Preferred Citation: Hawkeswood, William G. One of the Children: Gay Black Men in Harlem. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1996 1996. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft6t1nb4dd/


 
2— "A Host of Different Men": The Diversity of Gay Black Men in Harlem

2—
"A Host of Different Men":
The Diversity of Gay Black Men in Harlem

All types of men are gay in Harlem—men of different regional origins and socioeconomic backgrounds who support different Christian churches and work a wide variety of jobs. All of these different types of gay men, scattered throughout Harlem, are connected to each other through a series of interdependent social networks, which in turn make up the gay black community. These social networks and this community are made by individuals, whose lives are typified by the examples below.

Gay Black Men in Harlem

Of the fifty-seven men from whom I collected extensive life histories, twenty-seven were born and raised in Harlem, fifteen had arrived as children and were raised and schooled in Harlem, and the remainder moved to New York City as adults. Those raised and schooled in Harlem had migrated to the city as children with their families. Most came after World War II, between 1945 and 1965. Some had migrated earlier, in a system of "chain migration," again linked to familial migration.[1]

Over a third of my informants have attended college. Not only does this mean that we are dealing with a well-educated population; it also means that many of these men cemented friendships during college


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that they have carried forward into adult gay life as the core of their current social networks. These college friends are "brothers," "sisters," or "girlfriends" with whom the informants interact on a daily or weekly basis. Some are roommates, some are in business together, some are lovers, and all are part of the "family."

The adult group came to attend college in New York City or to pursue careers. Every one of these men also came because he was gay: to get away from the confines of extended family at home, to move into a significant gay black community where color was not an issue, or to be "where the boys are"—that is, where a gay black man would be surrounded by fellow black men.

Being gay is cited frequently as a motivation for urban migration by adult gay men (Martin and Dean 1990). Although no formal studies have been made of this phenomenon, a large percentage of any city's gay population have immigrated from the hinterland. Gay men do this to avoid family and friends who are homophobic and to participate in the gay social life that most cities offer. New York City is known by gays the world over as a "gay town" and probably has the largest gay population of any city in the world. It has attracted men from all over the United States and from around the world.

So it is with Harlem. In the gay black world, it is well known that Harlem offers a gay lifestyle. While Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Oakland, and St. Louis are also known to have large gay black populations, New York has a double attraction: a large gay social scene as well. Here the issue of race is also important. Gay black men wishing to escape smaller towns, families, and integrated gay social scenes can immerse themselves in gay black culture in only a few places. Harlem is one of these. Whether to avoid a largely white gay scene or because they are interested in other black men, many of these adult immigrants choose to live in a black community. Harlem offers them a gay community within a black community.

While only one of my fifty-seven respondents is a "leader" in the community, some others are prominent figures because they maintain high visibility in the gay scene in Harlem. However, as was explained to me, most gay men born in Harlem or living in Harlem do not "hang out" in the scene there. Like the majority of the gay population in any city, they stay away from the bar, disco, and bathhouse scene because it does not appeal to them for one reason or another. In other words, the gay scene in Harlem leaves one with a false sense of the total gay population there. It excludes, for instance, closeted


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and bisexual men. However, come a major celebratory event in the lives of gay people, such as the Gay Pride Parade or the Halloween Parade in New York City, some of this silent population will emerge, swelling the ranks, in some cases, by hundreds of thousands of people. In Harlem, dance socials and boat rides evoke a similar response. Attendance is well above the core population of the gay scene, filling the venue to overflow.

Apart from such extraordinary social occasions (described in some detail later), gay men in Harlem lead very ordinary lives. They go to work Monday to Friday, mainly from 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. , and spend their evenings in a bar, shopping, dining out, going to the movies, or at home watching television. On the weekends they perform household chores, go shopping on 125th Street or downtown, visit friends and family, throw dinner parties and card games, go to bars and dances, and attend church on Sunday. These activities draw all the different types of gay men together: men from different socioeconomic groups, men born in Harlem, and men who have immigrated from "down South."

Immigrants in Harlem

Two of my respondents were born in the West Indies. Arnel was born in Barbados and emigrated with his family to Harlem when he was nine. He feels quite comfortable here in the gay scene: "I love Harlem. It's the only place! . . . It's the black gay capital of the world." Nevertheless, as a West Indian he has to deal with a certain amount of prejudice. He notes verbal discrimination on the streets of Harlem: "These children [fellow gay men] will wear you out. Sometimes I just wanna go home. Actually, as I get older I do go out home more often. These boys just wear you out." "Home" for Arnel is Queens, where his family moved some years ago and where he attended both high school and college.

Clifton was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and emigrated to Harlem in 1978 at the age of twenty-eight. Like many of the informants who came from other parts of the United States, he came to Harlem for a variety of reasons, one of which was to escape the narrow confines of family and anti-gay discrimination in Jamaica: "I was tired of it, y'know. I mean we got no respect at home. Not even from our


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families. It was hard. So I saved me money and here I am." He too has experienced some difficulty making friends and adjusting to the big city life, but he certainly prefers his gay life here to the life he led in secret in Jamaica.

Sixteen of my respondents were born in the South, including two from Washington, D.C. Seven came from South Carolina, five of whom completed high school there before emigrating. Both of the men from D.C. were schooled in Harlem, as was one of the two from Alabama. The five men from Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana had all completed high school before coming north. Most came for familial or economic reasons, some for education. All of them cited being gay as a reason as well: the need to be able to live in a community of gay black men, within an all-black society.

Brothers from Georgia

As mentioned above, some informants came to Harlem as children with their immediate families or as part of a chain migration of relatives.[2] This process occurs when one or two relatives move north to urban areas, obtain employment, and settle into accommodations. Then they "send for" (usually paying the way of) a sibling, spouse, or parent. In this manner, whole extended families have come north since World War II. A similar mode of migration unites gay family members and gay friends formerly from the South but now living in Harlem. This chain migration connects people to social networks of support and introduces them to role models who enable them to settle into their new lives in the gay community in Harlem.

Quint moved to Harlem in 1981 from Thomasville, Georgia. His older brother, Warren, had come to New York to further his career in banking. He had leased a bank-owned apartment on the block where he worked in Harlem and sent for Quint to join him. Quint had been two years out of high school and had not found steady work. He had made odd forays into Atlanta but ended up drifting around town for weeks at a time with other gay friends. He admits that the "bright lights" and large gay scene of Atlanta had got to him and that the drugs would inevitably get him into trouble. But he needed to get out of Thomasville. There were too many brothers and


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sisters and cousins and aunts and uncles, and always "church, church, church."

Quint had grown up in a family of five boys and three girls. He and his twin brother were the youngest. His father, a native of Thomasville, was a carpenter, and his mother, who hailed from Tallahassee, across the border in Florida, was a schoolteacher. They had a large home on the edge of town and a large property for the boys to play in. Quint said that when he was "real young," he remembers his grandparents visiting and helping them pick fruit from the peach trees that covered the property. His parents supplemented their incomes by growing and selling fruit and vegetables.

QUINT : Me and my brothers used to complain about bein' slaves. I mean, every time we'd come home from school, we had to work in the fields. And for what? I mean we didn't even get pocket money. It was "go to school," "do your homework," "go pick [peaches]." That's why we used to take off on the weekend. Especially when we got older—in high school.

