Dollars Vs. Gay Youth?
Back in 2004, I lived in the West Village, near the intersection of Bleecker Street and West 10th Street. Coming home late one evening after a night of barhopping in Hell's Kitchen, I came across a group of about a dozen teenage queers of color, standing on the sidewalk of Christopher Street. Some of them were in drag, but I hardly noticed. When you live in the West Village, you get accustomed to seeing large roving bands of very young queer blacks and Latinos, from across the gender spectrum. Nightly, you see drag queens, stone butches, bangee boys and girls, all sporting the latest in hip-hop-inspired thug fashion, and all startlingly, sometimes heartbreakingly, young.
A lot of them come in from Jersey City and Newark on the PATH train, disembarking at the first Manhattan station, on Christopher Street. Some of them come in from the outer boroughs, riding the 1 train down from the Bronx. Many, if not most, of these kids are refugees from and within their own families. Castouts, figurative and literal, from dangerous and desperately poor situations, they find each other on the streets of the West Village and congregate nightly by the hundreds on the newly remodeled and relatively deluxe Hudson River piers, which for decades have served as social and sexual ground zero for the more socially desperate and/or sexually hungry of our peoples.
That night, standing there waiting for the light to change, I was spun around by a sudden outburst of shrieking, screaming and hollering. The gay teens had circled around one of their own, a tiny black queen, perhaps 14 years old, while she climbed up onto a parked car, stood on its hood, affixed an suction-cupped dildo to the windshield and began fucking herself on it. Her audience went apoplectic, their screaming echoed up and down the narrow canyon of storefronts and apartments. A boy, himself no older than 15, caught me looking and shouted, "What the fuck you lookin' at faggot? Ain't you never seen no queen take a dick before?"
Ignoring the damage to the car being made by the queen's heels, ignoring the sex act being performed in the middle of the street, ignoring the screaming and shouting, I stupidly mentioned the worst thing I could have. "Don't you kids have school tomorrow?" In an instant, half of the them had encircled me. I backed down the sidewalk towards my building's door, as they threatened to "cut me" and "fuck me up." When I knew I could make it, I turned and ran for my door, their hooting laughter bouncing down the sidewalk behind me.
This article in this week's Village Voice describes the ongoing battle between Village residents and the hundreds of gay youth who enjoy (or terrorize, depending on your position) the Village on a nightly basic. The gay teens have organized themselves into an advocacy group cringingly called FIERCE! (Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community Empowerment). FIERCE! aims to lobby the city to move the closing curfew for the Hudson Piers back to 4am, rather than the present 1am, arguing that if the kids can stay on the piers later, they'll be less likely to rampage through the adjoining streets when the park closes.
It's really hard for me to take sides on this. I can definitely understand why the neighborhood associations are pleading for the city to do something. Above all, people have a right to safety, quiet and comfort in their own homes. On the other hand, maybe the West Village IS a special case, deserving of less stringent administration. Historically, it's been the one safe space for queers, particularly queer youth, most of whom truly have no where else to gather. This problem raises questions about racism, classism, and gentricification. It's Gen X vs. Gen Z. It's queer kids from the projects and tranny kids from the streets vs. lofts and co-ops and the celebrities living in Richard Meier's riverfront glass palaces. It's about the continuing eroding of civility and manners vs. the venal world of real estate.
Read the Voice article and tell me what you think. I'm really stuck on this one.
UPDATE: Reaction to this post: here.