When Brooklyn Was Queer, and this writer's novel.
"NOGO Arts presents a group show of work that fits into the larger theme of queer work and labor. WERQ is intended to celebrate bodies that labor, that do the work society can take for granted or simply chooses to ignore in order to queer office spaces. With WERQ, NOGO Arts seeks to queer a common workspace while recognizing the momentous 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. While Stonewall is a historical marker, it was not the first time queer people rose up to do the work of social justice, hence: We’ve Been Doing This Our Whole Lives. NOGO Arts has its offices at the Playground Brooklyn, an independent coworking space in Gowanus. The Playground also is the home of Brooklyn Art Cluster’s new gallery space. Artists will have their work shown in the gallery which also serves as a common space for the Playground."
'"Look its Dom's painting."
Dominyka Obelenyte at WERQ: We’ve Been Doing This Our Whole Lives a Group Exhibition June 8-30, 2019 NOGO
Kendall Thomas, my old hero from ACT UP and SexPanic!
"Look at this amazing #WhenBrooklynWasQueer installation by Aaron Sciandra, currently installed at City Point BKLYN! All #Pride long, I'll be retweeting any portraits taken in front of it - just look fabulous & tag me (@Hugh_Ryan)! (And thanks to Bob Krasner for this pic of me!)"
Caption by Hugh Ryan
an afternoon in queer brooklyn
All weekend I read and tried to pull it together for my conversation with Hugh Ryan, author of When Brooklyn Was Queer, about Brooklyn Tides, cities and queer spaces.
To be frank, I was floored.
I think When Brooklyn was Queer is about the best book I have read about Brooklyn. I want to talk about everything.
The invitation for the event situates the conversation:
Hugh Ryan’s When Brooklyn Was Queer is a groundbreaking exploration of the LGBT history of Brooklyn, from the early days of Walt Whitman in the 1850s up through the queer women who worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II, and beyond. Not only has Brooklyn always lived in the shadow of queer Manhattan neighborhoods like Greenwich Village and Harlem, but there has also been a systematic erasure of its queer history―a great forgetting. That Ryan unearths. Shepard and Noonan’s work explores similar themes of cultural erasure as spaces of difference are forced to contend with seas of identical details encroaching. What will become of Brooklyn? Tracing the emergence of Brooklyn from village outpost to global borough, Brooklyn Tides investigates the nature and consequences of global forces that have crossed the East River and identiﬁes alternative models for urban development, providing an ethnographic reading of the literature, social activism, and ever ebbing tides impacting this transforming space. The formation of the Brooklyn we know today is inextricably linked to the stories of the incredible people who created its diverse neighborhoods and cultures. Ryan and Shepard will discuss a few of these narratives, comparing Brooklyn with historically queer spaces such as Manhattan and San Francisco, unpacking the cross currents and cultural tides from Brooklyn to Greenwich Village, East Coast to West, Fulton to Market Street.
All weekend, I read, preparing for the Sunday talk.
But before that, the Saturday meeting with the activist informed reading club in Prospect Park.
The day was glorious.
It felt like the whole world was in Brooklyn.
The farmer’s market was pulsing,
Taking in the sunshine.
Darting to and from Brooklyn Pride.
As the activist informed reading group, alternately referred to as the Barbie Dream House Activist Reading Club discuss Jonathan Lear’s
Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastationhis investigation of what happens when a culture dies. Lear’s “main subject[is]the Crow tribe of the western US, who were more or less pressured to give up their hunting way of life and enter a reservation near the end of the nineteenth century… tak[ing] as his basic text a statement by the tribe’s great chief, Plenty Coups, describing the transition many years after in the late 1920s, near the end of his life: ‘When the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened.'"
Stories break, worlds disappear.
And knowledge disappears.
It is a story that repeats itself again and again.
So how do we respond?
What kind of courage is required when our worlds disappear?
We should be asking the same thing.
As if it’s a study of the climate.
As if it’s a study of the climate.
Of all of us.
Can any of us act courageously toward a future of uncertainty?
Finishing our talk,
Caroline was meeting us at 540 President Street,
Where Dom’s painting was hanging in a show:
“WERQ: We’ve Been Doing This Our Whole Lives a Group Exhibition June 8-30, 2019 NOGO Arts and the Brooklyn Art Cluster present a group exhibition with over 30 artists and 60 pieces exploring queer work and labor at the Cluster Gallery in Gowanus. Part celebration and part provocation, WERQ looks at how LGBTQ artists and art challenge notions of production effort, and work. NOGO Arts partnered with the Brooklyn Community Pride Center (BCPC) to promote the open call, and WERQ will have a special BCPC section of the show...The Cluster Gallery at Playground Brooklyn 540 President Street – BD Brooklyn, NY 11215”
We stay up late.
The whole city feels alive
Sunday I wake up early wondering about Brooklyn.
Questions popping through my head with each page of When Brooklyn Was Queer.