When they "took off" on the weekends, the boys would borrow an older brother's car and head for Tallahassee or Atlanta. Warren had a close friend from Thomasville who had moved to Atlanta with his family. They would stay at his place if it was too cold to sleep in the car or if they couldn't find someone else to stay with.

QUINT : [Warren] really was the one. He took me to Atlanta the first time. We were real close so, y'know. He knew. He took me to Backstreet [a gay club in Atlanta]. The place was full of men. Dancin' together. Kissin'. And holdin' hands. My eyes were so busy. I guess he saw that. And that's when it all started. Every time he went, I went.

Quint's homosexual experiences had started some years before in elementary school, where he'd been "foolin' around" with some of his classmates. There were two boys he remembers having sex with on a regular basis. They did not conceive of themselves as being "lovers," but the three were known as "tight friends." These friendships, and what was presumed to be going on, alienated Quint from his twin brother. He had his own circle of friends, and he and Quint never hung out together. In high school, Quint starred as an artist and contributed to a large mural that was commissioned for a new auditorium. He was the only student at the school selected to assist the artist in painting the vestibule. Everyone in town read about him in the newspaper. But, he says, everyone at the school already knew who he was. He used to hang out with the basketball team, although he never played, and he even had sex with some of the players.


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QUINT : I think I had a reputation as a punk. I wasn't sissy or nothing like that. We had one boy who was a real sissy. He was younger than me. He used to hang out with the girls all the time. . . . I used to feel sorry for him. They gave him a rough time.

Because of this other boy's obvious femininity, he became the primary target for attack. Appearing more masculine in comparison, Quint escaped a lot of the anti-gay abuse that might otherwise have been directed at him. But he did get ragged a little by some of the boys with whom he had sex. Then again, they knew, so Quint says, that "they were on to a good thing" and "they didn't give me too much grief."

Quint believes that it was from this crowd that his older brother, Warren, heard about his likes and dislikes. He never said anything to Quint, but he dropped hints about what he knew, and that made Quint suspect that Warren might also be gay. After several visits to Atlanta they talked about it. Warren liked both men and women sexually, but he enjoyed the company of men socially.

QUINT : You know, it's the same old story. Straight men and women love the gay crowd. Not only for the sex. For the parties. Gay men know how to have a good time. . . . In Atlanta, all the time there'd be crowds of straight boys hanging around us. Looking for some stuff. Looking for drugs. They just wanted a good time. And they knew where to come find it.

It was at this time, with his gayness becoming public knowledge and a desire to experience life in a gay environment away from family, that Quint plotted with Warren to move away. New York City, and Harlem in particular, seemed to be the logical place. Harlem is still regarded as a mecca for black folks moving north. Also, New York boasted a large gay scene.

Quint and Warren have been living together in New York for eight years now. Quint says he's still not sure about Warren. Warren has never had a girlfriend or a boyfriend in New York. Quint says that Warren keeps his sex life to himself, although he always hangs out in the gay bars in Harlem. But the two never go out together anymore. Warren has a group of male friends he runs with, and they have all been having some problems with crack. Quint too went down that road, but after losing one job and having to struggle to get back into the banking world, he has managed to avoid getting into it again. He only hopes that Warren's romance with the drug will soon be over, because he too is about to lose his job. Warren has a good job in New York and even found one at the same bank for Quint.


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Quint has felt caught between settling down in a new life and the "bright lights" of New York City. However, a social network of gay friends and the example they set have enabled him to pursue his career goals. After a few months in New York, Quint began attending college. He has since earned an Associate's degree and is currently taking courses part-time to complete his Bachelor's. He has had no luck finding a lover, a permanent partner, but has been pursuing one man for some years: "The guy's a drunk. I mean he's so sweet, and the lovin' is good. But he drinks every night at the bar. And I can't get him to do anything else." In the meantime, Quint has dated several other men. He would like to find someone, a permanent partner or "husband," so that he could move away from his brother and start a life of his own. He prefers black men as sex partners and friends, and likes living in Harlem, but says that he is ready to move away: "I have a good chance to make it. But I need to get away from the drugs. It's too much. Everywhere you go people's doin' it." Meanwhile, Quint is working hard to get promoted at work so that he can make more money, become more independent of his brother, and finish college.

Quint's story is typical of the young adult gay men who migrate to Harlem. Not only is the immigration linked to other family members but the maintenance of ties to family back home is regarded as important. Quint and his brother return home often for holidays and significant family events. Patterns of stable employment and the continuation of education are evident among this migrant group. These activities enhance security (in the new environment) and economic and residential independence.

Louis and Paul

Louis met Paul in 1983. They dated for two years, but Louis continued to play around, until Paul delivered the ultimatum: we live together or break up. Louis chose to stay, and the two men have purchased a spacious apartment in a brownstone. Several of my informants own their own apartments and cars. Often homes were inherited, but maintenance costs and other payments demand well-paying employment, which most of them retain as well. Paul works two jobs to help with payments on the house and with savings to buy a car, and Louis struggles with night school as he completes his Mast-


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er's degree. They are active socially in most of the "gay scene" in Harlem, visiting the gay bars there at least two or three nights a week, often staying longer on Fridays and Saturdays. They also support citywide, black gay social clubs that provide a wide variety of social gatherings, from picnics and boat rides to dances and dinners. Louis considers himself very lucky.

LOUIS : I am lucky, you know. Paul is so very good to me. What he has to put up with. . . . I wouldn't want to be out here alone now. Not with this AIDS shit. It's scary. I mean, I've always got someone to go home to. Give thanks for Paul!

Louis and Paul have been living together for about seven years, just off St. Nicholas Avenue at 150th Street in Harlem. Louis is very proud of himself, his college degrees, and his vocational history. He says he is proud to be both black and gay and that his non-gay friends and family are slowly accepting and understanding his gayness. He is currently working hard to put a younger sister through college, an act that is endearing him even more to his mother. He and Paul also support two less fortunate gay men in their immediate neighborhood as they struggle to complete their high school equivalency diplomas. Louis serves on his co-op board, and both he and Paul support three large, citywide, black gay social organizations (which will be discussed later). As well as maintaining a high profile in the gay scene in Harlem, both Louis and Paul visit their mothers, together, every weekend. This can be an exhausting task as they haven't yet bought a car and their mothers live in New Rochelle and New Jersey, respectively.

