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On the Gender Identity and Gender Fluidity readings: Doan (2007) and Rushbrook (2002). Address the following : (1) Using these two readings for context, discuss a and critique a major law, policy, regulation or proposed legislation that is currently (or was recently) trending in the media and directly affects individuals based on their gender, gender identity and/or sexual orientation. This can be something that discriminates against or protects any of these groups. Be sure to mention (with examples) how such legislative or practical proposals can or will affect these groups and speculate what might be some of the psychological and social outcomes (positive or negative) if they are enacted. NOTE: If the legislation has already been passed, try to do a brief internet search to explore what activists (women, trans, lbgtqia+, etc.) have been saying about it.

Gender, Place and Culture
Vol. 14, No. 1, pp. 57–74, February 2007
Queers in the American City: Transgendered perceptions
of urban space
Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Abstract This paper explores the complex relationship between transgendered people
and cities in the USA, and, in particular, their relationship with queer spaces within those
cities. Some have argued that queer spaces occur at the margins of society and constitute
a safe haven for LGBT oppressed by the hetero-normative nature of urban areas. Data from
a survey of 149 transgendered individuals indicate that although queer spaces provide a
measure of protection for gender variant people, the gendered nature of these spaces results
in continued high levels of harassment and violence for this population. The author argues
that the strongly gendered dimensions of these spaces suggests that a discursive revisioning of gender is needed to create more transgender friendly urban spaces.
Key Words: Queer space; transgender; gender variant; urban safety
In recent years the term ‘queer’ has been transformed from an epithet to a
theoretical construct referring to an anti-normative subject position with respect to
sexuality (Jagose, 1996). Butler (1993) suggests that the word, queer, disrupts
‘natural’ dichotomies such as heterosexual/homosexual and gender/sex. Queer
has also been adopted by the very people at whom the epithet has been directed as
a reflexive strategy to turn away the power of this word to hurt. Furthermore, the
intended targets of this word (people whose subject positions are not generally
accepted, including gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered people, and others
who do not conform to generally accepted practices) have used this labeling to
reclaim their identities and to empower their subject positions (Bell & Valentine,
1995). To ‘queer’ a city therefore means to implicitly recognize the heteronormative nature of most urban spaces (Bell et al., 1994) and through overt action
create a safe place for people who identity as queer. Conceptually queer space
occurs at the margin of society, a kind of ‘thirdspace’ or a Foucaltian heterotopia
(Soja, 1996), but Rushbrook (2002) wonders whether this form of inclusive queer
space exists only as a theoretical construct. These concerns with inclusivity are
especially relevant for gender variant people and for transgendered individuals
in particular.
Correspondence: Petra Doan, Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Master’s
Internationalist Program, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Florida State
University, Tallahassee, FL, 32306-2280, USA. E-mail: pdoan@garnet.acns.fsu.edu
ISSN 0966-369X print/ISSN 1360-0524 online/07/010057-18 q 2007 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/09663690601122309
P. L. Doan
The objective of this paper is to highlight this often neglected group and
consider the nature of their perceptions of a variety of urban spaces. The paper
begins with a brief exploration of the nature and social consequences of gender
variance. The next section examines the gendered nature of gay and lesbian
neighborhoods, and considers to what extent such areas allow individuals to
express their gender in ways that may challenge socially expected gender
dichotomy without fear of hetero-normative restrictions and approbation. The
research then considers one highly stigmatized component of the gender variant
community, those individuals who self identify as transgendered.1 The second
section of this paper shifts the focus to the transgendered population and uses
data from a snowball survey of transgendered individuals to explore their
perceptions of urban spaces, and in particular queer spaces. The final section
examines the ways that transgender activists have developed discursive spaces
for protest and for education about the full spectrum of gender variance.
Although these actions have taken place in a variety of physical spaces, the
protests themselves have not created permanent spaces but have demonstrated
the transitory and fluid nature of gendered spaces.
Distinguishing Gender Variant and Transgender Populations
Both anthropologists and transgender theorists have argued for some time that it is
not helpful to view gender as a dichotomy. Jacobs & Cromwell (1992) review a
range of anthropological evidence on gender variant individuals to critique the
strongly hetero-normative expectation that gender expression and biological sex
will be congruent. Rothblatt (1995) suggests that social norms surrounding gender
constitute a virtual apartheid of sex. Although the legal definition of male and
female is undefined, the distinction is required on numerous official documents,
forcing individuals to adopt a dichotomous sexual position, even in the face of
growing scientific evidence that intersex conditions are much more common than
previously believed.2 Within feminism there has been much debate about how to
move beyond the gender dichotomy, but little consensus on how to achieve this
objective. For instance, feminist psychologist Sandra Bem proposed ‘psychological
androgyny’ in the early 1970s, but generated a firestorm of controversy, and most
feminist theorists quickly backed away from the concept. In subsequent work Bem
(1993) clarifies that it is the polarization of gender into a rigid dichotomy that must
be removed to allow both men and women to express the full range of human
possibility. Gender de-polarization would undermine the social reproduction of
male power that thrives on the separation and segregation of the sexes and thereby
would provide transgendered individuals greater freedom to express the range of
their gender identity positions.
Gender variant individuals exist in a wide array of cultures and express their
identities in ways that contravene expectations based on their biological sex. This
diversity of expression includes men who express a more feminine aspect of
themselves and women who express an overtly masculine manner. In particular,
these individuals defy societal expectations for modes of dress and behavior that
can and do vary considerably across cultures and across historical periods
(Feinberg, 1996). Some gender variant individuals may also be gay or lesbian,
including both butch lesbians and effeminate gay men.
Transgendered subject positions evolve when society fails to recognize that an
individual’s gender identity may be variant from anatomical sex at birth. The term
Transgendered Perceptions of Urban Space
transgender has been appropriated by some gender variant individuals as an
umbrella term referring to people who feel the need to contravene societal
expectations and express a gender variant identity on a regular basis.3 These
people include: cross-dressers, drag queens, drag kings, and pre-operative, postoperative, and non-operative transsexuals. In other young queer identified
populations, new identity positions may be claimed using terms such as trannyfag, boychik, and gender-queer. A critical distinction in this population is that the
need to express this identity may have different levels of intensity (see Figure 1).
