Thursday, March 1, 2007

The End of the Castro?

The Castro—the world's gayest neighborhood at 95 percent gay and lesbian—is heterosexualizing, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. As I found the article, my immediate responses were sadness and resignation, because it's a pretty mainstream neighborhood anyway. (But if the Castro Theater goes, I will chain myself to the organ!) In fact, the end of gay enclaves might even signal the beginning of true acceptance.

I was surprised to find myself a more offended than simply resigned as I read the article. Here's one married woman's account of her recent move into gay Oz: "The only thing that meant anything to me was the area would be nice"… At first, [she] wondered if her family's presence would provoke a backlash from gay and lesbian residents...She rejects suggestions that families like hers should live in other neighborhoods. "You could also say this neighborhood used to be full of families."

Sounds a lot like "this land is my land, and this land is my land, too." (And, yes, Dorothy we are still in Kansas!) I would suggest it is still full of families, though they may not have children.

The article also suggests, convincingly, that the Castro's visibility has contributed to San Francisco gays and lesbians' political power:

"Having a specific neighborhood politicians can point to, can go to and shake hands or kiss lesbian babies, has really solidified the gay vote, our political muscle," said longtime community activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca.

San Francisco is one of precious few places where politicians worry about the GLBT vote. That may be because the Castro has become an affluent neighborhood, but it could also be because the Castro is, as Mecca indicates, a visible reminder of how may gay people live in the city.

The Castro is also an exception in that dykes and fags—usually white ones—are often the agents of gentrification. We are the first to move into undesirable neighborhoods, which we then make culturally vibrant in those white, middle-class ways that bring white heterosexuals in. (Case in point: San Francisco's Mission.) The process is difficult on both ends: I don't like being the beacon to people of color that their homes are about to become unaffordable or that their neighborhood is about to lose its individuality. Nor do I like having straight people move in behind me, making my home unaffordable. But then, that's kind of the predicament of the queer in America: It's better than being a racial minority, but the straights will squeeze you out in the end.

Advocates are proposing that the city's gay institutions (including its Gay and Lesbian History Center) be permanently housed in the Castro, which seems reasonable. But I did get a little misty when I read that Don Reuter, a historian of gay enclaves, says "I think the only gay neighborhood that is going to survive is the Castro. In every city this is going on—we're unraveling. Our gay neighborhoods are unraveling."

1 comment:

Emma said...

While I hear the argument that having a known gay space, like the Castro, gives our community clout and visibility, the sentiment expressed in the original article rings a little "like the good ol' days when bread was 5 cents and children tucked in their shirts" to me. Neighborhoods change. People change. To expect anything in life to stay the same is to set yourself up for disappointment.

Nostalgia is a beautiful thing. But keeping the Castro gay, (it hasn't been the same good ol' gay it was for a quite some time now - and while I'm there, hasn't really accepted/represented us girls ever), isn't going to garner more respect from the straight community.