Our assimilation into mainstream society won’t kill traditional enclaves, but merchants can no longer take our patronage for granted
After recently writing about research on homosexuality and people’s ill-founded concern that it could lead to preventing homosexuality, I remembered that there is also a cluster of concerns about the survival of the gay enclave or community. Let’s take a look at those.
One concern is that gays are becoming “assimilated,” that they are becoming more like mainstream society and losing whatever unique qualities and valuable differences they have.
I don’t know if gays are inherently, intrinsically different from heterosexuals. Early Mattachine Society manifestos back in 1950 referred to gays as “androgynes,” or inherently cross-gendered, a view which still survives in the antics of the “radical fairies.”
But I doubt that that is or ever was true. Seeing gays as a mix of male and female because of their orientation to the same sex is, after all, a heterosexist view (anyone attracted to a man must be somehow female) and a social construction of the times.
I suspect that what differences gays seem to embody are the result of some gays introjecting that externally encouraged heterosexist view, or a playful reaction to public prejudice, or the result of any group of peoples spending time together and developing common qualities.
But if those differences are inherent, they will survive no matter where or how gays live. So the worriers have no cause for concern. That anyone is concerned about this suggests that they fear the differences are not really inherent after all.
Gays do seem to be gradually moving to other parts of major cities or to the suburbs. But living in an enclave is not a necessary part of being gay.
There have always been gays in suburbs, exurbs and rural areas. Just witness the sudden visibility of openly gay couples there in recent census demographics. So that’s not new.
What is new is that the people who once were driven to and would have stayed in the protective gay enclave now feel that public acceptance of gays makes them feel comfortable leaving the enclave and moving to other parts of the city or suburbs.
This growth of acceptance, as attested by public opinion surveys, is surely a good thing, not something to be deplored. And those gays who leave the enclave can by their dispersal elsewhere help solidify and increase the acceptance of gays simply by being visible in their new homes.
In any case, individual gays and gay couples will make these decisions about where and how to live based on their own desires, needs and perceptions, and it is impudent for some gays to criticize other gays for their choices as a result of that growing acceptance.
If some gays are leaving the gay enclave, then should people worry as some do about the survival of the enclave? In some cities gay bars have closed and others are struggling to survive.
I suppose the first thing to ask is: If the enclave no longer serves a significant purpose for gays, then why should we need or want it to survive? Out of sentimental attachment to history?
But the enclave will no doubt survive in some form. Gays are an affinity group. They will always enjoy being with other gay people whether living in a gay residential area or just as visitors.
Some gays will still feel a desire to leave less friendly environs for the friendlier ones of the enclave. And unattached gays will always find it useful to go where there is a high density of available partners.
In addition, some of our major cities realize that they have a vested interest in the survival of the gay enclave.
Businesses in the enclave are an economic engine for our cities.
They are a part of what cities offer out-of-town visitors and metro area residents as part of the effort to reinvent cities as entertainment and recreation centers to replace lost manufacturing income.
Gay bars and clubs, neighborhood hotels, bathhouses, gay-friendly shops, gyms and spas, art galleries and festivals and gay-friendly bookstores are all part of that mix in addition to gay community festivals such as Chicago’s International Mr. Leather contest, Northalsted Market Days, Mardi Gras and Halloween silliness.
Realizing this, Chicago, followed closely by Philadelphia, has already officially recognized the gay entertainment district, erecting rainbow-colored pylons, offering tactical placement and financial support for the gay community center, supporting neighborhood business groups, etc.
But gay businesses can no longer afford to take our gay patronage for granted. They need to spiff up, stay clean, keep their prices reasonable, facilitate parking, control the music volume, and offer special events and entertainment incentives to get us to patronize them.
Some have already learned. Others will have to.
Some of Paul Varnell’s previous columns are posted at www.indegayforum.org. E-mail at Pvarnell@aol.com
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 18, 2008