This feeling may manifest itself as the need for a clear shift from male to female
(MtF or trans women) or from female to male (FtM or trans men) or as a more
intermittent cross-dressing. The frequency of these behaviors may vary from
occasional gender bending to permanent decisions to express the deeply felt
gender identity on a full-time basis. People who engage in intermittent acts of
transgender expression are usually referred to as cross-dressers. This category
may include men (usually gay) who perform as female impersonators (drag
queens) or women (usually lesbian) who perform as male impersonators (drag
kings). People who feel the need to live full time in their self-perceived gender
are sometimes called transsexuals. Drag queens and drag kings may also be
Those transgendered individuals who feel they must transition and fully
embody a gender at variance with their anatomical sex face an assortment of other
difficulties related to the physical changes. In many cases the decision to transition
involves altering the body by using hormones and/or surgery. The total cost of
these procedures for a MtF can be as high as $25,000 and for an FtM can be from
$50,000 to $100,000. In other cases some individuals (i.e. non-operative
transsexuals) may choose non-invasive measures, but will nevertheless present
outwardly as the gender with which they identify. Among trans men there is an
additional distinction between those who have had ‘top surgery’ and those who
have had ‘bottom surgery’. During their transitional stage nearly all of these
transgendered people remain rather obviously gender variant. MtF individuals
(also known as trans women) are likely to be taller, have deeper voices, larger
hands, and prominent Adam’s apples than most women. FtM individuals
Figure 1. Types and intensity of gender identity.
P. L. Doan
Table 1. Estimates of queer population in a hypothetical city of one million
MtF (male to female)
FtM (female to male)
Total transgender
Total queer
United States
(DSM – IV, 1994)
(Bakker et al., 1993)
(Tsoi, 1988)
United States
(Conway, 2002)
Gays and lesbians are generally assumed to be 10% of the population.
Non-operative transsexuals are assumed to be roughly the same as transsexuals who have completed
Gender Reassignment Surgery.
Cross-dressers are generally assumed to be 1% of the population.
(also known as trans men) taking male hormones may be quite ‘passable’ as men
after six months to a year (Rees, 1996), but are likely to be shorter, have smaller
hands, and at least initially have higher voices than other men.
The high levels of social stigma attached to being gender variant make an
assessment of the size of the trans population extraordinarily difficult. The
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV, 1994) estimates
that approximately one in 33,000 men and one in 100,000 women are transsexual
(American Psychiatric Association, 1994). These statistics, however, have been
questioned by a number of scholars. In the Netherlands, where transgender status
is less highly stigmatized, the prevalence is estimated to be one per 11,900 males
and one per 30,400 females (Bakker et al., 1993). In Singapore the ratios appear to
be even higher with one per 9,000 males and one per 27,000 females (Tsoi, 1988).
Other scholars suggest a different estimation procedure to obtain a prevalence of
one in 2,500 males who have undergone sexual reassignment surgery based on the
number of surgeries performed on US citizens compared to the number of men in
the potential age range (Conway, 2002). Obviously these numbers do not represent
the entire range of transgendered population. Anecdotal evidence suggests that
many individuals may present to doctors initially as transsexual, but are either not
approved for surgery or elect not to alter their bodies in this manner. Finally the
size of the cross-dressing population is even harder to assess. Several estimates
have placed the number of cross-dressers at approximately 1% of the population
(Bullough & Bullough, 1993; Feinbloom, 1976), but these numbers are highly
subjective, since this group remains extremely closeted. Table 1 presents an
estimate of the trans population of a hypothetical city of one million people using
these estimates.
The Social Consequences of Transgressing Gender Norms
Individuals who transgress gender norms are likely to experience profound social
consequences, including discrimination and outright violence. Mackenzie (1994)
suggests that there are no safe social spaces for individuals who live outside the
bipolar gender world. People who challenge gender norms can often trigger a
virulent and usually violent response, which some have labeled gender bashing
(Namaste, 1996). Gender theorist Riki Wilchins (2004) argues that
Transgendered Perceptions of Urban Space
In the 1970s and 1980s, Americans were prepared to debate some degree
of rights for gays, but they were actively hostile towards anything that
smacked of genderqueerness. Mannish women and effeminate men
remained as unpalatable as ever to mainstream America. (Wilchins, 2004,
p. 16)
Most transgendered people are painfully aware that their visible transgression of
gender norms makes them one of the most vulnerable and least protected
communities in social space. The early socialization of trans men as girls makes
them acutely aware of the swift retribution which would be their lot if they are
‘discovered’ as a trans. MtF individuals, although originally socialized as boys, are
forced to learn the lesson of vulnerability within the city (Bockting et al., 1998). Trans
women who live full time as women have the same potential to be treated as
‘targets’ for harassment, abuse, potential street crime victims. Trans people who do
not ‘pass’ and emerge in urban public spaces as visibly transgendered may evoke an
even harsher reaction (Namaste, 1996; Witten & Eyler, 1999). A recent survey of 402
transgendered individuals from across the United States found that over half of this
population had experienced some form of harassment or violence during their
lifetime and a quarter had faced a potentially serious violent assault (Lombardi et al.,
2001). Kenagy (2005) cites two studies in the Philadelphia metropolitan area that
indicate that 51% of the survey respondents had been physically abused and 56%
had experienced violence within the home. In addition, the National Transgender
Advocacy Coalition estimates that since 1990 there has been approximately one
transgendered person killed each month, and since the year 2000 the number has
been closer to two per month.4 Because of the extreme vulnerability of this group,
anti-trans violence might serve as an early warning system for deep-seated
intolerance present in an urban area (Doan, 2001).
