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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Gay Exodus from South Beach

Recently an article in the New Times described the exodus of Gay men and women from South Beach. While regrettable, its understandable. Gay ghettos, regardless of where they are, tend to be transient in nature. They are transient for a number of reasons. Firstly, unattached men are by nature, transient. Secondly, the economics of a Gay ghetto works against it remaining so, and finally South Beach, like the geography it sits on, is at the whims of winds and tides provided by nature.

Let me start with my first point; gay men are transient by nature. Sometimes, Gay men are a bell-weather of what is going to happen to the nation as a whole. Americans are a transient people, from the earliest settlers, to the population of the American West, the shifts from the Rustbelt to the Sunbelt. So it can't be hard to understand that gay men, with the fewest attachments will be the first to seek that newest fertile ground. These men and women who often feel a disconnect from their biological families either because of religion or culture being incompatible with homosexuality will find it easy to just "pick up and go."

My second point is that the economics of a "Gay Ghetto" will work against the actual "establishment" of a gay area for a long period of time. At most one and a half generations will be able to sustain a "gay identity." Why? Because Gay men are "gentrifiers". Gay men will enter a depressed community, usually an inner-city one, and fix it up. Why do they do this? Because Gay men, in general, are men, and as men, they don't really go around being too worried about being assaulted or raped. Another factor is that Gay men don't have children, so when they're choosing where to gentrify, they don't take crappy inner-city school districts into consideration. So they move in, beautify the neighborhood, push out the poor and raise the price of the real-estate. Straight yuppies move in. "New" Gays can no longer afford to live there and go find another area to gentrify. Former gay ghettos abound: The Village in New York, Coconut Grove in Miami, Victoria Park in Ft. Lauderdale, Midtown in Atlanta, etc, etc. Gay ghettos tend to be populated by single, beautiful young men. Young men who are told by society that their relationships have "no value" or are "not real". Many gay men internalize this attitude. The last thing you want is your 30-something boyfriend being hit-on by a hot 24year old, or worse a whole community of hot 24 year-olds. When you tell him "we're a couple" all he sees is a potential "threesome". Gay ghettos start relationships, they don't nurture them.

So lets talk about South Beach. Miami Beach is an anomaly in South Florida. It is densely populated, in fact it has the second highest population density in the nation, after Manhattan. It is truly an urban island in a sea of sun kissed suburban Florida bliss. While many people love a truly "urban" existence, the vast majority of Americans are very happy in their "tiny boxes made of ticky tacky" to quote a popular song. So after years of a condo existence many can hear the siren song of lawn mowers, green grass and big-box suburban living. South Beach is crowded. It is full of tourists who, while greatly appreciated for their contributions to the local economy, tend to pee in the alleys, get drunk, ignore traffic laws and look down on the locals. Tourists are also a magnet for criminals who don't discriminate from the locals. So while its beaches are beautiful, its architecture enchanting and its nightlife exciting, expecting the gay ghetto to last was wishful thinking.