The gay community is famous for moving into gritty neighborhoods, sprucing them up, and moving along once wealthy heteros start buying up the real estate. That's fine, but before we start mourning the gayborhood, let's get a few things straight.
This is the natural cycle of urban real estate, it seems, or at least it was in the past. Gay men and women, looking for somewhere to belong and be left alone by mainstream society, would go off the beaten path looking for a little swath of land where no one would care if they kissed, cruised, and carried on in public. They would do so by displacing whatever indigenous population was already there. These tended to be economically depressed areas that the gays—with their stereotypically superhuman design powers and supposed unnatural tendencies toward tidiness—would clean up. Naturally then other people would come into the hood, usually straights with strollers and fancy jobs, displacing the homos who made it nice and further displacing the original occupants.
This is usually the end of the "gayborhood," as noticed by straight writer Matt Katz in his well-intentioned but misinformed obituary of the phenomenon. He has lived in two gay-leaning hoods—Dupont Circle in D.C. and 13th St in Philly—and his piece reeks a bit of "Oh, weren't the gay people fun! I miss them. They made me cool." Yes, Katz gets it and is a welcomed straight ally, but he will never know what it's like to be a gay who lives in the ghetto. "But for me, a straight man with a proclivity towards societally marginalized people (and neighborhoods), the kind of gayborhood where I lived has disappeared," he writes, a sentence that smacks of straight white man's guilt being assuaged by his proximity to and closeness with a repressed people.
And it's so cute that Katz joined the gay gym and got hit on and that he used to get cruised on the street, but now that's gone. He lives in a bland neighborhood that that has more real girls skittering around with lattes than trannies playing double dutch on the street corner on a Saturday night. As for the gay men who got pushed out of the hood, they either found a new homo locale or joined the great gay diaspora of queers moving to neighborhoods that are accepting but not necessarily heavy on the rainbow flags in the windows. But what has the gay community lost?
Growing up gay can be a very isolating experience, where one is always worried about his safety or her being found out at any moment. To find a place full of people like you with a sense of history and community is a great thing. After all, the only thing that unites many gay men and lesbians is the place where they live. It is a little bit sad that the landmarks and signifiers of a city's gay presence are being forgotten or changed. So here are some rules for our once and future straight neighbors. We don't need to be ghettoized anymore, but here are some rules that will make it easier for all of us.
You're Welcome to Move in, But the Hood Is Gay Forever: Just like Greenwich Village, Dupont Circle, and The Castro aren't nearly as gay as they used to be, this is still going to be where Pride parades are held, where gay protests will be launched, and where all the gay people visiting from out of town are going to come to buy tacky shirts with rainbows on them. You have to deal with this forever, and you can't complain. You moved here knowing that every June there will be an obnoxious parade that is going to take over everything near your house. Tough. No bitching about the noise or campaigning to stop it from happening. Just as the gays who initially take over have to honor those who came before, so do you. You may own more space in the neighborhood, but everyone owns its spirit.
If You Want Gay, You're Gonna Get Gay: You all remember the episode of Sex and the City where urban pioneer Samantha has a feud with the tranny hookers who work outside of her Meatpacking District window because they were being loud and crazy in the middle of the night. Well, when you move to the hood, that's what you're going to get. You don't just get all the perks, you have to deal with the queens stumbling home at last call and screaming Madonna at the top of their lungs, the cruising (and probably sex) in the park near by, and people walking around with their ass hanging out of chaps whenever a leather weekend rolls around. It's not pretty, but it's part of what you're signing up for. If you can't deal with all the above, then move to a suburb.
Know Where You're Welcome: If there is a drag bingo game, then it is definitely for the straight audience. Brunch is a great time to bring everyone together. Even well-lit gay bars and lounges are OK for the straights to join in. However, if it is dark and dingy, it's best to call it a night and say bye to the boys. That is where the sex happens, and we love hanging out with you, but when it comes to getting laid, having straights around is a major wood kill. The same thing goes for the bushes in the park. You know that boys are bumping uglies in there, so don't go near it or disrupt it (see rule above). A park in Amsterdam got the right idea and put a sign to warn people because they knew they couldn't stop pubic naughtiness from happening. Just watch your step and know your surroundings. If you get a membership to the gay gym, you're more than welcome. We'll even behave ourselves. But if you go in the steam room, all bets are off.
Watch Your Language: Sorry, people, but there are a few words that are just for us. Gay people can call each other "fag," "dyke," "tranny," "homo," and all sorts of other horrible things. You can not. No matter how many gay friends you have or how long you have lived in the hood, this is never OK. Also, don't try to use the ubiquitous gay noun "girl." You'll either do it wrong or piss someone off. We'll know that you love us even if you don't talk like we do.
Support Our Causes: It's great that you want to take advantage of the cute shops and trendy restaurants in the gay part of town. It's wonderful that you have so many gay friends and know the difference between top, bottom, and versatile. But if you really want to make a difference, then do something to support the gay community. There's a straight business owner who owns several gay bars in Hell's Kitchen who may take the $6 for our vodka tonics, but gives back by buying a table at every big charitable event on the gay social calendar, sponsoring gay sports teams in just about every league, and giving scads of money to all sorts of activist organizations. If you want to be part of all the fun times, you have to be part of the struggle too, either with your voice or your wallet.
We Are Not Your Monkeys: Our straight allies are welcome at most public events (sex parties are the exception), but we are not having a High Heel Drag Race or a Gay Rodeo for you. No, we are doing it for each other. It's the same reason we cleaned up the hood in the first place, so we'd have a nicer place to live and so that we could see our houses and make a fat profit. You're welcome to enjoy all the benefits, but don't think for a second we're doing it for altruistic reasons. The neighborhood is just like that Drag Race, the moment it stops becoming fun for the gays, we're moving on and we're taking our rituals with us. So please, Mr. Katz, don't whinny and whine about how boring your life is now that all the colorful gays have moved out. We're not here to perform for you. If you want something wild and fabulous in your life, you're going to have to make it for yourself.