Another serious consequence of gender variance is the high levels of social stigma
attached to transgressing norms of gender presentation. A recent public health
survey found that transgender related health issues were severely ‘under-studied’
(Boehmer, 2002) and while the American Public Health Association (1999) has
issued a public position statement about the special needs of transgendered people,
until these recommendations are widely implemented by practitioners, there will
continue to be a large gap in the availability of quality health care. The
internalization of this stigma means that suicides and attempted suicides are
common among transgendered individuals. Statistics on the incidence of suicide
within this population are not definitive because of the tendency not to report
transgender status as a cause, or to report transgendered individuals in the same
category as gay or lesbian. However, studies of transgendered individuals suggest
that the suicidal ideation rate is as high as 35% (Xavier, 2000) and as many as 30%
have actually attempted suicide (Kenagy, 2005; Pfafflin & Junge, 1992; Stuart, 1991;
Van Kesteren, 1997). These health-related problems may cause trans men and
women to feel uncared for and less welcome in cities.
Unorthodox gender presentation also makes it difficult for some individuals to
find or maintain gainful employment. Because the appearance of gender is not
protected by most anti-discrimination ordinances, even highly skilled trans
people can be fired from their jobs and become unemployed. Desperate for
income, some transgendered individuals seek work on the street, and are at risk
from substance abuse, unprotected sexual experiences, and various mental health
problems (Cochran et al., 2002). Urban areas like the Tenderloin in San Francisco
P. L. Doan
can become a focal point for young transgendered people, who may only find
work as prostitutes (Stryker, 2004; Weinberg et al., 1999). Those individuals who
struggle to make ends meet as a result of this discrimination are likely to feel less
protected in cities.
The Gendered Nature of Queer Space
It is not just society at large that has rigid expectations of appropriately gendered
behavior. Many individuals within the gay and lesbian (G/L) community have
internalized these same gender role assumptions in their desire to assimilate into
the wider population. This is ironic because prior to the 1969 Stonewall revolution
flouting gender norms was one method of signifying queerness. Within the gay
community female impersonators have long been a highly visible expression of
queerness and were mostly tolerated by the gay community as long as their
presentation was clearly a performance and limited to certain venues. Drag shows
were popular events in gay bars and patrons of lesbian bars were frequently
divided into the ‘butches’ and the ‘femmes’.
Perhaps as a result of this playing with gender, many people outside of the queer
community began to assume that gender variance was an infallible indicator of
homosexuality. Because of this continuing misperception, hate crimes are often
triggered by gender variant behavior whether or not the person is gay, lesbian, or
transgendered. After Stonewall and the rise of political ‘liberation’ movements,
many gay and lesbian activists wished to present themselves as ‘normal’ except for
their selection of partners. As a result, gay and lesbian communities put much greater
emphasis on gender normality. Faderman (1991) suggests that during the 1960s and
1970s the most obviously gender variant women, especially the most overtly butch
and femme women, were pressured to adopt dress and behaviors more acceptable to
society. During this period many lesbians adopted a casual attire of jeans and a
flannel shirt, that is neither terribly butch or femme. Others have described tensions
within the lesbian community over the highly gendered subject positions of butches
and femmes, with the latter being seen by some people as lipstick lesbians and often
not ‘real’ lesbians (Harris & Crocker, 1997). Within the gay community gender nonconformity also began to be suppressed and overtly effeminate men were often
marginalized (Taywaditep, 2001). Many gay men have adopted a more uniformly
‘masculine’ persona (short hair, developed muscles, and tight clothes).
These same attitudes are evident in the development of queer spaces in North
American cities after Stonewall. Early studies of gay male spaces focused on gay
men’s interest in dominating urban territory (Castells, 1983) and stimulating
neighborhood gentrification (Lauria & Knopp, 1985). Today in most overtly gay
spaces there is little to no visible gender queerness or any indication that such
variance is tolerated. Even in San Francisco’s Castro District, often considered the
archetype of queer space, the streets are filled with well muscled men and even
the window displays are masculinely gendered. Other spaces such as Chicago’s
Boys Town uses what Nast (2002) has described as ‘phallic rimming’ of the main
street (North Halsted St.) with metallic pillars topped by rainbow-colored rings.
Both through its name and in its most visible symbols this area is also clearly
masculinized. Philadelphia’s queer space uses a similarly masculinist play on
words, to call itself the Gayborhood.
Lesbian spaces are less explicitly gendered and less visible for a variety of
reasons. Adler & Brenner (1993) suggest that lower incomes among lesbians make it
Transgendered Perceptions of Urban Space
difficult to invest in houses at the same rate as gay men. Furthermore, women are
more likely to have custody of children which shifts their residential location choice
towards areas with more attractive schools and other neighborhood amenities. This
tendency to locate in more traditional suburban areas can be problematic because
lesbians are particularly sensitive to the heterosexing of urban spaces (Valentine,
1993). As a result some lesbians have clustered in smaller towns in places like
Northampton, Massachusetts (Forsyth, 1997a) and Asheville, North Carolina
(Brown, 1999). Others have suggested that lesbian identity is often written on the
bodies of lesbians through clothing choice, hair style, or other accessories, but not
on the built environment (Peace, 2001). As a result, lesbians may use symbols like
pinkie rings, labris earrings, rainbows, or simply an overt gaze to signify spaces and
to quietly proclaim an identity for themselves (Valentine, 1996). This subtlety
means that lesbian neighborhoods are not as visible as overtly gay areas, but
comprise communities of like-minded women who blend into the built
environment (Wolfe, 1997). Some lesbian social spaces such as Park Slope in
Brooklyn do not have a physical commercial center (Rothenberg, 1995), but in other
areas, such as Northampton, lesbians may be important though less visible
business owners within urban commercial areas (Forsyth, 1997b).