Education and Occupation

All of my respondents attended high school: thirty in Harlem, nine elsewhere in New York City, three in Mount Vernon, one upstate, two in New Jersey, eleven down South, and one in the West Indies. Twenty-one of them have also attended college, seven of them outside of New York City. Four hold graduate degrees, one in law, one in education, one in music, and one in business. Two are currently registered at graduate schools in the city: Louis and Scott are both studying for Master's degrees in fine arts, one in theater and the other in film. While Scott has family support for his degree, Louis is


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employed at the same time that he is studying. His employers assist with defraying his mounting tuition costs.[3]

Unlike the picture we have of black men in the social-scientific literature, all but one of the men I interviewed for this study have been continuously employed since they left high school or college. One is now retired, and one is on welfare. Willis gave up his job as a Wall Street investment company's receptionist so that he could stay home and take care of his preschool-age son. The remainder of these men work at regular jobs, one or two moonlighting to cover extra expenses incurred by purchasing a car, an apartment, or a home.[4]

By background and occupation, the informant group of 156 men represent a variety of socioeconomic groups. Many of them work in the business world, as temporary office workers, secretaries, receptionists, administrative assistants, office supervisors, accounts clerks, bank clerks, insurance clerks and agents, retail sales clerks, storeroom clerks, and one as a computer programmer. There are three barmen, four teachers and a high school counselor, two tradesmen, two cooks and a catering chef, a nurse, a librarian, two postal clerks, and two transport authority employees. Five men work full-time in the arts: a production assistant at a theater, a film director, a singer, a dancer, and a musician. Ten are self-employed: a lawyer, a travel agent, a tailor, a car-service and laundry operator, two mortuary owners, a hairdresser, a photographer, a carpenter, and a florist. All of these people employ other gay men in their businesses, and the latter four employ gay personnel exclusively. All of them live and work in Harlem, although some do serve clientele from other parts of the city. These men do not fit the stereotypes of being gay—that is, of hairdressers and florists running around and "partying" all night. They are engaged in stable employment. Also, their broad range of occupations reflects the typical class, professional, and income dimensions of any American city. Such permanence of employment is a rare feature in social-scientific descriptions of black men, as is the degree of success associated with these men's careers, especially in business.

The Twins

Even the Harlem- born and raised informants contradict received wisdom on black men and their lifestyles. Although at


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least two distinct socioeconomic groups have emerged—that is, the gay men and the "boys" (hustlers)—neither of these groups fits patterns already described for black men in the literature.[5] Some of the "boys" do fall into the "street corner man" category, many of those only temporarily, yet they still aspire to the same goals in life as gay men who are employed, housed, and educated. While socioeconomic background is often influential in determining later class membership, in the gay community itself, class is not a major issue. The brotherhood of the gay community in Harlem stretches across class lines (see "Cleveland's Buddies" and "Miss Donny" below).

Carter has been hairdressing for almost thirty years. He used to work at home, serving a clientele composed of family and friends, but five years ago he opened his own salon, employing three other gay men as stylists. They brought with them their clients, who come from all over Manhattan, Brooklyn, and New Jersey. The venture has proved so successful that Carter intends to open another salon next year. Now he rarely works in the salon itself, spending his time managing the business and negotiating future property and mortgage deals from home.

CARTER : I didn't realize how easy it would be to expand the business. I would have done it years ago. . . . I owe a lot of it [his success] to my employees. They're marvelous. They work long hours and love their work. . . . They're very popular with all the young boys. With these new cuts. Especially Margie [a drag queen]. She's really a man. Sometimes I wonder if some of those young men, especially those tough little ones, you know, from across the street [in the projects], I wonder if they know she's a man.

Carter's twin brother, Adrian, has helped him financially. He is also gay, and they live together in the apartment where they were raised, above the restaurant where Adrian is a cook. Their mother worked in the same restaurant for forty years. Adrian says it was "natural" for him to follow in her footsteps. He brings home an endless supply of food, and they are allowed to use the restaurant kitchen to prepare food for the large, and popular, dinner parties the pair frequently throw. Cleveland says, "You know I can cook. I use my Mama's recipes an' all. But those boys can turn it out. They can really cook."

Cleveland's judgment of Carter and Adrian as "good gay friends" rests as much on these men's catering abilities as it does on the fact that they have been stably employed for many years and can operate a household successfully. Raised in a single-parent, female-headed household, these twin brothers have been regularly employed, now


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owning their own businesses and home, and maintain a large social network of friends and family.

Living Arrangements

Some of the gay men interviewed for this project live with family members: some with other single gay or non-gay brothers, some with sisters, and some with parents or grandparents. However, many of the men live by themselves.

Cleveland lives alone—"not that I want for company when I needs it"—as do twenty of the respondents. Twenty-nine have one roommate, nine of whom are lovers. Five have two roommates, two have three roommates, and one has five—his lover and four children. Twenty-five say they are the head of their household. Five share such responsibilities and seven say they do not: their lovers or other family members run the household. Forty-eight rent their apartments in Harlem from other gay, black, or, most commonly, "Arab" landlords. (Not one of my informants has a "white" landlord.) Seven men own their own apartments, and three own houses (two inherited whole brownstones from their parents, and one, who lives in a rented apartment in Harlem, also owns a house in Jamaica, Queens, which he rents out).

The fact that these black men are responsible for other family members, as heads of households or as home owners, contrasts with much of the information we have on black men in the social-scientific literature.[6] And many of these respondents have non-gay brothers or other male family members who have similar lifestyles.

The "Boys"

A distinct group of men within the gay black population are hustlers or "boys." These are men who sometimes sell or exchange their sexual favors exclusively within the gay black community for "cash dollars," shelter, food, or other consumer items.[7] Forty-one hustlers were associated with this research project. Thirty-four of these became informants, all of whom classified themselves as gay.


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The "boys" ranged in age from twenty-one to forty-two. Fourteen of them came from single-parent homes, many of which were welfare-dependent. Thirteen came from two-parent households, mainly in the projects. In these cases either both parents worked (often two jobs) or the family was welfare-dependent. However, some of the "boys" came from two-parent, stable families and chose their vocation.[8] These men had no need financially to enter into a life of hustling. Their experiences as hustlers were not the result of economic deprivation or child abuse, as most of the reports on gay hustlers would have us believe.[9]

One of the hustlers had been orphaned as a child, and six had no contact with any kin and did not know whether their parents or siblings were still alive. They had had contact with both parents earlier in life. Two of these men were homeless for the duration of the project. Sometimes they stayed in men's shelters in Harlem. Although sixteen of the "boys" had dropped out of high school, thirteen had finished, four had some college education, and one had completed a college degree. Twenty-three had spent some time in jail, and most had been or were currently addicted to an illicit substance. Fourteen had formerly used intravenous drugs, but all of these men now smoked reefer, crack, ice, or bazooka. Occasionally some hashish, cocaine, opium, or dust would come their way, but more expensive items, including prescription pills, would be sold for cash to purchase larger quantities of cheaper drugs.

Several of the "boys" were intermittently employed in regular jobs. Johnson worked as an office clerk for six months; Andy was employed as a building superintendent for one year; Jasper worked throughout the research period as a waiter; Lewis worked at a carwash; Mario occasionally modeled; and Malik was a mechanic. Calvin had trained with a stonemason.

CALVIN : I worked for a few years with a stonemason. He was training me to carve. Headstones, mainly. He had a big lot in the Bronx and we'd go there every day and work. I started with some cleaning work and then he started to show me how to use the tools and shit. But even then I was gay. You know, I'd spend the evenings at the bar and I'd pick up men. They started offering me money to have sex. I didn't ask for it. Not at the beginning. Then they'd tell me I was good. Some of them would give me more money. I was making just as much there as at the job. So I soon got tired of goin' to work every day. It was more fun to hang out down here at night. That's how it got started.

It is important to note here that many hustlers became involved in money for sex at the invitation of their prospective partners. Several of


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them told me that they became hustlers because they were offered money rather than having gone out to seek it. Most of them will still have sex with other men without payment, especially if they really like the person involved. Many of them will not ask for money directly and will take what they are offered.

