Tuesday, August 6, 2013

NEW YORK: GONE WITH A SPLASH

2013 is certainly giving us reasons to celebrate in the American LGBT community: with DOMA being shut down and Prop 8 overturned.  However, there’s also plenty of reason to mourn and help fight – yes, I’m looking at you Russia.  As important as it is to discuss such horrific matters, the topic of conversation in this entry stems from upcoming events taking place in my home of New York City. And more notably, the closing of the staple club in Chelsea known as Splash.


Before I get into details let me give you a brief history of my life as a gay man in this city. For starters, I was raised in Long Island, a mere thirty-five minute train ride to the city.  As a family we frequented the city; I remember many-a-day-trips as a young child in the early 1990’s with my father. One time we were on our way to visit lady liberty (I haven’t been back since - what shame!) and I was so scared to leave my father’s side that I remember grabbing the wrong man’s hand and I cried until my father decided to finally come fetch me. My first gay bar experience was in the city at the age of 19 when I finally came out of the closet as “bi”.  It was 2002, I was home for college break, and I went to a bar called Posh because this guy I was speaking to on Gay.com (yes, Gay.com!) asked me to meet him there for a drink.  Still to this day Posh is my watering hole of choice, but at the time for years to come I spent half or my time in Chelsea and the other half broken down between HK and the East Village.

Moving on.

Picture NYC in 2002. There were half the gay bars in HK there are today, and Chelsea was “the place” to see and be seen.  I was a young twink so I never really fit in there as it was covered with muscle heads; still I LOVED hanging out in Chelsea, especially at the Big Cup and eat at Food Bar. Roxy, Heaven and Avalon were still open. In 2004, I graduated from college and moved to Astoria, Queens to be closer to the city I knew I wanted to call home. 

Friday and Saturday nights the conversations with friends were always, “Should we go to the HK area, East Village or Chelsea?”  And the response was typically, “We always do Chelsea, let’s try something new.”  Somehow, even if we didn’t start there, we ended up in Chelsea.  Splash bar was frequented by me because I loved to dance and take my shirt off and I really felt free- incidentally it was the place I experimented with “Special K” in the downstairs bathrooms. (But, only experimented mom, I promise!)


What’s my point?  With Splash now closing there has been so many arguments as to whether or not Chelsea is a “has been” area or if New York City’s gay culture is changing as a whole.  While I have comments I could add about both sides it seems to me that online publications is taking well care of that so I’ll leave them to it.  However, since this announcement arose there has been something I can’t get off my mind: My generation is the forgotten generation in the LGBT community (roughly if you were born between 1977-1987). That can vary depending on the individual, so please don’t bite my head off if you agree/disagree.

What do I mean the forgotten generation?  The quick answer is the generations before and after me had advantages that we didn’t have and they don’t seem to realize they had, whether or not they actually realized it at the time. The world for gay guys 25 and younger today is much different than the world I lived in before 25. The Big Cup in Chelsea was my “Grindr”. We had phones, but it was only to call people – texting was still not fully launched.  So people looked at each other in person rather than a piece of equipment. I wonder if the young gay guys in NYC care about the dying culture of the Chelsea area and the many memories people of my age share with it. Then on the other side of the coin there is the older generation.  My heart goes out to them because they’ve gone through so much to get us to where we are today and I will be forever grateful for their efforts. They come from a world where everyone around them was still dying of AIDS and they fought for not only LGBT rights, but also civil rights for their health. Now, as an HIV positive man who wants to be part of the future movement for help in that community (as well as LGBT rights) my experience with most (not all) is that we are dismissed because we “weren’t there.” They established these “gay ghettos” for us and I know they are saddened to see some of them die, but when I want to share memories with them, I am dismissed, just like I am dismissed from guys under 25. I wish I was my age back then to be part of the disco years and to feel free and safe around my peers rather than having to worry about getting run over by a baby stroller and making too much noise.  The point about the older generation is they had the sense of community.  I don’t have that feeling because we are all not united in that way.

It’s bad enough that I see these “kids” on Grindr that are around 23 years old and their headlines are “no one over 27”.  And older generations still think me being 30 is kind of young and inexperienced. So, I’m stuck in the middle drinking some wine alone while I type this blog – actually I’m so old school that I had to write it down first before typing up the final piece. I reminisce about my “good old days” - before there was Grindr and Facebook; Before all the mom and pop stores in New York were being closed by corporations looking to gentrify the city.  So yes, I can’t say I’m surprised that Splash is closing, and I will admit I was one of many that heard about it stated that Chelsea is dying.  But, when I say that statement I say it with great sadness. 

Sure, there is plenty of reason to celebrate in New York that we are being welcomed by the rest of the city and populations (mostly) and we can all comingle and live together and spread gay run businesses throughout the city where the rent is relatively reasonable still, but what was so bad about having a neighborhood dedicated to our community where still to this day (whether or not gay men will admit out loud) they feel the safest?  What’s wrong with that? How would you feel if you were told they are tearing down the house of which you grew up? 

Okay, so the management style and the overpriced drinks, etc., wasn’t ideal anymore for attending Splash these last few years. However, I’m looking at Splash right now as a symbol rather than a business. It was one of the last surviving places I remember feeling gay and free in my early days coming out.  And now my own gay history is slowly dying – and I know for many gay men I’m not alone here.

I know we can argue that we probably did the same thing when Chelsea was birthed for gays and we abandoned the West Village, where it all began with Stonewall (Yet, the West Village is still going strong for a certain population of gays – food for thought). And then we moved from Chelsea to HK, and slowly to Harlem (and so on). One day (and not so in the distant future) the same movement of closures will happen in the HK area – and that’s a big WHEN not IF.  When Posh closes its doors for good I will actually cry.  Who’s to blame – the city?  Our community?  Both?  Neither? 

The culture of New York that once was praised and envied by others is now dying and many don’t realize it.  It’s for the rich and also for a gay community divided in their opinions and efforts. We just accept all the change around us.  While some of it good, some is not so good. It’s time we as a community in New York start re-evaluating what we want to see in the future of our city – and remember the large population of us 30 and 40 year old gays who have been caught in the middle of all the change – are begging to be heard.


Continuing down this path I just very well may die here – as planned. 

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