The suggestion that ‘queer space’ might be a more inclusive conceptual
alternative to the hetero-normative nature of most urban spaces (Bell et al., 1994; Bell
& Valentine, 1995; Betsky, 1997; Ingram et al., 1997) does not appear to have lived up
to its radical and more inclusive vision. Gender queer people are generally only
visible in such spaces during special occasions like Halloween or during Dyke
marches and Pride Parades. The commodification of gay space by the patriarchal
institutions that remain in control of post-industrial society (Nast, 2002) leaves little
space for women (Valentine, 2000), resulting in lesbian areas that are not distinct, but
are blended into otherwise bohemian neighborhoods which can be called ‘spaces of
difference’ (Podmore, 2001). Most queer spaces have been unable to accommodate
alternative subject positions such as bisexuality (Hemmings, 2002) and nontraditional gender presentations within these communities, leaving these
individuals vulnerable and invisible in public spaces (Namaste, 2000).
A rigid adherence to a dichotomous view of gender has resulted in a silencing of
transgendered voices, particularly in academic discourse, but also within feminist
and lesbian communities (Whittle, 1996). For instance, the geographic literature
dealing with sexuality and space deals with heterosexuals, gays, and lesbians, but
has been silent on both bisexuals (Hemmings, 2002) and the transgendered
(Namaste, 2001). The construction of the term ‘womyn-born-womyn’ was a result of
this discrimination and has been implemented at events like the Michigan Womyns’
Music Festival (MWMF) (Meyerowitz, 2002), touching off a cascade of protest (more
below). Taylor (1998) recounts a similar attempt to limit Sydney’s Lesbian Space
Project to female-born-lesbians only, which split the lesbian community and
ultimately stalled the proposed construction project. Stone (1991) argues that
transsexuals’ need to pass is a function of the dominant culture’s fixation on
dichotomous gender, and calls for a post-transsexual manifesto in which trans
people will lead the way to a fundamental reconception of gender. Bornstein (1994)
extends this conception and suggests that there are not just two genders but as many
as a thousand different genders only limited by our imagination. The power of
reconceptualizing gender lies in the fact that ‘to be fluid in one’s gender challenges
the oppressive process of gender and power processes which use gender to maintain
power structures’ (Whittle, 1996, p. 210). This call for new and more explicitly
P. L. Doan
visible ways to express the full spectrum of gender variance is echoed by Feinberg
(1996), Green (2004), Namaste (2000), and Wilchins (2004). The difficulty is how to
achieve these changes in the face of such discrimination without access to the
physical spaces needed to make these challenges visible.
Transgendered Perceptions of Urban Spaces
In order to examine the ways that transgendered individuals perceive urban
spaces, it is critical to understand the role that queer spaces play as an entry point
into the city for many trans people, even though there is very little public trans or
gender variant presence in most of these areas. Nevertheless, it is on the fringes of
the queer community that a person who is coming to terms with his or her
transgendered identity is able to explore a different gender within the confines of
that relatively safe space. These initial impressions are important in shaping the
ways in which the city is viewed even long after transition. It is therefore useful to
turn to the transgendered populations themselves and assess their perceptions of
urban spaces as well as their level of connectedness with queer community spaces.
A snowball survey of 149 transgendered individuals was conducted to explore the
trans perceptions of the urban areas in which they live, work, and play, as well as their
level of connections to supposedly queer areas. The survey instrument was designed
by the author and was primarily circulated at two major gender conferences (the
Southern Comfort Convention held in Atlanta in fall 2000 and the Fourth
International Congress on Cross-dressing, Sex, and Gender held in Philadelphia in
spring 2001. Survey respondents were encouraged to distribute this instrument
widely in the form of a snowball technique to a variety of transgender support
groups5). These conferences draw from a broad national audience, and the sample
includes individuals from 29 states and four overseas countries. However, because
the Southern Comfort Convention occurs each year in Atlanta, there are more
respondents from Atlanta and several other southeastern cities than would have been
expected in a random survey design. After some descriptive detail about the survey
respondents, the analysis will focus on those survey questions which asked this
population about their experiences in the city and with any queer spaces in their city.
Except for their gender non-conformity, this population is a stable and well
educated group of middle-aged individuals with an average age of 46 years. Most of
the respondents are employed full time (68%), although some are working part-time
(11%), others are retired (11%), and a few are students (5%). The most important
occupational category in the group is professionals (38%), with others in managerial
positions (14%), self-employed (15%), and skilled manual labor (13%). The sample
also includes smaller numbers of clerical and household workers. The respondents
are evenly divided in their education levels with roughly one-third having a high
school degree, one-third a BA or BS and one-third having a graduate degree.
The sample spans a range of gender identities including: 43 MtF cross-dressers
(29%), 80 MtF transsexuals (54%), and 26 FtMs in various stages of transition
(17%). Approximately 31% have no plans to transition, 39% are getting ready to
change genders, and 29% are living full-time in their appropriate gender. Table 2
describes the gender identity and residential location patterns revealed by the
survey. 99 (69.4%) of respondents lived either downtown or in traditional suburbs
of metropolitan areas. The rest lived in outlying or peripheral areas which
included smaller communities outside the metropolitan region as well as rural
areas. It is interesting to note that trans men (FtM) are more likely to live
Transgendered Perceptions of Urban Space
Table 2. Residence location by gender identity
FtM both
6 (14.0%)
25 (58.1%)
10 (23.2%)
43 (100%)
10 (12.5%)
41 (51.3%)
27 (33.8%)
80 (100%)
23 (15.4%)
76 (51.0%)
43 (28.9%)
downtown and less likely to live in the suburbs than other trans people, though
the smaller numbers for this sub-group make broader generalizations difficult.
Cross-dressers (MtF CD) are the most likely to live in the suburbs, which follows
logically since most of these individuals are not ‘out’ and thus live apparently
normal lives like the majority of Americans (i.e. in the suburbs). It is somewhat
surprising then that those who identify as MtF transsexuals (MtF TS) also tend to
live in the suburbs rather than in downtown areas, since this group as a whole
tends to be the most visibly gender variant of the three identity groups. One
possible explanation for the residential patterns of MtF TS is that they may have
established residency in a neighborhood prior to transition and may be reluctant
to move away from friends and family.
