Queer Theory vs. Reality in Chicago's Boystown
Things are not going well in the gay neighborhood Chicagoans call Boystown. "Tempers flared, emotions ran wild and tension was high ... at a community meeting held to discuss the recent crime in Boystown, including the videotaped stabbing of a 25-year-old man[.]"
Some commentators say Boystown is burning. That's the view suggested by writer Keith Ecker. He writes in Windy City Times, "In response to violent criminal incidents in the gayborhood, Facebook users launched a page on June 28 called 'Take Back Boystown[.]'"
In one day, the group garnered more than 700 members. While some are thinking progressively by lobbying for increased citizen-led patrols and communication with police, others seem to be capitalizing on this issue to voice their racial prejudices.
Clearly, there is outrage, consternation, and anger among Boystown's residents and business owners. Yet none of this outrage was supposed to happen. This anger and outrage is not what we'd predict from those who lived their life informed by queer theory.
There are many ways to look at queer theory. Some cynics see it as a theory about the social construction of sexuality born from feminism. Feminism was in turn born from resentment. Queer theory, in the words of Nietzsche, is a granddaughter of all who despair.
If this way of looking at queer theory is valid, then we have here a living contradiction. Those who are gay are in despair about their neighborhood.
Other writers, like David Halperin, maintain that "[q]ueer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence. 'Queer' then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative." Halperin's definition is the one which many academics who study gay life support.
So, what's the problem in Boystown? Are queers not being queer enough? Are they no longer living a life of theory? Has queer theory come up against the rock of reality and is stopped cold in its tracks?
To complicate matters in Boystown, there is disagreement about the role that the Center on Halsted plays in the community. The Center on Halsted opened in 2007, and according to its website, it brings a "wide array of LGBT organizations and resources in the city together to collaborate, share resources and extend their reach ... our mission is simple: In a safe and nurturing environment, the Center ... serves as a catalyst for the LGBT community that ... enriches life experiences."
In spite of this positive statement, some in the Boystown community blame the Center as a source of the growing violence in the neighborhood. They argue that what was supposed to be a resource for GLBTs in Boystown has turned into a drug rehab center with a Whole Foods supermarket attached.
According to Think Pink Radio, a scandal is brewing at the Center. "The problem is that Chicago is geographically segregated, and queers of color are trekking all the way to the mostly white Boystown to get services they need; now the affluent area where COH is located is having trouble adjusting. I had heard rumblings within the COH staff and volunteers that the older queers were not happy with how loud the youth could be."
The critics of those having trouble adjusting maintain that GLBT youth are just living the life that queer theory demands. "Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant." The older GLBT management of the Center and the older visitors to Boystown are not up to speed on the theory that supports their lifestyle.
If living by queer theory is the future, then older GLBT members of the community are on the wrong side of history when it comes to changes in Boystown. Older GLBT members of the community want to maintain the traditional patterns of segregation in Chicago. Yet, their proposal put forth to stem the violence, to take back Boystown and to make the neighborhood safe for old-fashioned queers, rubs up against queer theory the wrong way.
Some older residents of Boystown demand an increased police presence. That demand is considered reactionary by those who look at the world through the pink glasses of queer theory. An outsider has to wonder, too, if the gay bar owners along Halsted would prefer queer theory over lower taxes, safer streets, and less government regulation.
According to the Chicago Tribune, "Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) reiterated his ... statement that he was exploring how to increase police presence in the neighborhood, which included proposing an "entertainment detail" to help beat officers. Others said that residents and business owners are prejudiced against minority youth who seek safe haven and resources in Boystown[.]"
It is minority youth that is the problem for those who do not subscribe to queer theory. A reviewer of Roderick Furgeson's book, Race-ing Homonomativity, lays out the situation of minority youth in somewhat tortured prose.
He writes, "[W]hite gay and lesbian acceptance into American citizenship is due to the race and class of that particular group of people. Most importantly ... this acceptance has led to homosexuality being socially constructed as white, middle-class, and adhering to so-called traditional gender roles so much so that it has resulted in "homonormativity."
Furthermore, "... homonormative social construction leaves out LGBTQ people who are immigrants, people of color, and/or working-class since its goals are centered on helping white, middle-class, gay and lesbian Americans become more integrated into white, middle-class, heterosexual America." Queer theory wants to include those who are left out, even if it means Boystown going up in flames.
It looks like the residents of Boystown have to make a decision about how far they want to take queer theory. Should older, white GLBTs surrender their community to what queer theory demands -- an influx of minority youths, or, do the residents and bar owners of Boystown want the police to put a stop to crime and violence?
Here is high drama for those who love drama. Not only is Boystown burning, but all this theory and turmoil makes for heads spinning.