‘There Goes the Gayborhood?’ by Amin Ghaziani
Author: John Erickson
January 8, 2015
Proper punctuation is critical to understanding an author’s main point. While exclamatory sentences and hyperbole can often sell more books or bring about more attention to one’s topic, the use of a properly placed question mark can serve as a gentle reminder to readers that although an argument may seem straightforward, its intricate details create more questions than the author could ever hope to answer. Amin Ghaziani’s There Goes the Gayborhood? is an exhaustive and impressive insider’s look into the historical roles and current construction of gayborhoods from an insider’s perspective. The book distances itself from broad and supposedly essential narratives that mark the gayborhood as a thing of the past rather than as a continual social and sexual location of the future. While Ghaziani locates himself at the heart of Boystown, Chicago, his argument has a ripple effect on the ways that people currently view the construction of the modern day metropolis and also what truly makes and defines a City’s proverbial heart.
I live in the City of West Hollywood, which is one of the many locations that Ghaziani discusses, and the topic and controversy of the de-gaying of gayborhoods is one I am all too familiar with. The curious contradictions that Ghaziani illuminates is between the de-gaying and simultaneous growth of the gayborhood that meets the needs of those that find themselves at home within its borders, as well as the continual need to reexamine our social locations and their relationship to the outside world. As Ghaziani states: “The time had come to think about what this all means for the future and fate of gay neighborhoods—and for urban life more generally.” Historically speaking, many of these gay neighborhoods were founded as offshoots of larger counties that refused to address the central needs of unrepresented communities, if not as a result of the mass migration of gay and lesbian individuals into highly urban spaces during and after WWII, as pointed out by historian John D’Emilio. To say a location is strictly “gay” not only takes away from the broader and more diverse historical narratives of its founding, but also acts as a silencing agent to those that do not identify as members of the gay and lesbian community.
For example, while West Hollywood is seen as a gay City to the outside world, to identify it primarily as a gayborhood silences the voices of the Russian, senior and straight individuals who were also a part of its founding. While those that were around for its incorporation remember and recognize that these other individuals fought and struggled alongside the gay community on November 29, 1984 (the day it was incorporated), to society at large, West Hollywood is seen as not only predominately gay but also highly male. Ghaziani presents an accurate depiction of gayborhoods while concurrently presenting the need to think of them outside of a strictly gay context. While it may be scary to some, gayborhoods don’t actually exist on a map but rather in the minds and hearts of those that have inhabited or currently occupy these spaces.
Although Ghaziani broaches the topic, the actual de-gaying of gayborhoods is not coming at the expense of gay men but rather at that of the lesbians who have occupied them. From the closing of lesbian-only bars to the refurbishment of the traditional gay male bar to a space where everyone, gay or straight, is welcome, gayborhoods are becoming less gay, yet mainly as a result of the lesbian women and businesses that are leaving in record numbers. While this conversation is not new and goes as far back as the 1950s and ‘60s, there are major differences between men and women in their “relationship to space.” Ghaziani aptly utilizes Manual Castells who points out that:
Men have sought to dominate, and one expression of this domination has been spatial…. Women have rarely had these territorial aspirations: their world attaches more importance to relationships and their networks are ones of solidarity and affection…. So when gay men try to liberate themselves from cultural and sexual oppression, they need a physical space from which to strike out. Lesbians on the other hand tend to create their own rich, inner world and a political relationship with higher, societal levels. Thus, they are “placeless.”
While this assertion today is one that even Ghaziani notes scholars reject, it is one that requires further examination if the de-gaying of gayborhood argument is to have any future historical significance. While lesbians, without a doubt, do “contribute to the diversity of American cultural archipelagos,” they are often overlooked as the expense of popular culture’s depictions of boys in tight booty shorts and shirtless hunky men walking up and down Santa Monica Boulevard in California or through Lakeview in Chicago. While retailers, developers and individuals from all walks of life are going to be continually attracted to these highly marketable and profitable geographical locations as well as communities, any future discussion of de-gaying needs to come with a thorough gendered analysis. As one female informant tells Ghaziani, “The straight couples are guests in our community…. The gay men are coming in to pillage. Imperialism is coming up from Boystown.”
This slight omission does not take away from Ghaziani’s excellent book; however, it does serves as a reminder to Ghaziani’s point about “the new questions that are ultimately created” as we journey through America’s gayborhoods. All in all, Ghaziani’s prose is a journey worth taking and serves as a friendly reminder to those of use who do live in these historically gay cities and neighborhoods to appreciate the spaces we occupy and the places we call home.
There Goes the Gayborhood?
By Amin Ghaziani
Princeton University Press
Hardcover, 9780691158792, 360 pp.