Because of the social stigmas detailed above, the survey asked respondents
about specific experiences of harassment they had experienced over the past year.
Table 3 presents the rather disturbing evidence that roughly one-third of all
respondents have experienced some form of blatant staring within the past year.
When trans people experience a hostile glare, it is clear that they have been singled
out by a disquieting use of the hetero-normative gaze. Somewhat fewer (22%) had
experienced hostile verbal comments, and even fewer had experienced physical
harassment (17%), but these percentages vary by gender identity. Cross-dressers
were most likely to be stared at (38%), MtF transsexuals were most likely to be
verbally harassed (25%), and trans men were most likely to be physically harassed
(19%). These numbers indicate that fears on the part of transgender populations
about safety in urban areas are well founded. Physical safety remains an urgent
concern for this highly vulnerable section of the population.
Table 4 reports the perceptions of respondents about the safety of their city for
Lesbian Gay Bisexual (LGB) people. A second question asked respondents about
their perceptions of the safety of their city for trans people. Not surprisingly, these
data indicate that respondents felt that their cities were less safe for the trans
population than the LGB population. A more interesting aspect of these
perceptions is the way that they vary when queer neighborhoods are included.
When transgendered perceptions of safety were cross-tabulated with the presence
of an identifiable queer neighborhood, a chi square test indicated that there is a
significant relationship. If a city has a visibly queer area, trans people feel
markedly safer than they would in cities without such queer centers. This is true
even though most of the respondents only visit these spaces on an occasional
Table 3. Have you felt threatened in your city during the last year?
Hostile stares
Hostile comments
Physical harassment
FtM both
P. L. Doan
Table 4. Perceptions of urban safety by presence of a queer neighborhood
City has a queer area
How safe is your city for
Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexuals?
How safe is your city for
Transgendered people?
14 (16%)
1 (2%)
47 (55%)
25 (29%)
18 (21%)
19 (31%)
41 (67%)
3 (5%)
44 (52%)
23 (27%)
26 (42%)
32 (53%)
basis. Perhaps queer spaces provide some form of a psychologically protective
umbrella for transgendered people, because such spaces do tolerate intermittent
acts of gender experimentation.
Trans people in the early stages of their coming out process and who are
experimenting with new ways to present their gender are likely to seek out a
support group which often will meet in a Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender
(LGBT) community center or equivalent welcoming institution. It is through this
initial interaction that a relationship is built with the wider LGBT community.
Further examination of the survey data reinforces this trend. Seventy-seven
respondents said that either they or members of their trans support group
participated in LGBT community events, such as Pride Parades. Furthermore, 62%
of the respondents indicated that they had visited an LGBT oriented institution
(bar, bookstore, community center, etc.) at least one time over the past year, and
42% had done so more than three times. Table 5 provides examples of the survey
respondents’ perceptions of their connections to the LGBT community and to
queer areas. It is interesting that much larger proportions of transsexuals (both
MtF and FtM) report belonging to support groups than other members of the trans
community and also that their group actively participates in LGBT community
events. Clearly there are a variety of connections between the trans community
and the wider LGBT community.
Respondents were also asked about whether their city had an identifiable queer
neighborhood. Nearly half the respondents (44%) indicated that their city did
Table 5. Transgender community connections to the queer community
Do you have a gender
support group?
Does your group attend LGBT
Is there a visible Gay
& Lesbian Area in your city?
Do you live in the
Gay & Lesbian area?
FtM both
Transgendered Perceptions of Urban Space
have a queer-identified area, however only six respondents (4%) actually lived in
one of those areas. When they asked why they did not live in such neighborhoods
the most frequent responses were that it was too expensive (16), the convenience
of suburban or small town amenities (9), proximity to work at the edge of the
urban periphery (4), and being near school districts and other child-oriented
amenities (3). Although the queer communities provide some support to
transgendered individuals in the early phases of exploration and transition,
visibly queer neighborhoods do not serve the residential needs of this population.
So how can trans people organize to ensure their own safety?
Creating Gender Friendly Queer Spaces
Both MtF and FtM transgendered people share a common thread with women in
their experience of space as inherently gender biased. Feminist scholars have
shown that urban spaces which have been designed and built largely by men can
be quite unsafe for women (Valentine, 1989; Pain, 1991; Peake, 1993; Day, 1999).
This male domination of urban public spaces can lead to verbal harassment,
physical abuse, and other forms of discrimination. Urban safety issues have often
been catalysts for the women’s movement and have stimulated a variety of activist
responses to changing the built environment including: organizing ‘Take Back the
Night’ marches, and lobbying for more police protection, installing better lighting,
and demanding more humane treatment for female victims of rape and abuse. For
women changing the built environment first required changes in underlying
social institutions.
The transgendered community has had to learn this lesson as well. The
transgendered are also vulnerable to male violence, but their small numbers mean
that protecting this uniquely vulnerable population is rarely on anyone’s political
agenda. Since the early 1990s this population has begun to make changes to the
way that gender variance is perceived by the wider population in order to begin
making their own claims on urban spaces. The first steps have been to create
discursive spaces that are welcoming of the full range of gendered subject
positions. The trans population has developed a number of strategies for
organizing and creating such spaces even if they are only temporary. Because
transgendered populations are relatively small, it is unlikely that there would ever
be enough trans people in one area to establish a ‘transgender’ enclave similar to
the established gay and lesbian areas in larger cities. However, in the past 15 years
the availability of information on the internet has opened up many doors for trans
people who might otherwise have never communicated with anyone like
themselves. The possibility of establishing an ‘on-line support’ community which
is ‘non-spatial’ in nature has been extremely helpful for many newer trans people
(Whittle, 2002). The growing use of computer based communication has seen a
huge increase in the creation of online communities, at first through bulletin board
groups, and then virtual chat rooms, world wide web sites and an ever expanding
list of electronic mail list servers that proliferates in cyberspace. These venues for
sharing information, exchanging personal stories, and for online organizing have
transformed communications between dispersed individuals and allowed the
transgender community to begin organizing in new ways.
