A reader writes:
This is kind of a tangent of the Richard Cohen and racial fear thread, but I had another thought about your ease with African-Americans back when your neighborhood in DC was still dangerous. Do you think going to gay bars had anything to do with your comfort level?
I am not gay, but have been in a few gay bars with friends here in NYC. One think that really struck me was how it was one of the only places where different classes mix – meaning upper-middle class/wealthy whites with poor blacks (and all of the other various combos). I live in Washington Heights, and about the only bar where you see blacks, Latins, and newly-arrived whites mingle is at No Parking, the gay bar across the street.
Not being from here, I’ve been a bit surprised how much straight New Yorkers divide up by class and, de facto, race. I could see why there might be less understanding in our views of poor blacks and Latinos.
I’m sure being gay has a lot to do with it. There’s nothing like dating or fucking a person of another background, race or class to help you see the humanity in everyone. Alas, the gay bars in DC, while much less segregated than in other places, are still sadly divided. DC’s Pride is even divided into regular Pride and African-American Pride. But the gay commonality can dissolve many barriers if you’re open to it.
One of my most vivid early memories of nightlife in DC was a trip to the Clubhouse – now defunct – in a neighborhood that was deemed a little risky even for 1988. I went with a white club-kid friend of mine who kept raving about the music, which was similar to that played in The Warehouse in Chicago. It was one of the sources for early House music, and as we went in – around 2 am or so – it was packed with men of color, helium balloons and a big punch bowl. It was an informal event – in a warehouse space – but the music was so over-powering and amazing and unlike anything I had ever heard, I was captivated. I’d guess my friend and I were the only white dudes in the room (maybe we missed a couple in the mosh-pit of rhythm, and I was then a slip of a thing, a cute twinky English schoolboy. But within minutes I was part of the crowd, ignored by most, smiled at by a few, and completely immersed in that House sound that became the background to my coming out.
How do you get scared of generic young black men when you’ve danced with them all night long, or had so many fuckbuddies who needed a washcloth in the shower? In that sense, I’ve always felt that being gay was a real moral blessing. I could have been so much worse a human being if I’d been straight.