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4— "Close to Home": The Organization of the Gay Scene in Harlem

1. Theater is a popular pastime in Harlem. The YMCA, schools, and some established theaters, such as the Apollo, provide constant live entertainment that is well supported by the local population. Many gay men participate in the theater, but none of the theaters is exclusively gay. [BACK]

2. Two of the gay bars employ four women (in their fifties and sixties) during the daytime hours. All are married with families and have been bartending all their adult lives. Two have since retired. [BACK]

3. A distinction is drawn by many informants between having sex with someone and dating another man. To be "seeing" someone, or having sex with them, refers to the act of sexual intercourse or sexual gratification. To "date" someone means to be socializing with someone with the intention of entering into a long-term monogamous relationship. Dating may or may not include having sex. [BACK]

4. Joking relationships have been the focus of much anthropological attention, from Radcliffe-Brown (1952) on. They are also discussed within the bar setting by Cavan (1966) and Spradley and Mann (1975). Among gay men, where kinship rules do not restrict interpersonal relations, a joking relationship may evolve as a social sanction of sexual relations between close gay friends. The joking overcomes the inherent tension that may result from the relationship. In fact, the closer the friends, the deeper the sexually explicit, joking insult may be. [BACK]

5. The use of the feminine pronouns here reflects the siblinglike nature of the relationship between these two men. They regard each other as and call each other "sisters." With other friends, called "girlfriend" or "friendgirl," the feminine pronouns are also used. Nicholas informed me that the inverted "friendgirl'' was created by black gays "just to be different." Now that mainstream, white gays are referring to their friends as "girlfriends," gay black men have taken their display of affection one step further. [BACK]

6. "Finish it up" means to terminate the relationship, and "in trouble deep" means physical violence.

It is important to note that one of the main areas in Harlem where gay bars are located is also a section that is marginal to mainstream black life. Here immigrant Hispanic communities are developing. For example, the full length of Broadway from 125th Street to 168th Street, as it passes through Harlem, is lined with Hispanic residences and stores. Some "interethnic tension" has resulted as the two populations meet. [BACK]

7. This atmosphere contrasts sharply with the feeling of alienation in lesbian bars described in Wolf's The Lesbian Community (1980). Here gay black men's bars more closely resemble the sociability of the English pub. [BACK]

8. Mainstream American culture promotes an ambiguous attitude toward drinking and bar culture (Cavan 1966). [BACK]

9. Pete's Paradise fronts 125th Street. It has a narrow entranceway, no awning, but a sign painted above. There is a small window, which is often barred. [BACK]

10. Like almost all the bars and clubs in Harlem (and many elsewhere in Manhattan), the doors are locked for security purposes. Entry is gained by a buzzer to the bar staff or by a bouncer. [BACK]

11. "Moonwalking" is a dance step created and popularized by the singer Michael Jackson. [BACK]

12. The "meat rack" at Pete's Paradise was a shelf that ran down one side of the barroom at elbow height. Drinks and ashtrays were placed on top of it, and patrons frequently leaned against it. From here individuals could cruise the other patrons sitting in the bar, dancing, or walking up and down the length of the barroom. [BACK]

13. None of the informants in this study participates in the national political process. They do not vote. Some admitted they would probably support the Democratic party, but they were not registered. Most had no party affiliation. Local, city, and state politics were of conversational interest, but again no one voted. The attitude seemed to be captured by Sue: "Ain't nothin' different he [Charles Rangel] can do." [BACK]

14. For example, see Johnson (1990) and McKay (1928). [BACK]

15. In most of the bars in Harlem, books and magazines, videos, cassettes, furniture items from chairs to televisions, groceries (especially meat), and clothing were sold by street hustlers. These vendors, both male and female, were of all ages. Money earned was often the sole income of the individual seller, but sometimes such an income supplemented welfare checks or other irregular income. [BACK]

16. Most of these men have high-paying jobs ($40,000 to $100,000 per year), and several own their apartments. Moses is probably a millionaire. [BACK]

17. Staying out till dawn means remaining inside a bar after its 4:00 A.M. closing time until the bar staff decides to turn everyone out, or it means that after 4:00 A.M. everyone moves on to an "after-hours" club. Such private social clubs exist all over Harlem. From Mickey's Place, the gay crowd has only one block to walk to a gay after-hours club. There, in dimly lit rooms, drinks can be purchased and conversations continued, and dancing to the jukebox is permitted. This particular club, frequented by many of my informants, closes between 8:00 and 10:00 A.M. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. It is not open for business the other nights of the week. [BACK]

18. The existing committee chooses its replacements. Applicants or nominees will be known to the incumbents. Character references, community service, and income are considered. [BACK]

19. House music developed during the late 1980s in clubs in New York and Chicago. It is an R&B and disco fusion popularized by gay men who "vogue" to it as patrons or guest artists at the large, mixed dance clubs downtown. [BACK]

20. These formal balls are not to be confused with the balls of the younger "house queens" occurring in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Newark in the 1990s. Although undoubtedly part of the inspiration for these smaller events, the large Harlem balls remain major annual social events in Harlem. They are attended by as many of Harlem's non-gay elite as its established drag celebrities. [BACK]

21. Francis also liked gay men and had a reputation for being well hung. He preferred the active role in the sexual encounter, but with non-gay partners he frequently took a passive role sexually. [BACK]

22. SoHar is the area of Harlem between 5th and Morningside avenues and 125th and 110th streets, directly north of Central Park. [BACK]

23. This seems to be a different experience from that of other gay men, especially in Manhattan. Very few Manhattan gay men were born and raised in the borough. Martin and Dean (1990) note that about 80 percent are non-New Yorkers. Most come from the suburbs, other states, or abroad. [BACK]

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