I was 19 when I first visited New York. Back then, it was a different kind of town. New York, along with San Francisco, was a much needed sanctuary for kids who needed a bit of anonymity to figure out who they were.
31 years later, lots has changed, myself included. I still have little use for family but no longer require anonymity. I’ve given up my seat on the Greyhound bus for one in Delta’s business class. A tableau of graffiti covered buildings in Alphabet City, against a backdrop of fresh snow, is no longer the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
I do miss the rotting piers at the foot of Christopher Street, since renovated as part of the Hudson River Park.
I also miss those hauntingly beautiful creatures who used to cruise those piers for sex, drugs, money, and occasional moments of tenderness. They are long gone, with few exceptions, victims of AIDS and despair, decimated along with the piers. Of course, new generations have emerged over the decades, each one fabulous in their own way, if a bit clumsier and less feline in their prowling.
New York and San Francisco are increasingly full of meatheads but, as disheartening as that demographic shift may be, both cities still offer sanctuary for kids who need a bit of anonymity, perhaps less so these days, to figure out who they are.
I suppose all kids are a bit queer and certainly confused. That hasn’t changed. But, we now live in a culture of fear, one in which youth have been villainized, especially those without privilege and entitlement. We have regulated and curfewed them into the most confined of spaces, leaving them little room to explore.
So, at best, they flail about at raves. Or, they forage online at the mercy of bullies and a viral exposure much different and perhaps more virulent than the one that plagued my generation. And, those are the ones lucky enough to have homes to return to.
What about the ones for whom the queerness just can’t be beaten down or bullied into conformity? I don’t know how but I wish I could offer all of them a moment of sweetness, safety, kindness, or maybe just a chocolate chip cookie and a good laugh.