The first step for many trans people in coming out and making contact is often
attendance at a local support group (Gagné et al., 1997), whose existence may be
explored initially through the anonymity of email. Face to face meetings in a safe,
P. L. Doan
almost always extremely private environment sometimes follow the initial
electronic contact. Local support group meetings sometimes venture out into the
more public private spaces of shopping malls and gay clubs, but these are
perceived as too risky by many members. The full extent of this larger community
is not really evident until the individual attends one of the many transgender
conventions that occur throughout the country. At these meetings hundreds of
participants may gather at standard convention oriented facilities and establish a
mostly public presence for a splendid array of gender identity positions for
periods of up to a week.
The Fantasia Fair Gathering in Provincetown, Massachusetts is the grandmother of these gatherings, and has been meeting since the 1980s. The safety of
this very gay friendly town helps to encourage fearful first timers to participate,
and the placement of the convention at the very end of tourist season ensures that
there will be few other tourists around to make a fuss. In contrast, the Southern
Comfort Convention occurs each September in the heart of downtown Atlanta
and creates transgender friendly safe spaces in several major hotels. While the
safety created in these urban spaces is temporary, the effect of the opportunity for
convention attendees to express openly what have previously been only private
gender identity positions is quite powerful. The empowering effect of
experiencing urban public spaces within a supportive context sometimes results
in attenders making life changing decisions to be more open about their gender
identity upon returning home.
For some transgender individuals these connections with a wider community
have resulted in significant public activism. Most recent trans activism has
occurred in the aftermath of the wave of queer activism surrounding the AIDS
The first transgender activist group to embrace the new queer politics
was Transgender Nation, founded in 1992 as an offshoot of Queer
Nation’s San Francisco chapter. Transgender Nation noisily dragged
transgender issues to the forefront of San Francisco’s queer community,
and at the local level successfully integrated transgender concerns with
the political agendas of lesbian, gay, and bisexual activists to forge a truly
inclusive glbtq [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer]
community. Transgender Nation organized a media-grabbing protest at
the 1993 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association to call
attention to the official pathologization of transgender phenomena.
(Stryker, 2004, p. 3)
Another example of trans activism is the formation of Camp Trans outside the
Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. In 1991 Nancy Burkholder, an MtF transsexual
woman, was ejected from the MWMF because she was not a womyn-born womyn
(Meyerowitz, 2002). This exclusionary policy sparked a new chapter of organized
trans activism, in which transsexual protesters calling themselves Camp Trans took
over a piece of land adjacent to the MWMF gates to protest the exclusion of trans
women and to educate festival attenders about trans issues. The stated purpose of
Camp Trans was ‘to promote an understanding of gender from a variety of
perspectives and to address issues of disenfranchisement in the women’s and
lesbian communities’ (Koyami, n.d.). The attenders at the first Camp Trans included
an impressive array of trans activists and supporters including: Riki Wilchins, Leslie
Transgendered Perceptions of Urban Space
Feinberg, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and James Green. In subsequent years other Camps
have continued to make this protest an annual event with the support of allies such
as the Lesbian Avengers.
Several of the participants of the original Camp Trans formed a group called the
Transexual Menace which protested anti-trans violence and the exclusion of
transgender individuals from various groups and physical spaces. The first action
undertaken by the Menace was a protest against transgender exclusion from the
Pride March on the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. As Riki Wilchins, one
of the group’s founders, describes the organization,
The Menace does not carry out hostile actions: never has, never will. We
ARE primarily interested in showing up to EDUCATE and INFORM
their staff and volunteers, their donors, and the queer community at
large. . . maybe these aren’t your tactics, maybe they aren’t your
experience. But the motto ‘Confront with Love’ has served us very well
now for almost 2 years of demos and we will continue to use it to guide
our actions in the future. (Wilchins, n.d.)
The Menace organized powerful public protests after the murders of prominent
transgender individuals. For instance, in May of 1995 roughly 40 people from
across North America came to Falls City, Nebraska to hold a vigil in memory of
Brandon Teena6 during the trial of one of the men accused of murdering him. The
next year over 40 gender activists demonstrated in front of the office of
Washington DC’s Mayor Marion Barry, calling for a full investigation into Tyra
Hunter’s death.7 This activism helped to stimulate an awareness campaign by
other trans activists about the high trans murder rate which resulted in memorial
services held in hundreds of cities across North America each year in November.
In addition, in 1995 several members of the Menace attended the annual
convention of the National Organization of Women and worked for the passage of
a resolution that called for the de-pathologization of Gender Identity Disorder in
the DSM-IV and also the right to medical care ‘on-demand’ for all people to
achieve and maintain their own expression of gendered identity. Subsequent
protests occurred jointly with the InterSex Society of North America protesting
genital mutilation of inter-sexed babies at the American Medical Association
Finally there is ongoing political work to ensure safety from various forms of
discrimination at the local level since trans issues have been historically
neglected (Currah et al., 2000). To address these problems the transgender
community has created several political action organizations to lobby for change
in Washington DC and in state capitals around the United States. There are
annual Gender Lobby Days where as many as 100 trans and gender queer
activists have shown up in Washington DC to visit Congress and press for
legislative understanding of transgender issues and the broader issue of gender
variance. Of the 32 states that have passed hate crimes legislation including
sexual orientation, only 10 states also include gender identity issues. Of the 235
cities, counties, or other local governments that have passed some form of civil
rights protection on the basis of sexual orientation, only 52 of these have also
included gender identity (National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, n.d.). The presence
of articulate and persistent gender variant individuals on Capitol Hill is a
significant step forward, but much work remains to ensure equitable treatment
and safe urban spaces.
P. L. Doan
In conclusion, this paper has argued that the rush to celebrate some urban areas as
inclusive queer spaces is premature, particularly with respect to gender variant
individuals. The diversely gendered subjectivities of gender variant individuals
challenge deeply held gender expectations of both gay and straight populations.
