RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

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338 Gay Male Urban Spaces after Grindr & Gentrification (2): Rethinking Gay Urban Geographies
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) Amin Ghaziani (The University of British Columbia, Canada)
Timetable Friday 01 September 2017, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
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 (1): Intersecting Urban Geographies of Sexuality & Inequality
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Centering Provincial Gay Life
Greggor Mattson (Oberlin College, USA)
Our understandings of contemporary queer life are obscured by a gayborhood bias, exemplified by untested hypotheses about the decline of gay bars. Widely blamed on smartphone apps and alternately celebrated as an indicator of rising social tolerance or a consequence of gentrification, existing explanations presume that all locales are equally tolerant or urban; that all gay bars are equally affected; or that Grindr is equally useful in the countryside. This talk presents a preliminary analysis of a database of 20 years of gay bar openings and closures in the United States (N≈10,000) and qualitative data on gay bars that are more than 90 minutes travel from another.
Gay bar decline has been steady in aggregate but uneven by state and region. Closures did accelerate in the past 10 years, but this coincided with the Great Recession, the effects of which were unevenly distributed. Large cosmopolitan cities were spared the brunt of this impact, however, losing about 15% of their gay bars. Bars in secondary, regional cities were hardest hit, as were bars for lesbians, people of color, and men’s bars for cruising and/or leather. Communities with the fewest gay bars to begin with have lost the most, and these are communities where intolerance is still prevalent and the economics of gentrification are little seen. These findings support others that suggest acceptance is most accessible for white gay men in big cities, but also suggest that regional contexts are equally important to correcting the gayborhood bias in understandings of queer life.
A Room of One’s Own? Digital Domestication of the Public Encounter
Sam Miles (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
The relationship between the deconcentration of urban queer publics and the increasing popularity of locative dating and hook-up apps such as Grindr and Tinder has been the subject of much recent scholarship (Ghaziani 2014; Lewis 2016; Collins and Drinkwater 2016). This paper builds on existing work by complicating ideas of a straightforward shift from public to private spaces as a condition of locative technology, by suggesting that the hybridisation of virtual and physical spaces result in a new set of opportunities and challenges for the contemporary app user. Queer public spaces may be deconcentrating, but they are not necessarily losing out to the private space of the home, where encounter can be realised in private. Fieldwork interviews with app users living and working in London, England, suggest that the home can function as a temporary site of 'public' encounter of its own. The stranger who is invited into this highly personal space of significance is 'de-strangered' through their virtual familiarisation. Men inviting others into their home space practice 'workarounds' to de-familiarise their space and to minimise exposure of private elements of their daily lives not essential to the embodied encounter in question. These de-familiarisation processes show how tactics for managing digital-physical hybridisation are developing in tandem with the growing ubiquity of locative media apps amongst queer populations. What does it mean for the future of traditional gay male public spaces if encounter is domesticated?
The Limits of Urban Mournability? Bearded Drag Zombies and the Flatlining of Gay Nightlife in East London
Ryan Centner (The London School of Economics and Political Science, UK)
Recent geographical perspectives on gentrification have foregrounded the twinned political and analytical importance of mourning (or grieving) for lost homes and neighborhoods (see Slater 2016), as they become inaccessible, demolished, or otherwise transformed amid rising rents and shifting local class culture. Despite the roots of this stance in concerns for social justice, it is inherently heteronormative in its imagination of what is worth mourning, as it underlines hardships for families and the dilemmas of classed heterosexual social reproduction. I present the closure of gay venues, and especially the flattening of the gay nocturnal economy, as also a loss of community, and an affront to a different kind of multi-class social reproduction – of gay men. I use the case of east London (particularly the boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Hackney) and the closure – in just 3 years -- of almost all gay venues that had been operating in 2013 to point to the limits of mournability. I do this empirically by focusing on the rise of “post-gay” scenes as well as a mode of gay nightlife centered on special events and advanced ticketing. Both of these upsurges dovetail with gentrification, but they compound the question of mournability by having one of their most consistent presences as a rarefied version of the living dead: what I call “bearded drag zombies,” or people enacting a ghoulish genderqueer performance. With ethnographic detail, I question how the bearded drag queen marks gay spaces in the wake of widespread closures in the nocturnal economy, and what this represents in terms of the practices of community that have been menaced by economic pressures but also so many other threats.
South Beach and Wilton Manors as Alternative Futures for the Post-Gay Era
Kai Kenttamaa Squires (McGill University, Canada)
The increasingly well-documented phenomenon of ‘gay village decline’ has been theorized in relation to gentrification and the rise of new technologies and new acceptances that make gay male community ‘self-segregation’ less desirable today. I use spatialized, empirical data from South Beach and Wilton Manors, two gay villages/gayborhoods in the Greater Miami metropolitan area in South Florida, as examples to problematize and enrich the theory on this trend. Wilton Manors counters the ‘decline’ narrative through a growth in the number of gay bars, businesses, and residents while South Beach, by contrast, lost most of its gay specific businesses in the 2000s through gentrification induced price increases. Despite this loss entrepreneurial minded public-private actors have put in considerable effort to remaking and regenerating South Beach as a new kind of gay destination, one characterized by themed spectacular events and permanent LGBT markers and monuments on the urban landscape rather than the gay bars that defined it in the 1990s, and Wilton Manors today. On the surface, South Beach represents the new post-gay-village as LGBT-friendly tourism destination while Wilton Manors exemplifies a traditional, and still thriving, gay male urban space. More detailed investigation reveals however that neither Wilton Manors nor South Beach perfectly reify any existing model and further, that their character as gay spaces are highly interrelated to each other and broader trends in gay culture and tourism, specifically that an uneasy equilibrium built off of alternative uses of both spaces by tourists and residents alike supports their continued existence.
Gustav Visser (Stellenbosch University, South Africa)