Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Sacred Places

I'm told the average American teenager's fondest weekend memories are of stuff like attending a high school football game or a drive-in movie, skate boarding in and around a shopping mall, or hosting a house party when their parents are out of town.

My fondest high school memories, however, are less Norman Rockwell and more Stonewall Inn. 

Most of them involve going clubbing in Greenwich Village with my mom's "work husband" Richie (right of the silver-haired lynx a.k.a. my mother), and his real husband, Jimmy, immediately to Silver Lynx's left. That's me on Richie's right, with a gnarly unibrow that I don't miss at all, and a level of collagen in my face that I miss dearly. My mom's real husband, a.k.a. my dad, is standing next to Jimmy looking like he's about to hit an open casting call for extras on Seinfeld.

Now before you go judging my mom for letting me spend my junior year of high school drinking amaretto sours and partying until 3:00 a.m. in gay dance clubs every weekend, just know she's already done the job for you. She's asked me many, many times whether this made her a neglectful mother. I assured her it didn't, because as far as I was (and am) concerned, there was no place safer or more fun for a 16 year-old girl in New York City in 1994 than a huge gay dance club.

Keep in mind too: this was a completely different era, when anyone past puberty could pretty much walk into a bar or nightclub without even being noticed, much less carded. It sounds crazy describing it now, but this was just how it was in New York City at the time. Truly, teenagers in bars and nightclubs--gay or straight--was so commonplace as to be completely uncontroversial and unremarkable. 

Our average Saturday night would start at a crappy but lively Mexican restaurant in the West Village called Banditos that catered mostly to gay men. After a few frozen margaritas (each of which was roughly the size of a pig's trough), my parents would head home to the Bronx and I would take the subway to Brooklyn Heights with Richie and Jimmy so we could get ready to go out at 11:00 p.m. 

We'd dump the contents of their entire bedroom closet out onto the bed, over which hung arty posters of Marlene Dietrich and Andy Warhol prints of Marilyn Monroe. We'd select and compare outfits like three teenage girls (even though only one of us was technically a teenage girl), jump in a cab or the train, and hit the town.

The bouncers would always look me up and down briefly and with a marked disinterest, as did all the extremely buff and well-dressed/semi-dressed club-goers. I never felt unwelcome or like an intruder, but I knew I was an outside observer peering into a world that, but for Richie and Jimmy, I would never have known existed. 

I was completely irrelevant in the best possible way.

This was a place where people came to let themselves go and be accepted for who they were; to celebrate their culture and their community; to enjoy each other's company and be together totally free of judgment. For me, too, I could relax and revel in my irrelevance, knowing no man there was leering at me or remotely interested in seeing or touching my body. I felt privileged to witness the entire scene, and lucky to have Richie and Jimmy in my life to share it with me. 

The next morning, we'd sleep until noon and then sit around in our pajamas eating eggs, drinking mimosas, and doing a post mortem on the pros and cons of the previous night's chosen venue. Sometimes we'd watch old black and white Hollywood films on Blu-Ray disc. (Blu-Rays. Oy. Remember those)?

The idea that anyone could storm into a gay dance club and murder the people inside is deeply tragic--just like all the other acts of violence committed in sacred places (or any place)--by assault rifle-wielding lunatics. Pulse in Orlando is just one more sacred place that's been defiled by our country's elevation of semi-automatic weapons over human lives. 

One doesn't typically think of a gay dance club as a sacred place. But it is. It definitely, definitely is.

Me and Jimmy, circa 1994

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