Monday, October 11, 2021

Our Search for the Gayest Place in America

San Francisco, June 1996

After dropping out of USC in 1989, I worked as an editor at the Getty Consternation Institute, a juvenile probation officer, an architectural assistant, and a freelance writer.  But I really liked academe, so I planned to return to grad school and get a Ph.D. in a field of the social sciences, history, anthropology, or sociology.

Of course, I could only go to grad school in a city with a strong gay neighborhood.  The list of cities with strong gay neighborhoods and strong graduate schools was short: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, and of course Los Angeles and San Francisco.

In the summer of 1996, I made plans to visit them.

To my surprise, my boyfriend/ex-boyfriend Lane, who had wimped out on San Francisco to move back to West Hollywood, offered to come with me.  "I could use a change," he said.  "And who knows? We might find a town that's gayer than West Hollywood."

So we took a Grand Tour, looking for the gayest towns in America.

Days 1-2: Chicago (U. of Chicago and Northwestern).  The City of Big Shoulders and non-nonsense men.  Boystown, the first gay neighborhood I ever visited, back in 1983.  Man's Country was still there, plus The Cellblock, the Sweat Lodge, the Jackhammer.  The only dark room I've seen in the U.S.  Plus private parties, biker runs, bear clubs, even a gay nudist group.

Cruising has never been easier.  We met a tall, gruff bear with a short beard, a little belly, and a shaved Kielbasa beneath the belt, And a cute 30-ish film producer with a long Bratwurst.

"You'd never get any studying done," Lane complained.  "Too many distractions."

Days 3-4. Columbus (Ohio State).  German Village, near downtown, a gentrified neighborhood of small shops, boutiques, restaurants.  Gay presence, but not as strong as what we were used to.

The Book Loft, a "32 room book sale," almost sealed the deal for me.

In 2005 I would be moving to Dayton, an hour's drive away.

Days 5-6. Boston (Boston U. and Harvard).  Ok, my chances of getting into Harvard were nil, but I couldn't resist walking around the quads and cruising the crazy Harvard boys.

The gay neighborhood centered around Boyston Street, in the Back Bay.  A lot of bars and restaurants, but small, cramped, impossible to find your way around.

We met a Ecuadorian twink with pomaded hair, a slim muscular physique, and a cut Bratwurst.  Very nice, but not enough to seal the deal.

Days 7-8. New York (NYU and Long Island U.)  This was my first time in New York.  It was fascinating seeing all the places I knew from literature and film, and from Seinfeld: 42nd Street, Time Square, Greenwich Village, Central Park.

The Village is the best documented gay neighborhood in the world, the subject of countless histories and biographies.  Gay Liberation was born here.  During the 1970s and 1980s, a group of writers called the Violet Quill wrote a dozen novels set here.

And the twinks were everywhere! We met a Columbia University undergrad with blond hair and a tight smooth physique.

I loved it.  But Lane said "It's all about history.  It's a place to come from, not move to."

More after the break.

Days 9-10. Philadelphia (Pennsylvania and Temple).   Washington Square West has some of the world's best gay clubs and restaurants, and it's the site of the first Gay Rights demonstration in history. But its biggest claim to fame was Giovanni's Room, the second oldest and largest gay bookstore in the world, founded back in 1972, when there were almost no gay-positive books in existence.

The gay bed and breakfast lost our reservation, and a three-level bathhouse was almost completely empty.  We hooked up with an older bodybuilder with a hairy chest and a dark, stern look, but it wasn't enough.  We gave Philadelphia a miss.

I would be back for a year in 2012-13.

Days 11-12. Atlanta (Emory U.).   A strong, vibrant gay community centered in Midtown.  Mary's, Blake's, Friends, sleazy after hours clubs, and the biggest Metropolitan Community Church I had ever been in.

But: they sent us to a restaurant where there was a woman in tight clothing hanging on a trapeeze.  Gross.  Felt like being in a porn movie.  And besides, once you left Atlanta, you were in...shudder...the South.

Days 13-14:  New Orleans (Tulane U.).  I loved the French Quarter, with its beautiful Vieux Carre and 18th century Spanish architecture.  We saw the Saint Louis Cemetery and the Long Vue House, and stopped into the Voodoo Shop,  But the gay presence seemed to get lost in the general atmosphere of Carnival.

The population is 60% black, so you'd think that the Cafe Lafitte in Exile (great name!) would have a lot of black patrons.  Nope.  We actually picked up a Turkish immigrant who worked in a drug store.

Days 15-16: Austin (U. of Texas).

Didn't like it.

Days 17-20: West Hollywood (UCLA).  The French Quarter, the Greenery, the Faultline, Mugi, Different Light, the Holiday Spa, three thousand nights, three thousand memories.

Click your heels together and repeat: "There's no place like home."

I ended up applying to colleges in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, and going to Long Island University in New York.

Lane stayed home.

See also: The 10 Best Gay Neighborhoods in North America; The Gay Russian Teenager.


  1. The Book Loft in Columbus is just the best!

  2. The Sweat Lodge? 😓 So I want to ask how much conduct unbecoming of a solemn Lakota purification rite goes on there? Obviously liquor.



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