Earlier this week, I was driving through West Hollywood, pointing out the sights to my friend, Eva, visiting from New Jersey.
“Here’s the gay Starbucks,” I said, passing La Cienega Blvd, heading west along Santa Monica Boulevard, before pointing across the street. “And there’s the 24 Hour Fitness. The locker room in there is a 24/7 pride parade.”
As we continued our drive, Eva marveled at the perfectly manicured landscaping in the chirpy profanity of a dyed-in-the-wool Jersey Italian.
“It’s so fuckin’ cute here,” she said. “Everywhere the gays live is fuckin’ cute. What’s regular Hollywood like?”
“Dumpy,” I said. (It’s true.)
She glanced toward the rainbow flags, the gay book stores and the gay bars. “It’s like straight people don’t even fuckin’ exist in your world.”
As we waited for a man in roller skates and a miniskirt to cross in front of us, I realized she was fuckin’ right.
When I was in college, areas with lots of visible gay men and women were called gayborhoods, but after college, wanting to sound more adult, I joined my friends in referring to them as gay ghettos.
Gay ghetto is warmly ironic and more adult sounding and until that car ride with Eva, I didn’t think twice about using it. But later that night, after a wikipedia binge about ghettos and their purpose (to isolate, oppress or keep invisible a group of people), it stopped sounding so cute and cheeky.
All of the gay people I knew in West Hollywood moved there enthusiastically and enjoyed the acceptance that comes with living in an area with a large gay population. It feels safe, it looks nice and when many of your neighbors are gay, it’s really easy to get laid.
But in an era where we’re still struggling to be treated equally, are we doing anyone a service by being invisible to the outside world? I don’t mean in media portrayals– Ryan Murphy is doing a bang-up job for all of us– I mean in all the little ways. Seeing a gay couple out at dinner in West Hollywood isn’t going to challenge anyone’s open-mindedness, but what about a gay couple out at dinner in Chatsworth? Panorama City? Le Havre? Two dads cheering on their son at a soccer game in Topanga?
Why do gay people have to live in gay villages where they can be observed by tourists who want to go on a homosexual safari? Come acknowledge us when you feel like it?
When people of any minority are marginalized in ghettos, it allows their problems to be marginalized, too.
If you were in West Hollywood when Prop 8 passed, you saw the outrage and the anger, but each heartbreaking tear preached only to the choir. If you were an asshole who voted yes on 8 and lived in Northridge, you never had to see the degrading outcome of your bigoted ballot.
By keeping ourselves cozy in our gay ghettos, we’re enabling society to keep regarding us as invisible and not forcing people to acknowledge us. When I hear the rote gripe, “Why do you have to have gay pride parades? We don’t have straight pride parades,” what I really hear is “Why can’ t I keep ignoring you?” And when we sequester ourselves, we’re helping them do just that.
Segregation on the basis of race, gender, class or sexual identity– self-imposed or otherwise– has never been an effective way to achieve equality.
So for our own good (and society’s), we’ve got to stop. We’ve got to stop communing our lives exclusively in gay neighborhoods. We have to stop going out to exclusively gay establishments. We’ve got to stop working out only in gay gyms and we’ve got to stop getting coffee only at the gay Starbucks.
If we can move beyond the habit of seeking out that which is gay and instead embrace that which isn’t necessarily, we’ll help society and ourselves. And besides, if regular Hollywood is any indication, the rest of the world could use our help. Our straight brethren also deserve to live in cities that are fuckin’ cute.
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