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Respected gay magazine the Advocate released its annual list of the 15 Gayest Cities in the U.S. this week, and people are piiissed. Mostly because the magazine, instead of indulging the Boystown/Castro/Chelsea club fantasies that fueled basically every "Queer as Folk" episode, gave the honors to a bunch of small-to-medium towns with histories of being relatively conservative.
If you're wondering, San Francisco got an "honorable mention" at #20. Bastards.
I mean, I get it. As a baby gaymo who only musters up the moxie to go out on the town like once a fortnight, it can be a little disheartening to constantly see the LGBT "community" reduced in media to getting crunk to Zebra Katz and taking your shirt off in bars.
Still, though, to call Tacoma, Washington "the gayest city in America" just because it's close to the ocean seems a little tenuous. Plus, as Advocate commenters were quick to point out, Pierce County (where Tacoma is the densest population seat) was the only county in the Puget Sound to vote against gay marriage in the most recent election. Gay B&Bs it might have, but I'm not sure you can rule over the land as King Gay if half your townspeople want to burn you at the stake.
The strange choices, it seems, lie largely with the biased criteria the Advocate used to determine just how gay these cities are. Again, they weren't interested in counting the gay bars or inclusive sex shops -- this time around, editors focused on resource center availability, number of LGBT elected officials, availability of marriage equality in the state, and legislated transgender protections.
In a nod to flippancy, they also counted gay rugby teams, Uh Huh Her concerts, roller derby events, and -- this is the kicker -- the number of Whole Foods within city limits. Because nothing says "I'm a lady who eats pussy" like fancy cheeses, I guess?
Reading the report cards, one gets the sense that the Advocate's idea of the Platonic Gay is a fine, upstanding dude who has Feelings about historical landmarks and gets drunk off three wine coolers. The blurbs gush over the coffee shops of St. Louis (#15) and the "romantic covered bridges" of Eugene, Oregon (#7).
I can just imagine the author and his boyfriend skiing in the mountains outside of Springfield, Massachusetts (#2) and then retiring by the fireside to read Christopher Isherwood novels to each other on the rug they got at Crate and Barrel. Not that I have anything against this hypothetical dude, but it's pretty annoying to be judged based on the interests of people like him.
Maybe I'm just being a sore loser, but this list feels incredibly out of touch with my reality (and with most of my friends' realities, too). In particular, the dig at nightlife feels almost slut-shamey, like it's more socially valuable for gays to be seen picking out a dresser at West Elm than sticking their hands down their boyfriends' pants at Badlands.
Every homophobe I've ever known has grumped, "Well, I don't care what they do, as long as they don't do it in front of me." Choosing to misdirect queer signifiers onto tired cliches like valuing good food and home decorations feels like shades of that same sex-censorship.
Even the gay club write-ups seem bashful and reluctant, like they were only acceptable to include after the authors established that the city was middle-class enough to fund tour stops on the "Glee" tour. Sexual activity and risque nightlife aren't the only parts of the LGBT experience, of course, and I'm glad that the authors didn't just pick out the most prevalent LGBT-friendly bars in America and call it a day. But to ignore them completely is to deny a huge part of what makes cities so compelling for a lot of queers.
Plus, as I'm sure you've gathered, I don't necessarily agree with most of the stereotypes they're relying on to determine degree of gayitude. I mean, my mom goes to Whole Foods, and she's pretty much the straightest person I've ever met. (Once, when I asked if she'd ever liked girls, she replied, "Well, I don't have as many friends as you do." O-kay.)
And as far as I'm concerned, if we're ignoring things like dog parks, nail salons, sci-fi bookstores, vegan brunch restaurants, and acupuncturists, we might as well just kiss all the 18-to-35-year-old lesbians goodbye.
On the one hand, it's just a list. Who cares? But for a lot of queers, particularly those of us who grew up in conservative households, safe spaces are not something to be taken lightly. For me, one privilege of becoming an adult has been the ability to carve out those spaces for myself: to surround myself with supporting, loving friends and relatives who believe I'm trying to behave in the best way I know how. I tend to regard my chosen cities in the same way.
The zingy thrill of wandering through unfamiliar streets and thinking, "I know you, I know you," feels like the first few weeks of a friendship, when everything you say to your brainmate-to-be is through a broad, helpless smile. I've written way more poetry about cities than I ever have about anyone I've seen naked. I pine for them. My relationship with them feels queer because I'm queer, and because the opportunities, adventures and protections they offer make me feel safe to be queer within them.
So as shallow as it may seem, to have my cities of choice written off because they don't fit an arbitrary set of guidelines feels like a personal slight. I chose this safe space for myself, god dammit, and I feel proud of the way it's curled itself around me and made space for me to fit. I want other people to acknowledge that, too, instead of relying on lazy stereotypes -- including the Advocate.
On the bright side, maybe this list was so odd because there were just too many choices. Maybe it should have been called "15 More Great Road Trip Stops on Your Queer-Ass American RV Tour" instead. At this point, though, I'm still not convinced that I should pack up all my flannel shirts and hike up to Spokane (#3) for the winter.
Kate is conducting herself queerly on Twitter: @katchatters.