Some hustlers made money within the drug industry (mainly as runners or vendors), and some hustled other goods. Mikey sold books and furniture in the bars, and André could always find good cuts of meat. In fact, most of these men had other jobs besides hustling sex, which merely supplemented their income. Although not paid much in "cash dollars," they often received payment in kind: meals, accommodations, drinks and cigarettes, maybe a night out, a weekend holiday, or a new pair of sneakers.

Others hustle to support a drug habit. Tracey comes from a middle-class family of three boys and one girl. His father has a high-ranking job in a city department, and his mother operates her own business. The family recently purchased a house in New Rochelle, where his sister and her husband have also purchased a home.

About five years ago, Tracey was attending Hunter College. (He attended parochial schools in Queens, near where his grandmother lives. In fact, he lived with her during his high school years.) But he became disillusioned with college and began spending his days hanging out in midtown gay bars. He watched as other young black and Hispanic men tricked the older businessmen clientele. Although he met a couple of men who wanted to keep him, he preferred sex with the black men in the Harlem scene. Gradually he became more and more involved with gay life in Harlem.

At the same time he began to use cocaine and its derivative, crack. The ensuing addiction cost him all the money he could muster. Eventually his parents, sister, and grandmother refused to have him live at their homes because of his stealing, and so he has been at the mercy of his friends in the gay scene for somewhere to stay. Twice he has been through rehabilitation programs, but he was back into his drug habit for the duration of this research. Tracey is a very attractive man who always draws comments and trade from a crowded bar, but he is slowly losing weight and taking less care with his appearance—the telltale signs of going under to crack. Several men in Harlem have taken him in. Currently, he is staying with Cleveland.

CLEVELAND : I won't leave him in the house alone. He calls me at night, comes by, showers and sleeps, and leaves in the mornin' when I does. I like the boy, but he's gotta get himself back on line. He's been to school. He's a well-


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spoken, educated boy. He can get himself a good job. Not like most of the others you'll be seein' in here.

All of these men featured in the social networks of my other, non-hustler, gay black men. They were involved in the financial, social, and emotional support systems that constitute the gay community in Harlem. Many were the recipients of money, food, and shelter, but many also contributed: as companions, sexual partners, by running errands, or doing household chores.

Most of the "boys" had grown up on the streets where other informants lived and thus easily became part of the "family" once their sexual orientation was known. This long association with other gay men meant that they were taken care of within the support capabilities of the social networks to which they belonged. They were regarded by non-hustler gay men as "brothers" and treated accordingly. Most of the "boys" protected their relationships with other gay men simply because they were "family"—someone to turn to when in trouble or without a place to stay.

Cutting across this social network organization was a set of hustler cliques, each a group of young men clustered around a leader, an older hustler who acted as their teacher and protector. These smaller groups of close friends also acted like families in terms of support and sharing resources. Herbie has such a clique around him.

Herbie and His "Family"

Herbie was the first of the "boys" to befriend me. He offered me assistance and "protection" and pointed out that two or three of the other senior hustlers were not to be trusted. Later I found out that these men contested his leadership and seniority in the bars. Several younger men hang out with Herbie, who is thirty-six, and run errands for him or any of the bar patrons that need cigarettes or food. Herbie oversees the "boys" behavior inside the bars and on the sidewalk immediately outside. He recommends the younger "boys" to older prospective clients. For this service he would receive a beer, money, or at least the understanding that an obligation had been established for the particular patron to "lend" him cigarette money or carfare.

Herbie lives with his lover, René, a drag queen. According to René,


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their relationship, over ten years old, was fraught with problems: Herbie's drug use, physical violence, and theft. René say she puts up with it because she loves him. "He gets away with all that shit, 'cause I love him." They rarely go out together, but René takes good care of Herbie, feeds him, and houses him.

Herbie also has a "wife," the mother of five of his children. She lives north of the city, in Yonkers, and holds down two jobs in order to keep the children. Occasionally Herbie goes uptown to visit for a few days. He takes some money and toys for the children, but after a while he has a falling-out with Helen and is dispatched back to René. Herbie's eldest son, at twenty, is beginning to appear in the gay scene. Herbie has said that he would do anything to prevent his son getting caught up in the life but admits that ultimately it's his son's own choice.

Herbie is one of half a dozen senior "boys" who lead a small network of younger hustlers. Each of these leaders is linked to the broader gay community through lovers or friends in the social networks of non-hustler gay men whom they have known since childhood or school days. A few of them have children from earlier liaisons with women, but all now engage exclusively in same-sex behavior.

Herbie says he was "always gay." He began hustling to help pay for his drug-habit expenses. But there are many other reasons why these men sell sex: long periods of underemployment or unemployment, lack of career training or motivation, lack of education, and poverty. Sex is usually only one of a range of commodities that they sell.

Darrell the Boxer

Darrell was the fourth son born into a Black Muslim family of eleven children. He has not heard from his father in twenty years and assumes he is dead. Darrell was raised by his mother and a maternal grandmother. Now he lives with his grandmother but seldom sees her because his hours are irregular.

Darrell has a son and a daughter who live on 127th Street with their mother. Whenever he can he takes some money there for the children, but their mother will not allow him to see them. Darrell had had a short but successful career as a boxer, winning thirty-two of thirty-three public bouts. But drugs undid his success. To support


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his habit he worked in the drug business, selling marijuana and pills. At twenty-eight, he became a full-time gay hustler to make more money. His poor education left him feeling that he was unemployable in the mainstream job market and that the occupations of selling drugs and sex, which he enjoyed, were his lot. However, his income from hustling has declined, especially since he is older and has a reputation for engaging in unsafe sexual practices. He has also developed a reputation as a thief. According to Leonard, who is thirty-six, "He don't care. Poor boy gonna die. And everywhere he goes he ends up stealing. Him and [Carlos]. He looks and acts and wears clothing that make him look like he's twenty-two. Twenty-five max. Yet to talk with them, they're your contemporaries."

Darrell usually arrives at one of the bars about two or three in the afternoon. He'll have a drink with one of the "bargirls" who work the day shift behind the bar or get one of the older gentlemen who drink in the bars during the daytime to buy him a drink or something to eat. He runs errands for patrons, buys coffee or lunch for the bar staff, and picks up "smoke" (marijuana) for those who need it. When his cohort of hustlers arrives around 5:00 or 6:00 P.M. , he starts getting high himself. He goes in and out of the bar, running errands all evening, and stays in the vicinity of the bars until closing at 4:00 A.M.

"A Nice Guy"

Some of the "boys" have no need for the money but have entered the trade voluntarily because they like the business. Many such men stop hustling once employed, and many have quit altogether because of AIDS. However, even these men often end up as drug abusers.

Freddy is an exception. He was born to a teenage mother who was in school at the time of his birth. She has since moved to California, and Freddy has not heard from her in almost twenty years. To this day he does not know who his father is. He has always shared a home with his maternal grandmother, who "works and goes to church." She takes good care of him, and although he is tired of living at home, he realizes that life there is better than it would be on the street, the only viable alternative that he is aware of.

