I want to start this blog entry by prefacing that, yes, I realize the Christopher street kids are loud, that they loiter and yes, I feel for those residents plagued by the noise pollution, crowded and dirty sidewalks and youths running amok. I realize all of this and I sympathize with the problems and annoyances the residents of Christopher St. face regarding these children and their noise.
But I'd also like to say that I sympathize with the youth too. It's a fact- these mostly minority, almost all inner-city youths come to Christopher Street because for 40 years this street stands as the known place where one can be as openly gay as they are. Just take a look around. If you want to know where community pride is- look to these kids. Many of them unapologetically effeminate, the young fems hold the hands of their butchie partners and all of them are decked out in some form of rainbow attire. They're here, they're queer and they are on Christopher Street to be just that. There is no Christopher Street in Newark or The Bronx or Brooklyn or Queens- so is it any wonder these kids take hour-plus train rides, escaping their homelands to be here, on this small strip of a street?
I have blogged about this several times: The kids are hanging out at all hours of the night, loitering outside of the bars, because that's the "cool" place to be and despite the best and deeply appreciated efforts of The Gay and Lesbian Center, the kids just don't find "The Center" a "cool" place to hang. I've said it before, to a tiring degree- It is not the kid's fault that they have nowhere to go but it is the fault of a city and a community too disinterested in creating a safe, well supervised, "cool" 18+ venue for these kids to go that isn't any kind of "Center." I'll vouch for it- I grew up in a white, wealthy, tree lined New Jersey suburb and although these kids' street-cred is far superior than mine ever was I still scoffed at the notion that my mother expected me to have fun at High School or Hebrew School dances. It's the same thing as a center- a party organized by authority. The two will never fit into the same equation.
Now despite the statements above the article below details a Center of the city that has some working ingredients: culture, dance, and expression. The article also offers a window into the mind of 2008 gay youth, upholding his sense of cultural history, The Ball Culture, through the years that passed while still upholding what Christopher Street means to all of us and why it is year after year that we regard this paved spread of blocks as a home.
From the NY Times:
ON a recent Monday afternoon, scores of young people gathered in a mirrored-wall dance studio at the Door, a youth center on Broome Street in the West Village, where they cranked out thumping house music and competed in vogueing, a dance style influenced by modeling poses that was popularized by gay people in the 1980s.
The center's vogueing competition, which has categories like runway, performance and face, takes place weekly and is called a mini-ball, a tip of the hat to the grand balls of the established vogueing scene. The event was added to the center's schedule two years ago. It is one of a series of programs intended in part to offer gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teenagers who flock to the Village from elsewhere in the city an alternative to hanging out on the streets and Pier 54, thus helping smooth relations between them and neighborhood residents who had increasingly complained about their raucous behavior.
Among the party's regular competitors is Dwayne Garner, a lithe 20-year-old with full lips and high cheekbones who dreams of becoming a model and an actor. On a recent afternoon between dancing in the mini-ball and rehearsing a routine for Manhattan's annual Gay Pride Parade, which will be held today, Mr. Garner spoke about the art of vogueing and coming of age as a young gay man in the West Village.
It was beautiful when I first came to the Village in 1992. I was 14. In the Village, every block you went on, you saw at least 20 gay people. I wanted to spend as much time as I could down there. I didn't do drugs, didn't smoke weed, didn't smoke cigarettes, didn't drink liquor, nothing. It was just a natural high to be around men who were attracted to me. When I went home, I had to become more butch. Down there, I could be free. I could breathe.
By the way I dress and carry myself, people in my community see that I'm gay. Some people treat me like a normal person. Some people say, "Oh, faggot." Plenty of young people are dealing with the same issues I did, and the West Village is the only place that offers comfort.
There was a lot of protest last year about young people being down there late at night. Residents think we're rowdy. But if I was a resident of the West Village and had people who don't live in my neighborhood there all day every day, standing in front of my building, smoking, drinking and having loud conversations while I have to get up and go to work the next morning, I would be upset, too. I understand the animosity.
I've been coming to the Door since I was 15. Me and my friend Joshua used to play around in the Door's dance studio trying to learn how to vogue. People came and watched us dance. We said, "Since you're watching us, you might as well make yourself useful and judge us." They judged us on our vogue, our stage presence. After we were done battling, they chose a winner. We were like, that's cute. We just did our own little mini-ball.
Breathe with these kids. Sympathize with them- because whether it was Christopher Street or any other Mecca of gayness, at one time or another each and everyone of us have come upon these lands and said, "I'm home."