As a result these transgendered and gender queer people often serve as virtual
lightning rods for intolerance, discrimination, and oppression.
Existing queer spaces are mostly composed of gay and lesbian residential, and
in some cases, commercial areas, which replicate a strongly hetero-normative
gender dichotomy. In many areas progress has been made in the form of adding a
‘T’ for transgendered to the names of community institutions. But this is just a first
step in a longer term agenda of re-visioning gender into a rainbow of identity
positions and challenging the oppressive processes of gender used to maintain
power structures.
While trans people do take advantage of the safety of the LGBT umbrella for
support groups and occasional social excursions, only rarely do such places
satisfy their residential needs. The transgendered are too small a proportion of the
entire queer population to effectively form concentrations, much less neighborhoods themselves. As a result the trans community has explored a variety of ways
to create discursive spaces that are welcoming of the full range of gendered subject
positions, including: on-line chat rooms and list serves, annual conventions,
periodic public protests, and regular political lobbying. These activities are
important community building steps, and are likely to have lasting effects on the
ways that gender variance is perceived by the rest of society. However, in order to
achieve such long term changes it is important to increase the visibility of gender
variance in the physical spaces of urban areas as well as the discursive spaces in
which they have been successful to date.
The increasing level of activism has made individual queer spaces somewhat
more gender friendly, but there is much more to do. Although there is a slowly
increasing tolerance for more visibly identifiable gay and lesbian couples within
many cities, acceptance of visible trans people is lagging far behind. Planning
implications for LGBT populations have begun to surface (Forsyth, 2001), but
these are sometimes viewed as one more minority population making claims for
special treatment. Broader linkages to urban safety issues need to be established. If
public spaces, parks, streets, shopping areas do not feel safe to one segment of
society, can that space be truly safe for other minority groups? Cities and urban
spaces that have experienced incidents of gender bashing are likely to be
experiencing a broader range of intolerant behaviors that are likely to affect a
much wider population. Progressive citizens and urban activists of all types need
to make extra efforts to understand this poorly understood segment of the
population because ensuring their safety will make the city a safer place for all
The author would like to express her appreciation to Elizabeth Kamphausen for
her patient review of multiple drafts as well as the Editor and anonymous
reviewers of this journal whose comments contributed to the final form of this
Transgendered Perceptions of Urban Space
1. The ‘T’ for transgender was the last letter of the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) alphabet
soup to be added to most queer community institutions, and remains less well understood than
other forms of gender variance.
2. Anne Fausto-Sterling (2000) suggests that 1.7 of every 100 babies is born with some form of an
intersex condition.
3. It may be useful at this point to acknowledge the author’s subject position as a post-operative trans
woman who identifies as a lesbian feminist embodying many of the visible markers of gender
variance (including a six foot physical frame, large hands, and a resonantly deep bass voice) with
little concern to ‘pass’ as anything other than herself.
4. NTAC’s web site is located at: http://www.ntac.org N.B. This site draws heavily on an earlier web
site created by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, called ‘Remembering Our Dead’ located at http://www.
5. This snowball sampling strategy is frequently used to assess difficult to locate populations. In this
case the population sampled did not include several visible but hard to pin down trans
populations—female impersonators and transgendered sex workers. Therefore the author was not
able to generalize these findings to the lower income transgendered population. In addition the
sample is skewed towards trans women (123) vs. trans men (26).
6. Brandon Teena was a female-to-male transsexual who was raped and later brutally murdered in 1994.
Several films have been made about this case, including The Brandon Teena Story and Boys Don’t Cry.
7. Tyra Hunter was a transgendered woman fatally injured in a car crash in Washington DC in August
1995. During the course of their treatment the paramedics cut away her clothes and discovered her
male genitalia. At this point they began laughing, addressed the patient with slurs, and stopped
treating their patient while she laying dying on the sidewalk. Subsequently a jury awarded Ms.
Hunter’s mother $2.8 million in punitive damages for this egregious treatment
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Los queers en la ciudad americana: las percepciones
transgenerizados de los espacios urbanos
Resumen Éste papel explora las relaciones complejas entre gente
transgenerizada y ciudades en los Estados Unidos, y en particular, sus
relaciones con espacios queer en éstas ciudades. Algunos han argumentado que
los espacios queer existen en los margines de la sociedad y constituyen un refugio
seguro para la gente lesbiana, gay, bisexual o transgenerizada que es oprimido por
el carácter hetero-normativo de áreas urbanas. El resultado de una encuesta con
149 individuos transgenerizados indica que aunque estos espacios hace una
medida de protección limitada para gente de variante género, el carácter
generizado de éstos espacios tienen todavı́a como resultado niveles altos de acoso
y violencia contra ésta gente. La autora argumenta que las dimensiones
generizadas fuertes de éstos espacios sugieren que se necesite una modificación
discursiva de género para crear espacios urbanos más amistoso para gente
PALABRAS CLAVES : Espacio queer; transgénero; variante de género; la seguridad
Dereka Rushbrook
n North American and European cities, gay and lesbian residential and commercial zones have become increasingly visible to and visited by the public at
large. Although this trend could readily be attributed to the success of gay civil
rights movements and the recognition of gays as a niche market, it has been
accompanied by other forms of urban transformation, notably the commodification
of space related to a growth in tourism and a shift toward an entrepreneurial form
of urban governance. As secondary U.S. cities such as Austin, Texas; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Portland, Oregon, compete to lure footloose capital in the
financial, information, and high-tech industries, they seek to market themselves as
centers of culture and consumption. To stake a claim to cosmopolitanism, one of
the most desirable forms of contemporary cultural capital, many emphasize their
ethnic diversity. In a growing number of instances, “queer space” functions as one
form of this ethnic diversity, tentatively promoted by cities both as equivalent to
other ethnic neighborhoods and as an independent indicator of cosmopolitanism.1
The popular press reinforces the queer cachet, noting the gay quotient of
clubs and neighborhoods in explorations of the “geography of cool.”2 In an article
that serves as a tour guide to the international club scene, highlighting places frequented by “both gays and straights” in European cities such as Paris, Madrid,
and Amsterdam, Roger Cohen writes that in Berlin, “a cooler note” can be found
at the Greenwich, where
cowhide adorns the padded walls and a certain animal intensity is definitely in the air as couples, heterosexual and homosexual, admire each
other over some of the best martinis and whiskey sours in the city. This
establishment, full of Asian-Germans and African-Germans, gives a real
sense of the new Berlin, a city whose population is an exotic mix.3
GLQ 8:1–2
pp. 183–206
Copyright © 2002 by Duke University Press
In this instance, racial diversity and sexual diversity highlight the establishment’s
sophisticated allure even as nonwhite and/or queer bodies provide a chic stamp of
approval recognized by the reader of the New York Times, assumed to be a cosmopolitan traveler. Although Cohen does not preclude the possibility of queers of
color in his description of the nightclub, Asian and African are offered as other,
presumably in opposition to whiteness, and homosexual is offered as the other of
heterosexual. If bodies are assumed to be heterosexual and white unless otherwise specified, only one axis of difference is presumed, and queers of color are
erased from the discourses of cosmopolitanism and globalization, as consumers
and commodities.