At twenty-three he is one of the youngest of the "boys" in the


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scene. He only goes to one bar and rarely stays out late. Born and raised in the projects near 145th Street, he has known little other than his life in Harlem. Regarded as one of the best-mannered, most well dressed, and cleanest of the "boys" in the scene in Harlem, he has no trouble obtaining tricks. He has no particular rate for his sexual favors and will accept payment in kind. He refuses to become employed within the drug world and thus dependent on its easy money, to which so many of his peers have succumbed. While he studies to improve his job chances, he is quite content to hustle.

FREDDY : I don't need to be doin' this shit. It's dangerous. And I just don' mean the AIDS. Some of these motherfuckers will rip you off. They'll be tryin' to get over on you. Sayin' they have no money after you done serviced them. And then there's the other brothers. If they see you takin' their business, they'll be waitin' to cut you. It has its dangers. But I enjoy it. I like to be here with these men. They're friendly. For the most part. They look after me. . . . I could look for work. You know, but the best way to get a job roun' here is by word of mouth. So they know I be lookin'. So someday somethin'll come up. . . . Well, I could stay home, but I'd rather be out with these guys than sittin' up there watchin' TV and shit.

Odd bouts with using drugs and a lack of steady employment have made Freddy somewhat withdrawn and introspective. He has a select group of friends within the non-hustling gay black population with whom he will sit in the bar. He spends most of his evenings with Paul and Donny, who calls him "Baby." Both of these men say that Freddy is "a nice guy," speaks well, and does not get into the drug scene too much. In an effort to help him out, Paul and Donny will take him out to eat rather than give him cash, and Paul and his lover, Louis, are paying for Freddy's tuition so that he can obtain his high school equivalency diploma.

While the cliques of hustlers function as social mini-networks satisfying the immediate survival needs of this small group of men, their connection to the gay population in Harlem is via the larger social networks that make up the community. That they are temporary "husbands," "brothers," "cousins," or "children" of the other gay men in the "family" symbolically underlines the fact that these men are a part of the gay community in a very real sense of the word. Their "family" membership underscores years of friendship and companionship with the non-hustler gay men in the very neighborhoods where they all grew up and still live as adults.


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In the gay community, the "boys" are regarded by other gay men also as part of the "family." They are just different gay men: men who may have come from poorer circumstances, who may lack the education or other skills to obtain regular employment, who may have a substance abuse problem, who may have fallen on bad times, or who have simply decided to hustle as a vocation. Nevertheless, they are "brothers" in the gay community and are treated as such.

Kinfolk

Family is a very important factor in the lives of black people. There is much social-scientific literature to attest to this. However, much of the data on families of gay black men in Harlem contrasts with the information that social science has produced for black urban families.[10]

Twenty-eight of my fifty-seven respondents were raised by both their parents, and one was raised by his mother and her brother. Donny noted once that he couldn't understand all the "brouhaha" about single-parent families in Harlem, when he and all his friends were raised by both parents: "My daddy only died recently. But most of us have both parents still alive. You'll see. . . . When I was in high school, I remember all the fathers taking part in a father and son softball tournament over in Riverside Park. And everybody's daddy came along." Twenty-seven were raised for at least a few years by their mothers alone, and one by his maternal grandmother. Forty-five have mothers still alive, with whom they interact frequently. Twenty-three fathers also figure prominently in the current social networks of these informants. Seventy-seven percent were raised with between one and four siblings, and only two were raised alone. Maternal grandmothers, maternal aunts and uncles, and paternal aunts figure prominently in their social networks as well.

The levels of frequent interaction with older kin reflect the power and importance of family ties to these residents of Harlem. Even more important, and in contrast to the current discourse on black men, is their involvement with their own children. Nine of my respondents are parents, five of whom raise their children. One raises his three sons and one daughter with his lover, and another raises his


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daughter and son with his ex-wife. Six of these informants are legally divorced, and one is married but separated from his wife. All the rest have never married.

Church

Religion has played a significant role in the lives of all of these men. They were all raised "in the church," and forty still maintain close ties to a church or faith. Forty were raised Baptist, seven Catholic, six Methodist, three Episcopalian, and one Seventh Day Adventist.

On a bright and humid Sunday in March, Cleveland, Randy, and I attended morning service at a large Baptist church. This was not their regular church, but because it attracted "white tourists" (by the bus load), Cleveland decided I would feel more comfortable than if I commenced my religious experiences in Harlem in his small neighborhood chapel.

We sat at the rear of the church, so "all those church girls won't be watchin' us." The two-and-a-half-hour service was a lively, loud, and colorful event. The bright sunlight streamed into the church through several huge stained-glass windows. The Gothic structure appeared to be floodlit. Behind Reverend Doctor Tucker and his beautifully carved wooden "throne" stood a bank of forty singers dressed in purple and gold-trimmed gowns. They were surrounded by large pots of freshly cut purple, white, and yellow flowers. In the male half of this choir were three of my respondents. One of them performed a solo during the service. Another of my respondents played the organ. The enthusiasm of the choir members and the organist suffused the whole church. They led the congregation in its punctuation of Dr. Tucker's sermon and interjected shouts and invocations into prayers and hymns. During one of the choir's longest and loudest performances, when several of the singers made waving gestures with their outstretched arms, ushers guided collection plates along the pews of the seated congregation.

Months later, I was able to visit the "dressing room" in the vestry before another Sunday service. The men's room was a flurry of activity as the choir members preened themselves for their performance. Sev-


39

eral of the more gregarious of the men were "cutting up." There were also some flirtatious glances and a lot of "brotherly affection." This was particularly noticeable between those men I knew to be "in the life." As Leslie says, "Backstage we're all family. But you know it, child, some of us are more family than others, if you know what I mean. They all carry on, even the straight ones. But as long as it's kept in the family nobody's gonna say nothing."

This cloistered gay "family" within the church provides many gay men in Harlem with a social life that is an alternative to the bar and club scene. Gay friendships are formed in the church and carry over into the social lives of these men: they go out together to restaurants or to the movies, attend dinner parties and picnics together, and are active members in each other's social networks of support.

Suffice it to say, the Christian churches' teachings against homosexuality have proved problematic for many gay men and have no doubt played a role in the significant level of lapsed or relaxed participation of gay black men. Seventeen of my informants no longer associate with a church or a religion. Seven current Baptists and two current Catholics do not attend church. One current Methodist and one current Baptist were both formerly Catholics, and two Buddhists were formerly a Methodist and a Baptist. The latter still sings in a Baptist choir on Sundays.

Most of those informants who no longer attend church, or who have changed church or religion, will cite church teachings as a reason for their absence or conversion. As it was explained to me by those who remain, the preachers know that many of their flock are gay. They accept and benefit from the gay men's extraordinary participation; in some cases the only men who participate regularly as choristers, organists, and ushers are gay. Even some preachers are gay. But to keep the coffers replete, the preachers must address their congregation in the most religiously conservative manner possible. In the larger churches, most of the congregation is older, conservative, and from out of town (New Jersey or Westchester County). These non-gay parishioners want to hear the biblical teachings as they know them, and if this means that the preacher must rail against homosexuality now and then, so be it. The gay men who remain with the churches do so in part for the opportunity to socialize and for the prestige that can be gleaned from choir or other church participation, and not just in the black community. It looks good at the workplace too. In turn, the


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high degree of acceptance the churches show to gay men stems from their participation. Most church participants are women. Their involvement with the gay men at church has resulted in many longstanding friendships. Thus, the preacher and the church get male participants; the women have nonthreatening male companionship; and the gay men find a socially acceptable role in the black community. The importance of church affiliation stems from the fact that the church maintains a central role in black urban life and represents for many black people a tie to their roots in the South and to southern church life. This is especially evident in the lives of the newer arrivals in Harlem.

