Dec 30, 2015

My Terrible Year in Philadelphia

In 2005, when I moved into the straight world after twenty years in gay neighborhoods, I swore that I would soon be back home again.

But gay neighborhoods tend to be in the heart of fabulous big cities that everyone on Earth is desperate to live in, so academic jobs are extraordinarily competitive.  Every opening gets 300 or more applications, not only from the U.S. but worldwide, not only from new Ph.D.'s but from experienced, even tenured faculty.

Still, I kept trying, sending out applications to colleges near gay neighborhoods year after year, occasionally getting an interview but never being offered anything.

Finally, in 2013, my seventh year in the straight world, I got an offer: a small private college near Philadelphia had been stymied on its search for a tenure-track opening, so it needed someone to teach the Freshman Seminar, Research Methods, and "Law and Society"courses for a year while they were looking again.

A one year temporary position.  But in Philadelphia!

Philadelphia's version of West Hollywood is Washington Square West, an 8x12 block square bounded by Walnut, South, Lombard, and Sixth.  It is cluttered with gay bars (The Tavern on Camac, The Bike Stop), bath houses, restaurants, retail outlets, a Community Center,  and Giovanni's Room, one of the oldest gay bookstores in the world,

I was there!

I moved down in August 2013, leaving Troy and most of my stuff in my apartment Upstate. There seemed no point for him to move down for just a year.

I hated it at first, but figured that all new cities take a little getting used to.

Three months later, I was still hating it.

Six months later, I was desperately applying for every job I could, as long as it was nowhere near Philadelphia!

What went wrong?

1. The Expense. I got a frightfully expensive apartment that took up 50% of my take-home salary.

But my apartments in San Francisco and the East Village were frightfully expensive too. 

2. The Crime. It was in a high-crime neighborhood.  I always heard about robberies, assaults, shots fired.  I was afraid to go out at night.

But I used to walk down Santa Monica Boulevard at Highland without giving it a second thought.

3. The Commute.  My college was 11 miles away, about an hour by train, there and back every day.  Seemed like I spent my whole life on that train.

But when I was in grad school, I regularly took the train two hours from my apartment in Manhattan to Stony Brook, took classes, and returned with no problem.

4. The Size. It was one room, only big enough for a futon that doubled as a couch, a small table/desk, and a bookcase.

But my first apartment in West Hollywood was one room, with no bed, a built-in desk, and a microwave but no stove.  

5. The Boyfriend.  Troy was back Upstate, so every weekend I drove up to him, or he drove down to me.  So half the weekends I was out of town.  It's hard to maintain friendships or relationships that way.

In West Hollywood, I spent a semester in Turkey, and another in Nashville.  Then I returned and started right back, with no awkwardness or lost connections.

6. The Lateness.  The bars and bath houses catered to the after-midnight crowd.  Go at 9:00 pm, and you could hear the crickets chirp.  I had to get up at 6:00 am to get to work, and I was too tired to go out.

But I got up at 6:00 am my whole life, and I was never too tired to go out.

7. The Emptiness.  West Hollywood, New York, and Florida had organizations for black, Asian, and Hispanic gay men, gay doctors, lawyers, fathers, runners, Methodists, Episcopalians, Catholics, Jews, gardeners, movie buffs, football fans, Republicans, Democrats, atheists, name it.  Philadelphia had a Community Center and some self-help groups.

In West Hollywood I belonged to some groups, but in New York and Florida I didn't.  You could meet men anywhere. 

8. The Heterosexuals.  I lived right down the street from a straight bar with pictures of 1940's pin-up girls on the ceiling  There were heterosexual couples in my building.  I saw boy-girl couples on the street all the time.

There were heterosexuals in West Hollywood and New York, too.  We always shared our community with a few daring yuppies and a few oldsters who had been living there since before the Flood.

9 The Twinks.  There were a dozen gay bars, restaurants, and retail outlets within a few blocks of my apartment, all entirely occupied by twinks.  I rarely saw a guy over 30, and almost never over 40.  No matter where I went, I was the oldest person in the room.

But I was a twink magnet.  All of those 20-year olds wanted to get with me.

Remember "Hey, Nineteen"?

No, we got nothing in common
No, we can't talk at all
[But] please take me along when you slide on down.

10.  The Tourists.  The streets were crowded with guys who drove in from small towns, to spend a few hours or a few days dancing, drinking, doing drugs, and hooking up.  We had tourists in West Hollywood, San Francisco, the East Village, and Wilton Manors, especially on the weekends, but then they went home, leaving small towns populated by guys who were survivors, who had escaped from the homophobia of the straight world.  We called it Oz and Heaven, walked around smiling, unable to believe, year after year, that we were finally home.

In 2012, the homophobia of even the most backwards of towns was nowhere near as fierce, and as universal, at the homophobia of 1982, 1992, or 2002.

You could come out to straight people without being lectured at, screamed at, or asked "What do they think causes it?"

You could come out at work without being instantly fired.

The sense of community, the belief that "we are all survivors" was gone.

It was just a neighborhood with a lot of gay people. It wasn't home.

The uncensored version of this post, with nude photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood.