RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

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306 Gay Male Urban Spaces after Grindr & Gentrification (1): Intersecting Urban Geographies of Sexuality & Inequality
Affiliation Space Sexualities and Queer Research Group
Convenor(s) Ryan Centner (The London School of Economics and Political Science, UK)
Martin Zebracki (University of Leeds, UK)
Chair(s) Gustav Visser (Stellenbosch University, South Africa)
Timetable Friday 01 September 2017, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Room 120
Session abstract This panel addresses the changing forms and conditions of different kinds of gay male urban spaces in the wake of widespread sex and dating apps (see Collins and Drinkwater 2016; Roth 2016), and the galloping pace of gentrification in many cities (see Ruting 2008; Doan and Higgins 2011). Gay men (and other men who have sex with men) apparently no longer need their own spaces for socialisation, nor are such spaces profitable enough anymore to survive in ever more expensive cities. These are common assertions about gay bars and other homosexual venues becoming outmoded by locational apps – the ‘squared screen realities’ of, first among many, Grindr and other platforms including Hornet, Scruff and Tinder – which enable gay men to connect digitally, and about these same venues being outpaced economically by spiraling urban rents.

These two conditions are presumably occurring within a context that some commentators consider “post-gay” (e.g., Brown 2006), meaning a situation where homosexuality has no stigma, and labels such as gay or straight, etc., are socially unnecessary because all kinds of sexual orientations socialize together flexibly and unproblematically – a scenario that is plainly far from a general reality, regardless of whether desirable or not. However, “post-gay” impacts still require further elucidation, despite important strides in research (e.g., Reynolds 2009; Mattson 2014; Visser 2014; Gorman-Murray and Hopkins 2016; Kanai and Kenttamaa-Squires 2016). These studies offer greater clarity on the consequences of either or both of these shifts (outmoding and/or gentrification) for gay male urban spaces. At turns, they also grapple with features of the “post-gay” discourse that has become as prominent as the declaration of gay social networking apps and gentrification as the presumed downfall of gay bars and the like.

We aim to forge ahead in this session by delving into related questions, which may include, but are not limited to, the following:
– How are “old”, offline kinds of spaces still used? Are they used differently based on generation, or place of residence, or other dimensions of social differentiation?
– In what ways are these spaces – those that survive – themselves gentrifying?
– What do these places mean to their current users?
– Under what conditions elicits either the fading or the galvanisation of these venues, rather than their disappearance?
– What hybrid overlaps, interfaces or synergies exist between the virtual and the physical, such as gay social networking apps connecting productively with these gay male venues?
– What “new” spaces for gay male urban socialisation do we witness in practice? How are these different from the “old” spaces in their dynamics? In their politics? In their possibilities?