The Organist

Wilbert, who holds a graduate degree in music, attends church three or four times a week. He plays organ on Sundays, for three or four hours, to a packed church. Three nights a week he leads choir practice. This can be somewhat grueling after a long day teaching piano to young adults in his uptown studio apartment: "Running between the apartment, church, and the bar exhausted me utterly. But that's life. . . . Now I have to admit, this new husband is a little demanding. I've had to cut down on my social life to accommodate him. Mind you, I still have to go up by the church every day."

Wilbert recalls that his life has always revolved around a church. His father used to be a preacher in Birmingham, before he retired, and demanded of Wilbert and his two brothers a devotion that Wilbert says has "run out long ago, child, especially where they [his two brothers] was concerned. They gone off and got lost. One in Chicago and one in Atlanta. I don't know where they be. I just hope the Lord is still with them and is guidin' them and protectin' them."

Wilbert was raised very close to home and had no real friends, except his two older brothers, until he went to college in Atlanta. He said he went a little "wild" with "all those big ol' Georgia boys" and would frequently refuse to go home on the holidays, excusing himself on the grounds of too much schoolwork so that he could stay in Atlanta and "have me some fun!" He had one "main lover" in Atlanta. This man would visit him on campus, often bringing some friends,


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who in turn would find "some fun" with Wilbert's wide circle of gay friends. Wilbert recalls that on two occasions he returned to Birmingham without his parents knowing and performed in drag queen competitions "right under their noses." However, all through college he maintained "the faith"—that is, remained true to his religious convictions and attended church regularly. When he came to "this wicked town, this Sodom and Gomorrah," New York City, to attend graduate school, he sought "refuge" in the church and eventually volunteered his services to the preacher. Such church connections are a significant issue for many of the immigrant population. Displaced and alienated in their new home, they find a local church to help establish friends and security or, more frequently, are introduced to one by their hometown preachers, who are part of a nationwide network of churches.

At first, Wilbert made some close friends in the church, but a group of them got into trouble for having sex in the vestry, so he distanced himself from them. Now he maintains close ties with only two members of the choir, and all three hang out together in Harlem. Most important, all three have "kept the faith" and use the church as the real focus of their social lives. Church is a haven for Wilbert, especially because he is far away from his family and their church down South. The church has also provided him with the social network of support that he needs to get by in the city. "All my best friends in New York," Wilbert says, "I met in the church."

Another factor that emerges from my interviews is an obvious dichotomy between the South and the North. The different cultures and traditions of these regions are exemplified by different types of men: the respondents who are faithful churchgoers as opposed to the "nonbelievers." The churchgoers tend to be Southerners or city residents who maintain close ties with their southern kin. The church participants and the faithful are always defined by the nonbelievers as "church girls." This distinction between urban and secular northern culture and rural and religious southern culture also came up when informants discussed the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and his lack of support in the urban ghettos during the civil rights movement heyday of the 1960s. King's contemporary, Malcolm X, drew more support on the streets of Harlem because he was not of the church. While King was thought of as a good man, Malcolm X's confrontational attitude appealed more to the sensibility of streetwise urban


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New Yorkers.[11] Malcolm X also attracted many Harlemites to the Nation of Islam in the 1960s. Two of my informants were raised in Muslim families. Several others support the "brothers" and have even considered joining the Black Muslims.

A Buddhist

Garvey is another gay man in Harlem who has changed his religious affiliation because of the Christian churches' attitudes toward homosexuality. Raised African Methodist in Virginia by his maternal grandmother, he said he and his younger brother, orphaned at age seven and three, were strictly disciplined by the "ol' lady." She oversaw their homework sessions at night and dragged them to church meetings and "church folk's homes" all weekend. They would sit in church for hours at a time. Garvey says he understands why his younger straight brother disappeared as soon as he was able, not returning for three years, until age nineteen, with two children in tow. "If it wasn't for the good-lookin' preacher," Garvey said. "I woulda run away a long time before." Although he hedged when discussing "the preacher," his later accounts about his early sexual experiences did involve some stories about this man, who still figures prominently "in [his] fantasies."

GARVEY : At least for me, honey, I could sit all day and listen to that wonderful man. He was so gorgeous. And he wasn't married. You shoulda seen all those old church women tryin' to marry off their daughters to the preacher. They didn't know. They didn't know him at all.

When Garvey eventually got to college in Florida and experienced what appeared to be the openly gay scene in Tallahassee, he realized that Christianity conflicted too much with his newfound gay lifestyle.

GARVEY : [I] wandered for a few years, until I met Miss [Zachary]. That was here in New York. And she [introduced me to Buddhism]. Ever since then I've been chanting. And it feels great. My ex-roommate . . . was Buddhist too. . . . Several of my friends are Buddhist. . . . If it's all right for Miss Tina [Turner], then it's all right for me.

Garvey's need for continued spirituality and its frequent expression in his life is typical of all of my informants, whether they have remained with an institutionalized religion or not. The added bonus of a gay


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friendship network within the church has further cemented the affiliation of those who have remained.

The importance of social institutions such as the gay bars, and even the black church, to the formation and maintenance of the social networks of gay men in Harlem will be discussed in the next two chapters. In and away from this social scene, gay men lead very ordinary everyday lives: they go to work, keep house, and spend their leisure time with the members of their personal social networks.

"An Ordinary Week": Gregory

Gregory is a typical gay man in Harlem. He is known to be a hard worker. At six feet, clean shaven, and well mannered, he is an imposing figure in the scene. He dresses conservatively in slacks and shirts and sometimes a tie (never jeans and sneakers, the standard uniform for bar patrons). His quiet nature has led many to note that he is a "gentleman."

Gregory and his brother and sisters were raised in Harlem by their parents, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority worker and a nurse's aid at Harlem Hospital. All completed high school, and Gregory's brother died serving with the Marines in Vietnam. Their parents are now deceased, but Gregory and his sisters believe that their excellent upbringing enabled them always to have work and somewhere to stay. Both of Gregory's sisters live with their families in the Bronx, and he visits with them once a month or so. But most of his day-to-day existence revolves around his job and his small social network of gay friends. Gregory enjoys playing cards two nights a week with two different groups of friends. Most of his company includes older gentlemen, friends from the "early days," when he first "came out" to gay society in Harlem.

Gregory works as a florist in Harlem, for an older gay gentleman who owns two stores. He manages the small store he works at and employs two younger "gay boys" who help in the shop and deliver for him. Occasionally he goes to the market in downtown Brooklyn, with the owner, to buy flowers, but mostly they rely on the delivery services of an acquaintance from "the Brooklyn scene," who does the buying for them. Gregory works from 9:00 A.M. until 6:00 P.M. , six days a week. His store is closed on Sundays.


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On Sundays, Gregory rises early, dresses up, and heads for morning service at Canaan Baptist on 116th Street.

