncey suggests that for gay men “privacy could only be had in public,” but the stories we ave shared so far in the course and the experiences of our everyday lives tell us that streets work differently for different people. Race, class, age, disability, and gender especially are often most clearly demarcated in the simple act of walking or rolling down the city sidewalk. What some lesbians refer to as the “the dyke nod” is a sign of eye-to-eye recognition while such a gaze between men is often referred to as cruising. For many queer youth, like in the interview with Jay Toole this week, streets are the homes of many lgbtq youth. Where you are also shapes who you are and can be, just as much as our bodies define the possibilities and limitations of spaces. The street is a key space and place in forming lgbtq identity and culture.

Our Discussion Questions

How can the streets serve as a space of change for good? How do they work work for or against the needs of lgbtq people? How can the streets be the home to our most vulnerable and the galvanizing place for action as well as the hub of public sexuality? What ways do streets work in your life?

*See the Further Recommended Readings for this week to see the citations for the works mentioned here.


Second Pre-Class Thread: May 8th: Place-Making, i.e. the Bar, the Institution, and the Space Between

The assorted collection of bars, bathhouses, restaurants, clothing stores, community centres, sports clubs and professional offices provided gay movements and gay activists with a ready-made, concentrated constituency available for political and social organizing  [in the 1970s]… (Nash 2005, 115)

The variety of places key to lgbtq life in the popular lgbtq imagination remains similar to the list described in geographer Catherine Nash’s quote regarding 1970s’ lesbian and gay spaces and places, as well as homes. The more recent additions include many virtual and online places, and, I add, places that many lgbtq people go to find connection or solace like a book or piece of music. There are also more temporary locations that many scholars refer to as “gay times” (Markwell 2002; see also Freeman 2000; 2005; 2010). Placed events are places without a permanent physical location but which are iterated in certain or certain types of locations, like the annual Dyke March down Fifth Avenue or traveling parties that rent or use space in gay men’s bars, church basements, dungeons, or community centers.

Contrary to the way that “place” is often thought of as fixed Cartesian coordinates, in practice, place is more processual than a static node, and it defines and is defined by social, cultural, economics, and political dynamics (see Pred 1984; Massey 1994). People’s relationships to place change over time, particularly as people age and are able to have more control of the production of places in their lives. These attachments to and memories of place contribute to forming their identities and navigating experiences, both just and unjust (see Altman and Low 1992; Hayden 1997; Casey 2000).

Our Discussion Questions

Are bars, the purported quintessential lgbtq place, still the hub of queer life? Bars and many of these public or for pay places close within a lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or queer person’s lifetime–where does the essence of these places go? As increasing acceptance towards lgbtq people grows, many ask if these places are even important anymore–do you agree? As you reflect on these questions, remember that theory is divined from experience so share as much as you wish about you wish of your ideas and experiences to reflect on this.

*See the Further Recommended Readings for this week to see the citations for the works mentioned here.

First Pre-Class Thread: About Cities and the Bodies within Them

Framing the Readings

Cities have been theorized historically as a site that encompasses the depraved and the delinquent, including the homosexual even before the Chicago School in the early 20th century, and such ideas still permeate the imagination of the urban (Abraham 2009). Against the isolation lgbtq people experienced in rural and suburban areas, particularly before the era of the internet, it was common knowledge to tell lgbtq people, as Kath Weston (1995) put it, “to get thee to a big city” to find and connect with like-minded and -bodied people This sense of urban promise was both myth and fact, and congealed as increased urbanization along with the separation of the sexes during WWII provided the necessary conditions for the growth of lesbian and gay cultures we know today, as asserted by the work on John D’Emilio (1983a; 1983b). Yet narratives of the city still tend to suggest they are spaces for men, while women are regenerated to the private places of their homes, more publically in a state of fear, and remain generally invisible. Considerations of race, class, and citizenship are also pinkwashed through processes and practices homonormativity (Duggan 1994), or the assimilation of radical homosexual ideas, but the geographical imagination of the grand lgbtq city continues.

Feminist philosopher Iris Marion Young (1990) suggested that the city affords the cover of anonymity and the potential for social interaction across differences. While idealizing the possibility for a critical mass from and across these differences, Young’s city can be read as a space of queer flux that celebrates and reproduces its unoppressive, unfixed, unassimilated communities and identities. Elizabeth Grosz’s concept of bodies-cities (1996), which argues that bodies and cities mutually define one another through social, economic, and political elements, advocates relationality as a way of supporting and producing recognition so that the city is a space that affords pressure and possibility for agency and access.*

Our Discussion Questions

What can the work of refusing the norms and structures of city life and the bodies who move, live, dwell, love, and desire within it enact and sustain the cities of difference long imagined? How does New York City queer norms and enact difference, and where is it less successful? What ways does the city work for and against you when it comes to difference? As you reflect on these questions, remember that theory is divined from experience so share as much as you wish about you wish of your ideas and experiences to reflect on this.

*See the Further Recommended Readings for this week to see the citations for the works mentioned here.