Reading about queer spaces and meeting places, jails and piers, waterfronts and saloons, clubs and toilets, literary salons and bridges, Hart Crane and his friends, Carson McCullers and the February House, queeruptions and communities, anarchists and club kids, bearded ladies and freak shows, tides and bridges, poets and insurrectionaries, Mabel Hamilton and Lesbian Herstory Archives, Eve Adams and the tearooms, Sands Street and a cat and mouse game of expression and repression reverberating through time.
“We all do it” confesses Loop the Loop
Who is the we, asks Hugh Ryan.
It’s a question worth asking over and over again.
Hart Crane made friends as fast as he lost them.
Yet, he reminded us a bridge can be a way of imagining a space in between water and space, one life and another.
Waterfronts are liminal spaces.
Hugh and I chat away.
Can Brooklyn be a queer space?
If so how?
Where are queer spaces, or places of difference?
Can it be a heterotopia?
It’s a space for queer practices, Hugh explains,
An archipelago where we connect.
Where sailors and sex workers, entertainers and bartenders, entertainers and saloonkeepers share space.
Most of the time, the narrator is concealed.
But there are times when he sticks his head into the conversation,
Reminding us his work is an investigation into an ever evolving subject, with ebbing and ever shifting definitions from Leaves of Grass to Stonewall.
Early in the book Martin Boyce, a Stonewall veteran who suggests queer Brooklyn takes countless shapes.
From spaces where sailors meet, to Coney Island to the waterfront.
I find myself thinking of an interview about the piers in Greenwich village, when a young man, told me there were queer piers in Brooklyn. But for the most part he hung out at the Christopher Street Piers:
“…the Piers was a place where you can go no matter what age you were and be you. If you were flamey or loud or you were boisterous or you couldn’t be that way where you were from,
Brooklyn where I
was from, you came to let your hair down.
You became you and then you transformed back when you were home. I became the way I wanted to be all the
time. But I couldn’t be that way because
of norms of society didn’t allow me to be that way. Other people were being themselves no matter
which way they wanted to be themselves.
Drag queens, transgenders. They
had piercings, tattoos. They had androgynous
people. Everybody not considered the norms could go there and be themselves and
not looked at any other way.”
The implication is that where he comes from, Brooklyn was not a place where you could “be that way.” But still, there was another queer pier in Brooklyn.
It's a mystery.
It's a mystery.
There are countless queer spaces,
quieter spaces, mythic piers.
Secret places, such as the Vale of Cashmere.
But as Hakim Bey points out in The Temporary Autonomous Zone,
once the authorities discover a TAZ, it usually disappears or is shut down.
That’s what happened with Critical Mass bike rides; its what happened with Sands Street.
We’d spend the afternoon trying to describe that geography.
Cultural archipelago is a better way of thinking of it, suggests Ryan, reminding us that Mabel Hampton lived in Harlem, worked in Coney Island, and hung out at 129 McDougal with Eve Adams in the West Village.
Or did she?
In my mind, queer Brooklyn is everywhere the Rude Mechanical Orchestra plays, or drag performers put in a show at House of Yes,
Jennifer Miller organizes a trapeze show,
The Cirkus Amok plays.
It’s a queer place without a gayborhood
like Castro or West Village.
It's a space narrated with poems,
of Whitman, Hart Crane, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti,
“Walt Whitman and Brooklyn were intimately connected in Crane’s cosmology,” posits Ryan.
But how did Park Slope become a lesbian neighborhood,
Asks an audience member.
Geography, affordability, accessibility to Manhattan
Or was it one restaurant some lesbians opened in the 1970s?
Ryan tells us about several of his favorite characters in the book, each creating,
resisting, struggling against homogenizing, blandifying tides encroaching?
The 19th century was about discovering queer selves, the 20th century about policing and controlling, posits Ryan.
The Committee of 14 policing,
Cracking down on Rains Law Hotels,
Schackno Bill providing ammunition.
Still queer spaces shift, with theater and friends, subways to saloons,
toilets and jails where people connect throughout an ever expanding, shifting queer geography.
When Brooklyn was Queer is a prehistory of what we are,
A history of
anarchists and queers, finding common cause.
Then and now.
Bearded ladies at Coney Island,
then and now.
Queeruptions at Dumbo.
We all do it…
We could have talked all afternoon.
Riffing on tides and recurrence,
of constituting/creating separate institutions,
Lesbian Herstory Archives and Occupy Sandy.
A story of a global borough and cosmopolitan ideas,
does Brooklyn's idea / image of queerness spread?
How is our idea of queerness already changed by global ideas?
Could we ever live up to Whitman’s call for us to create a true city of friends?
Hart Crane made friends as fast as he lost them.
We could only talk so long.
The afternoon passes.
Kendall and Jonathan say hi.
Eve's tearoom. 129 McDougal Street
The activist informed reading group in action.