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We are Family...aren't we?: Searching for community
Cultural Q's, a recurring column
by Francesca Royster
2013-05-08

This article shared 2977 times since Wed May 8, 2013
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Cruisaboo is closing. That is, the Caribou Coffee on Broadway and Aldine in Lakeview, aptly nicknamed for its lively reputation as gay cruising spot and social center, will soon be transitioning into Pete's Coffee.

I wonder what changes will come. According to WBEZ blogger and commentator Nico Lang, the shop, extraordinary as a commercial space that has been reshaped in purpose and atmosphere by its patrons, has long been a place to cruise, yes, but also where you could come by after a soccer game or gather with friends to play cards. That is, with your male friends. Lang observes that for the most part, women have not been treated very well there.

Now, I have never been mistreated at Cruisiboo. It's more like I'm invisible. And I get that. I am not its intended audience. Throughout the LGBTQ Movement, we've flirted, drank, danced, lusted, made love and community in bars, parks, music festivals, cafes and coffeehouses—spaces that we've built as well as wrested from others and reclaimed as our own, sometimes together, sometimes apart. It's what has kept our spirits alive in an often hostile world. But the transition of "Cruisaboo" does bring to mind the dearth of truly integrated spots in Chicago where gay men, lesbians, trans folks, bisexual and queer and questioning folk come together across lines of race, sexuality, gender, class, ability, religion and age.

Perhaps it's unavoidable that our community spaces reflect the tensions of the larger community, especially in Chicago, this city of neighborhoods known for its segregation. Folks of color have long reported excessive carding at some Chicago gay and lesbian bars. And tensions continue in Boystown between some business owners and homeless youth—often youth of color—drawn to its reputation for openness.

Our sexuality doesn't exempt us from the ugly dynamics of white privilege and other forms of racism, cis-genderism, sexism, classism, or ableism. This was brought to light this past April, when the Human Rights Campaign apologized for censoring undocumented and trans activists at their marriage equality protests at the U.S. Supreme Court.

At my very first Pride in Chicago as a high schooler in the 1980s, I remember picking up a fallen set of beads and handing them to the shirtless white man dancing beside me. Sister Sledge was playing from a float for Bonaventure House, the hospice for people living with HIV/AIDS where my mother volunteered, and I felt a surge of pride for her. I felt the sense of a shared outrage about the "gay cancer" that was increasingly ravaging poor folks of color in and outside of the gay community. I felt the euphoria of the shared appreciation of beat, the high of being part of a group of bodies taking up space and stopping traffic down Halsted. The man accepted the beads, and then whispered in my ear: "My doctor says I don't have to eat fish on Fridays," turning away.

It was the shared experience of sexism at Pride, along a critique of its corporate sponsorship and need for greater connection with diverse grassroots organizations across Chicago, that spawned the Chicago Dyke March, which will kick off its 17th annual march June 29, 2013, in Argyle. The Chicago Dyke March Coalition has sought to shift the location of the annual march and rally from Chicago's so-called gay ghettos to other neighborhoods, including Uptown, Pilsen and Bronzeville. Thanks to year-long planning, the Dyke March has managed to create a remarkably inclusive space, with multiple genders, races, sexualities and generations.

Are we really at a place where we can afford to live without each other as a community? I agree with the late writer/activist June Jordan, who wrote in her 1992 essay, "A New Politics of Sexuality," "I will call you my brother, I will call you my sister, on the basis of what you do for justice, what you do for equality, what you do for freedom, and not on the basis of who you are."

When I start to feel hopeless, I think of my friends Brian and Mark, and the intentional friendship we've been able to keep up for over a decade, despite our differences in gender, sexuality and race, and despite physical distance. We've argued and discussed and analyzed over ribs and brunch and a good hand of Hearts. We've met in each other's homes and now over Skype and Facebook. We've melded our families, blood and chosen.

I think of the activists and artists who have educated and inspired me, and who continue to work to create coalitional spaces across the city, like The Broadway Youth Center, Pow-Wow, the Earth Pearl Collective, Project NIA, the late FUFA, Northeastern University's Queer Prom, and Dandelions in the Concrete at DePaul.

And I keep Sister Sledge on repeat in the soundtrack in my head.


This article shared 2977 times since Wed May 8, 2013
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