Monday, June 13, 2016

On Queer Space

Over the past several years, as I've chronicled the vanishing city, many of the places we've lost to hyper-gentrification have been queer spaces. Bookstores, bars, cafes, shops. Even entire neighborhoods. Along the way, I've heard again and again that queer spaces don't matter anymore, that they're not necessary in an age of supposed LGBTQ acceptance and assimilation.

But as we saw in the horrifying and heartbreaking news from Florida, queer spaces do matter. They matter in small towns and cities, and they matter in major metropolises.

At the Stonewall vigil. Photo: Charles Eckart, AMNY

Writing on gay bars, Richard Kim put it eloquently yesterday in The Nation online when he said: "Gay bars are therapy for people who can’t afford therapy; temples for people who lost their religion, or whose religion lost them; vacations for people who can’t go on vacation; homes for folk without families; sanctuaries against aggression."

The same can be said for other queer spaces--bookstores like the the Oscar Wilde, restaurants like Fedora, shops like Rainbows & Triangles. They were all sanctuaries.

Queer spaces are also vulnerable. Historically, they've been the targets of violence. In the city today they are most often the targets of economic displacement, another kind of violence. As state-sanctioned rezonings, eminent domain grabs, and luxury developments encroach into every urban space, we're losing our sanctuaries.

photo: Pat Morgan

Gun violence and economic violence share a common thread. In our neoliberal age of unfettered cowboy capitalism, the pro-gun lobby (NRA) holds the power, with its anti-regulation, anti-"big government" stance and its greed for money. In our neoliberal age, the real estate development lobby (REBNY) has the power, with its anti-regulation, anti-"big government" stance and its greed for money.

As George Monbiot pointed out recently in The Guardian, neoliberalism is "the ideology at the root of all our problems."

It fuels the conflicts in the Middle East, the rise of domestic gun violence, and the hyper-gentrification of our cities. It assimilates gays and lesbians away from radical queerness and into homonormativity, breaking bonds with the poor and working class, with immigrants, many people of color, and other queers who cannot or will not assimilate into the mainstream.

In his book Warped: Gay Normality and Queer Anti-Capitalism, Peter Drucker calls for queers to protest the neoliberal order. He writes, "We need to give overturning neoliberalism and its gender and sexual dimensions pride of place in our conception of sexual freedom."

That's a big job, but its time has come.

photo: Pat Morgan

When we look at the faces and biographical sketches of the people murdered in Orlando, we see mostly young people of color, the children and grandchildren of immigrants, working class people who found a sanctuary in Pulse nightclub--until that sanctuary was shattered.

We might honor them by honoring our own local queer spaces. They are a vital part of our emotional ecosystem, a web that unites us not only across the city, but across the country and the globe.

Queer spaces matter.

They are also rebel spaces, where dissident ideas and acts are formed and performed. They make up a vast alternative network--as we saw in last night's coast-to-coast vigils for the people of Pulse--and networks are powerful. Acting together within that network, we can create great change.


John K said...

Beautiful comments, Jeremiah. Thank you especially for noting the disappearance of queer spaces, which I used to tell friends was a major problem all the way back in the early 2000s, and for linking their disappearance and the proliferation of guns to neoliberalism. It is the ideology that keeps spreading like kudzu and to which our US leaders, of both major parties, are beholden, as are politicians all over the globe. Look at the recent election in Peru; or the coup in Brazil; or reaction, by the Tories and "New Labourites," against progressive Labour leader Corbyn; or the media's disappointment with the lack of "reforms" initiated by India's leader; and on and on. Let's not also forget that George W. Bush imposed neoliberal policies on Iraq shortly after overthrowing Saddam. I think it's hard for people to see how all of these things relate, but you've done us a service through your short piece by linking them to the destruction of queer space and hypergentrification. They're all of a piece.

marjorie said...


It was maddening when commenters on the tragedy said "this is an attack on all of us." No, it was an attack on a specifically gay space, and representative of a specific kind of hatred. Murder, terrorism and intolerance hurt us all, absolutely...but this person wanted to kill because he was disgusted by men kissing. Not to acknowledge this is an act of erasure. And as you point out, there's been too much loss of specifically gay safe space already.

Jeremiah Moss said...

Thank you John and Marjorie. And as we learned tonight, the terrorist also had some same-sex attractions.

Eddye Mountbaden said...

There was a time when I went to Pride and I saw the Women's Martial Arts group performing martial demonstrations as they walked down the ave. Then I saw the gay male stamp collectors group with a little banner. Or at least I think I did.

Going to Pride these days consists of drag queens enjoying themselves and then corporation after corporation and their groups throwing samples to the crowd who trample one another as though this is a black Friday sale at Walmart offering 12 dollar 32 inch TV's. Trampling each other for a sample from Kiehl's or a pride medallion from TD bank.

This is not the Pride I remember where there was real community. I mean it is great to see the fire fighters and EMS and NYPD with a large marching band going down the Ave and being waved and applauded by the crowd, but where are the days of the small community groups marching.

Pride was once an extraordinary day where we witnessed people marching one day a year in public because it was safe to do so. These days when I mention going to Pride my friends who have been out for 3 decades are too busy wondering which party they are going to on Fire Island or the Hamptons. Or they wonder what beach they can hit.

As I walk along the side streets after Pride in the Village, the people selling their moonshine from their tubs on the side streets while the police turn their heads until someone gets sick and requires an ambulance. Then I turn another corner watching people sick to their stomachs all over the place.

I miss the old days of Pride when it was a victory over hatred because we lasted another year and then hit a dyke bar and danced the night away. Three decades later, I am need of a knee replacement so dancing is not on the agenda let alone standing for 5 hours in the bright sunlight applauding corporations who just want their name on a truck.

What happened to Pride? What happened to Pride!

DrBOP said...

Just a snapshot of how even a small town in Canada has reacted :

I have NEVER seen my community get together like this. Incredibly broad-based and passionate. Pray it continues.

Donnie Moder said...
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