Our contributions include empirical and theoretically driven papers on many kinds of gay male urban space, in a range of geographical locales. Part of our analytical task as geographers will be to reflect on differences in form and practice in different kinds of settlements or parts of the (virtually mediated) world, understanding that “gayborhood” (Brown 2014; Ghaziani 2014), for example, may never have been a relevant phenomenon or label in many places.
Note on terminology:
The term “gay male urban spaces” is used to signal an array of venues where biological males, who are predominantly attracted to other biological males, congregate in cities. The emphasis on “male” spaces is intended to acknowledge documented differences in urban spatial experiences between gay men and lesbian women (see Valentine 2000; Browne 2007; Brown-Saracino 2011; Brown-Saracino 2015). The choice of “gay” over possible alternatives such as “queer” is not meant to be exclusionary, only to denote a criterion of inclusion which is not necessarily as politicised or self-conscious as is sometimes connoted by “queer.” Nevertheless, we adopt a queer stance in challenging classificatory values and norms.
Linked Sessions Gay Male Urban Spaces after Grindr & Gentrification (2): Rethinking Gay Urban Geographies
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Gay Neighborhoods, Online Technologies, and Sexual Deserts: How Urban Structures Create and Perpetuate Sexual Inequality
Morgan Purrier (University of Michigan, USA)
Since the 1970s, urban gay neighborhoods have experienced significant growth coming to epitomize gay life, culture, and commerce in American cities. Despite the growth of these neighborhoods, many gay individuals remain excluded from these communities, either by force or by choice, and locate their gay participation outside of these neighborhoods. I argue that the rise of the gay neighborhood coupled with other patterns of urban stratification has contributed to a growing urban sexual inequality, specifically through the creation of sexual deserts—places where individuals face structural barriers in their pursuit of sexual partners and sexual acts. Focusing on this search process, I draw attention to how structural considerations— such as neighborhood quality, types of sexual venues, and transportation—impact individual sexual expectations and interactional sexual achievements through the creation of differential costs and benefits in the pursuit of sexual partners and acts. Drawing on a combination of qualitative data, I show that sexual inequality in types of partners, types of venues, and types of acts is structural, as much as individual or interactional. Given that sexual inequality is structural, I illustrate how online technologies, which were regarded as solutions to thin markets or geographic constraints, actually reify extant inequality. In sum, the structural inequalities created by the development of the gay neighborhood and the inability of online technologies to provide gay men equal access to partners have contributed to a double sexual bind for the most vulnerable members of the urban gay community.
Emancipation and the City: The Fragmented Spatiality of Migrant Gay Men in Amsterdam & New York
Wouter Van Gent (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Gerald Brugman (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
There is a growing notion that, with more social tolerance, gay men are geographically less constricted and have more opportunities to dwell outside traditional LGBT urban areas. This narrative might fit the situation of the White middle class, but such notions ignore minorities and marginalised individuals (Ghaziani 2014). For them, the city may still be vital for expressing identity and for offering a way towards emancipation. To understand the variegating significance of urban spaces for minorities, this paper examines how migrant gay men in New York and Amsterdam negotiate their minority status in sexuality and migrant status spatially by looking at everyday mobilities in their neighbourhood and beyond. The ability to safely ‘dwell’ and move around a city has long been a process of negotiating identity, and adapting to legal, social and cultural codes in different spaces (Binnie and Skeggs 2004, Hubbard 2013, Lim 2004, Valentine 1993). The relation between social identity and space is particularly relevant to non-heterosexuals as issues of mobility remain ’fundamental to citizenship’ (Nash and Gorman-Murray 2014). For migrant gay men, the relation between space and identity is complicated; not only because they face contestations within their own communities who live in the city, but also because these men are members of a minority whose presence in host societies is being questioned in vitriolic ‘immigration debates’. Our research on this ‘double minority status’ underscores the significance of intersectionality (Brown 2012; Valentine 2007). Our findings suggest that belonging is sought in cosmopolitan urbanism and anonymous diversity.
Wellbeing in the 'World We Have Won': Interrogating Gay Men's Mental and Emotional Health in 'Post-Gay' Spaces
Nathaniel Lewis (University of Southampton, UK)
New rights and equalities in liberal Western countries have ostensibly provided opportunities for gay men to self-identify and self-differentiate without making sexuality central. While non-reliance on 'community' is thus sometimes worn as a badge of honor, exposure to transactional modes of sexual encounter, ongoing discrimination, and the everyday neoliberalism of hyper-competitive cities also creates stress, depression, and a consequent need for social support. This paper draws on my recent empirical work on gay men's work and social lives in two North American cities, as well as the emergent literature investigating the role of mobile applications in gay men's health and that which connects health and neoliberalism more generally. In contrast to work suggesting that these transitions reflect assimilation into 'mainstream' populations with 'mainstream' problems--or even that gay men desire this sameness--this paper suggests that many gay men do not enjoy or revel in the post-gay city. The narrative evidence provided in my own research as well quantitative evidence from new studies suggests that gay men both (1) continue to have high rates of adverse mental health outcomes compared to heterosexual men, and (2) that these outcomes can actually be amplified by the perceived loss of community and ongoing pressures to perform and excel in societies that have ostensibly now 'enabled' them to do so. Celebratory equal rights narratives and discussion of the new homonormativity can thus elide both the individual experience of modern post-gay cities and ongoing structural inequalities affecting gay men in workplaces, community institutions, and health care settings.
Discussant
Amin Ghaziani (The University of British Columbia, Canada)
Discussant