GREGORY : That's the Lord's day o' rest. My mama taught me that, and I thank the Lord for it. One day I'm not dealing with all this mess on the street. And I don't have to worry about it. Because one of the kids lives over the store. So I know I don't have to worry about it.

Gregory has been attending church there all his life. It was where he was baptized and where he wants his funeral to be held. He knows many of the people who also attend church there, as they are the folks he grew up with. He has lived in that neighborhood for most of his life. After several years of living with roommates in another neighborhood, he found a nice one-bedroom apartment on 119th Street, on a block where he has many friends. He now lives within walking distance of his work, his church, his best friends, and the two bars where he drinks most often.

After church on Sundays, Gregory dines at the home of his friends, Brian or Walter. At one time he preferred to eat at Franklin's, before his passing, because Franklin could cook "like nobody else." In fact, Franklin's passing had really left a gap in Gregory's life in recent months. He was a close friend, with whom he had attended church and played cards. But Gregory has several other friends who keep him company after church and later on Sunday afternoon and evening at the bar. After Franklin's death, Gregory stopped smoking and drinking. Gregory now "swills" soda and spends a lot of time photographing his friends as they "party." Actually, he is keen to record people and places important to him.

GREGORY : I'd better get them [the bars] before they all close. It really came home to me when they closed the Baby Grand. That was our main spot. I mean, we were there every day. It was such a nice place. And always a nice crowd. Well behaved. Well mannered. And they put on some great shows. . . . I have pictures of some of us in there. Some old pictures taken on people's birthdays and things.[12]

Gregory photographs most of the gatherings at the bars. Throughout my stay in Harlem, he took photographs on birthdays, at talent contests, on Christmas and New Year's Eve, and even on regular nights. In fact, in one bar, the staff are used to him coming behind the bar to take pictures of patrons sitting along the counter. Some days later, Gregory will show his photos proudly up and down the bar and take orders for copies.


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Most of the conversation at the bar on Sunday evening revolves around events during the past week, absent friends, forthcoming events, chores to be performed, and analyses of restaurants, the services of tradesmen, doctors, and clergymen, and the health of friends and relatives. Peoples' personal affairs are discussed in some detail, opinions offered, and even sometimes invited. News of best buys are always a favorite topic. Debates over the best cuts of meat, the cheapest good-quality clothes or tailoring, and furniture sales are long-winded and quite heated. Sundays are always a good time to learn what is happening in the neighborhood, in terms of comings and goings, because everybody drops by at some time during the afternoon or evening. If some major event such as a dance social or a boat ride has taken place during the weekend, or if someone has hosted a party, a birthday celebration, or a "rent party,"[13] gossip about the success of the event or who had attended with whom and what food was served and what music was played always evolves into discussions of great length. Sunday evenings are when most of my informants catch up with friends, analyze the past week, and make plans for the forthcoming week.

Before leaving, Gregory always makes plans to go to the movies, to visit someone for dinner or cards, or to make a hospital or family visit during the next few days. He likes to let his close friends know his plans so that they know where to contact him if they need him. If someone has not "featured" at the bar, Gregory leaves a message with the barman to let the individual know that he has been asking after him. Elaine and Colin (the bar staff) are always reliable in that respect, and if someone is missing, nine times out of ten one of them knows where the person is. As communication centers for this small bar community, these bartenders are invaluable to the maintenance of connections between members of different social networks.

Sometimes on a Sunday evening Gregory walks one of his older friends home before retiring. Sometimes he invites someone home to have a drink or watch a movie. Sundays are good nights for him to "carry on" because Mondays are slow at work, and he often leaves the store in the hands of his assistants and sneaks back home to take care of household chores, do some necessary shopping, or sleep some more before returning to the store in the afternoon.

Mondays are quiet for Gregory. After he locks up the store, he heads over to one of the two bars he frequents during the week to catch up with friends he may have missed during the weekend. He


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also meets up with his boss at one bar, and they briefly discuss the day's business. If news of the illness of some of his older friends reaches him, he will plan to visit them or run errands for them if they cannot get around very well. Sometimes Gregory has photographs to show, or tickets to distribute, or flowers to deliver. On Mondays he likes to go home early and cook, often several different dishes, which he freezes for use during the week. Gregory loves to cook and bake but finds it a tedious chore for himself.

On Tuesdays Gregory arrives at work early. Fresh flowers are delivered that morning, and this means he will be busy. The flowers must be sorted and stored, the outside displays must be changed, and orders start coming in for the rest of the week. His assistants also know Tuesday is a major cleaning day, when Gregory helps them take the store apart: cleaning the refrigerators is the biggest task. During the day he will also perform some light bookkeeping chores. On Tuesday evening Gregory passes by the bars again, usually to meet up with his card partners, and moves on to the chosen apartment for a few games. Usually dinner is provided by the host, and the guests bring drinks. These games are taken most seriously, and scores for partners are kept for a week, or a whole month, leading to a climactic finale that involves much drinking and eating. On Tuesdays and Thursdays Gregory plays with the same three friends, usually a few games of 500, but they end the evening with "something light" like "bidwiss," to wind down or cool off any tempers. Usually such evenings are over by 10:00 or 11:00, as all of the players are working men. Gregory also joins more casual games on other evenings, especially during the weekends. If there are no major social events to attend, or if a particular evening at a bar is especially quiet, a group of friends may get together at someone's apartment to play cards.

Wednesdays are usually busy at work for Gregory. A big order day, especially for the nearby hospitals, keeps him and his assistants busy until closing time.

GREGORY : That's a night I'll have a drink! I really need a drink on Wednesday. But you won't catch me out too late. No sir, I'll be home in bed early. . . . I go to work. Like most people I work all week. So you won't catch me runnin' around. Not during the week. I'm just an ordinary guy. An ordinary guy who has an ordinary week.

Thursdays see more deliveries, in and out of the store, more cleaning, and more accounting. It is also the day that Gregory "officially"


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meets with his boss to go over the books and to lay plans for the next week's purchases and sales. As well, Thursday evening is another card evening, the night that Gregory usually hosts the game. He may even miss the bars in order to get home and cook. He has usually cooked most of the food earlier in the week but always likes to have a fresh cake baked for the guys. He also tidies the house and plants vases of flowers everywhere. Sometimes he prepares tapes of music to play so that he does not have to be changing records all evening. Gregory prefers classical music, especially Schubert, a taste he acquired from a lover he lived with briefly when he was in his early twenties. (That was the only time that Gregory has actually lived with another man, but he does not miss it. The period was full of conflict, and Gregory prefers to forget about it. He has since had two or three long affairs with older men but prefers to live alone, visiting or staying over as the occasion or desire requires.)

Currently, Gregory has no lover. He does, however, have a small group of friends he takes care of. He takes them flowers and bakes them cakes. He visits them on the weekend and runs errands during the week. Most of these friends are in their sixties and seventies, and many are mainly housebound.

GREGORY : They're older, you know. They don't go out so much. If they do I'll be there with them. You know, we might go down to the bar in the afternoon and have a drink, but mostly they stays home. Anyhow, I like to visit with them. We sit and gossip, and carry on, and all. They tell me all about themselves and their lives. It can be really interesting. Sometimes. But they don't have anyone else. Most of them. They're alone. So I don't mind lookin' out for them. . . . Someday, someone'll do it for me, I hope. You just gotta look after your own kind. That's what I say. And they got nobody else.

Fridays and Saturdays are busier days for Gregory. He gets to the store very early to accept new deliveries and start filling orders. He has two hospitals nearby and several churches for which he has standing orders on Fridays and Saturdays. As well, weddings and parties in the immediate neighborhood keep him busy. He is often very weary on those evenings but finds time to spend at the bars, catching up with friends and planning his Saturday and Sunday social life.

For the most part, Gregory's week is similar to that of most people in Manhattan: going to work Monday to Friday, and often on Saturdays, and playing a little harder during the weekend. Although he no longer goes out dancing like he used to, or drinks and smokes like before, Gregory still finds the long evenings of standing and talking


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in the bar somewhat tiring. Yet he enjoys the company of his circle of friends and never wearies of hearing somebody's news. Now in his forties, he stays closer to home and rarely has "a long night of it." When he attends parties or dances, it is usually in the company of his close friends from the bars or his fellow cardplayers. He has been saving money and hopes to be able to buy out his boss when he retires in the near future. He would like to keep one of the stores at least and thinks he would be able to operate it successfully. He has been working for his boss for over twenty years and knows the business well.

Although some of the individuals in this community are a little different, even eccentric, for the most part gay black men in Harlem do lead very ordinary lives. In fact, Gregory's weekly routine is similar to that of many Harlemites. Some of his friends have slightly different lifestyles. They live with lovers or work at unusual or a combination of different jobs. However, their routines of work and leisure are typical of other folks in Harlem, and their goals and aspirations are typical of most Americans.

Ephraim's Week

Ephraim is a handsome young man in his thirties with a mustache and thick sideburns. He wears very fashionable clothing and every week sports a different hairdo. When out in the scene, he attracts around himself a group of other young men. He lives his life immersed in the gay scene, spending time mostly with other gay friends, and tries his best to help those closest to him.

Ephraim is one of Gregory's close friends. He used to work with Gregory at the store some years ago, before he got his current job as a production assistant at a local theater. He meets with Gregory most nights of the week at one of the bars in the neighborhood and plays cards with him once or twice a week. He says he would consider going in with Gregory if he took over the business. His current job pays regularly but not that well. But he has managed to save some money and has invested the money that he inherited when his parents died and left him their apartment.

He rarely sees his brother and sisters, who are all married and live on Long Island. Occasionally his brother comes to town, especially if he is having some marital problems, and stays with Ephraim. He


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shares an interest in other men, like Ephraim, but has never had an ongoing relationship with another man.

Ephraim has been in a relationship with his lover for eleven years. They do not live together, because Dudley prefers to stay with his elderly mother. He is an only child and his mother has no one else to take care of her. Ephraim spends much of his time with Dudley and his mother, sleeping over during the week. Dudley is on welfare but occasionally gets some acting work. He was a drag performer when they met, but such work seems harder to come by now. Occasionally he will perform if one of his drag friends puts together a show. Ephraim helps out with expenses in Dudley's household and also manages to keep his own apartment running.

He has two roommates, also gay men, who both work downtown in well-paying office jobs. Each of the three men has his own room in the large apartment, which is filled with potted plants. Ephraim grows ferns and orchids, and both his roommates take an active interest in maintaining the household. The three roommates do not socialize together, but occasionally they will have a meal together. The presence of the other two men in Ephraim's life is a constant source of strife in his relationship with Dudley. Dudley found out that Ephraim had slept with both his roommates, and that almost split them up. Ephraim notes that it just happened, as such things do between men, but that his love and caring for Dudley have always remained constant. He says he proves this by spending almost all of his leisure time with Dudley and his mother and by contributing financially to their household.

Ephraim's work keeps him busy in the theater on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, and sometimes on other evenings as well. He makes social calls on the bars in Harlem after his work is over, around 10:00 P.M. or midnight. He rarely does drugs and prefers to smoke marijuana at home with Dudley, but he will always have a cocktail or two while out. He meets with Gregory, Roman, and Harry most nights and stays up drinking until 2:00 or 3:00 A.M.

During the week, he sleeps late at Dudley and spends most of his days shopping, running errands for Dudley or his mother, and "taking care of business." He usually goes to the theater for rehearsal or performance preparations around 3:00 or 4:00 P.M. When he does not have to be at the theater, he spends time making tapes on his expensive recording equipment at his apartment. Much of this recording gear he acquired when he was a disc jockey at an old disco in SoHo in the late 1970s. The club catered to a large black clientele on


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Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays and an almost exclusively gay black clientele on Saturdays. Most of the big black clubs at that time had gay night on Saturdays, unlike the white clubs, which had gay night on Sundays. Most such nights were private—that is, for members and their guests only.

During this time Ephraim made enough contacts in the gay "underworld" to maintain a sideline business making tapes for clubs and bars all over the city. Among his clients now are two large discos in Chelsea and about twenty bars on the West Side, in Chelsea, and in the East Village. These reel-to-reel tapes take several hours to put together and have to be updated regularly. They are used as background music in most places on quieter nights during the week. One bar on the West Side uses his tapes as music for the dance floor. Sometimes on a Friday night Ephraim visits the club and spins a few albums on its equipment. He does not get paid for these visits, but the work helps him maintain a feel for the job and for what people like to dance to.

Ephraim's week passes quietly. Monday to Friday he awakens at Dudley's, goes shopping or hangs out with Dudley, takes care of his plants or makes tapes in the afternoon, and works at the theater in the evenings. On the weekends he spends his day sleeping, usually at his own home, works at the theater in the evenings, and spends the night hours in and around the gay scene in Harlem. Some nights during the week and on the weekends he meets with Gregory, and other friends to play cards. Ephraim and Dudley occasionally attend community dance socials, talent contests, and drag balls together, but most often Ephraim socializes with his gay friends in the gay bars scattered around Harlem. He spends a lot of time in the gay scene and has many gay friends in his social network, but he keeps his social life and private life (with Dudley) quite separate. He likes to have nights out "with the boys and girls."

Summary

All kinds of men are gay and black in Harlem. Many have been born and raised in Harlem; several are from families who have resided in Harlem for five generations or more (ever since blacks moved uptown). Some have migrated to New York from southern states, yet they maintain links with the South and the southern black


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culture that Harlem is known for. Most of these men are religious, and many are loyal members of their churches. Most of them are employed: some own their own businesses, others get by working part-time jobs or hustling to add to other income. Some are raising children—their own or those of siblings or cousins. Their daily lives are similar to the lives of the other folks in their neighborhoods. The major difference is that they are gay.

All of these different types of black men—the Southerners, the college-educated, the caterers, the florist, the organist—are part of an exclusive gay community. Irrespective of what they do, or where and how they live, if they are gay and black, they belong to the "family." This "family," to which we now turn, symbolizes the entire gay black community, made up as it is of a series of interconnected social networks.


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2— "A Host of Different Men": The Diversity of Gay Black Men in Harlem
 

Preferred Citation: Hawkeswood, William G. One of the Children: Gay Black Men in Harlem. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1996 1996. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft6t1nb4dd/