In clubs such as the Greenwich, queers and queer space are consumed by
a broader, non-queer-identified public in ways that shape the evolution of these
spaces and affect the everyday lives of the gays who inhabit them (whether as residents or as tourists themselves).4 Whether local residents or visitors to the city,
empathetic supporters or scandalized voyeurs, tourists read as straight consume
the temporary space of queer festivals and parades or the more enduring spaces
of queer neighborhoods.5 The presence of such tourists disrupts queer space’s
homogeneity, which is only putative because categories of class, race, and gender
are frequently not acknowledged in the abstract construct that is queer space. Yet
disruptions based solely on a queer/straight binary further entrench the homogeneous nature of the (white male) queer. This essay explores the history and
implications of these disruptions. How has this process of commodification been
enabled by changes in the global political economy and in queer space itself?
Have tourism and the related commodification of queer space for consumption
affected gays who live in and visit these spaces? Might these consumption practices inscribe new or reinforce current exclusionary practices along the lines of
race, ethnicity, class, and gender? Finally, are there parallels between the contemporary consumption of queer space and the long history of tourists traveling
in search of the other?
After reviewing earlier instances of urban tourism centered on a quest for a
place-based exotic other, I outline the shift toward urban governance that has paralleled the rise of queer space’s visibility. I then briefly survey the literature that
describes the production of different forms of this space. Finally, after examining
certain links among the entrepreneurial city, queer space, and tourism, I question
the implications of this evolving relationship.
Tourism and Zones of Otherness
The urban landscape has traditionally been characterized by the production of
zones of difference that function as what Michel Foucault terms “heterotopias”:
places that hold what has been displaced while serving as sites of stability for the
displaced. Heterotopias are countersites where other sites in the culture are “represented, contested, and inverted,” although the meanings and functions of these
spaces in relation to all other spaces change over time. Foucault notes the bounded
and isolated yet permeable nature of these sites, where entry is either compulsory
or requires permission; instances in which entry appears open to everyone conceal
that “we are, by the very fact that we enter, excluded.”6 Imagining as heterotopic
sites zones characterized as queer or ethnic in the popular imagination allows us
to understand these identities as geographic. When the normal is white straightness, the spatialization of difference or deviation in mutually exclusive, oppositional zones in a hierarchy of places reinforces the production of queerness as
white; Chinatown is not Harlem is not the Village, and everything — or every
body — has its singular place.
Today these zones are sites of a highly commercialized tourism, but this
form of travel—of transgressing local boundaries to participate in exotic worlds —
is not a new urban phenomenon. The tourist has long consumed the other in marginal districts and liminal spaces, visiting zones of deviance and excess to transgress social norms. Peter Stallybrass and Allon White note that “repugnance and
fascination are the twin poles of the process in which a political imperative to
reject and eliminate the debasing ‘low’ conflicts powerfully and unpredictably with
a desire for this Other.” The European and American bourgeoisie “uses the whole
world as its theatre in a particularly instrumental fashion, the very subjects which
it politically excludes becoming exotic costumes which it assumes in order to play
out the disorders of its own identity.”7
By the late 1800s New York’s entrepreneurs took advantage of this bourgeois voyeurism (thus simultaneously reinforcing and constructing it) to offer
guided tours of Chinatown, the Lower East Side, the Bowery, and other spaces of
exotic and dangerous difference.8 Greenwich Village was a tourist zone for uptown
whites who found it an “area of fantasy” in which to partake of a sensuality
marked by the presence of gays and lesbians on the streets. In the early 1920s, as
the Village became “too touristy” and hence less exotic, Harlem arose as a new
sexualized nightlife zone, distant enough to seem dangerous, yet “safe,” given
hierarchical race relations and the transitory nature of the visit.9 Whites could
travel to Harlem on a vacation from morality, escaping the strictures of respectable
middle-class life, exploring the exotic in their leisure time, and temporarily
exploiting the place and its inhabitants for pleasure before returning to their
everyday lives.10 As Stallybrass and White note, the “act . . . in which the middle
classes excitedly discover their own pleasures and desires under the sign of the
Other, in the realm of the Other, is constitutive of the very formation of middleclass identity.”11
Among the first to go “slumming” in Harlem during the 1920s were the
bohemians, quickly followed by white, primarily male, homosexuals, who sought to
escape stigma and exclusion by briefly inhabiting such vice districts. While whites
could enjoy the tolerance of homosexuality that existed in these liminal spaces,
blacks were systematically excluded from white homosexual establishments. Even
in these zones, however, homosexuals of all races were marginalized. Kevin Mumford notes that as “Harlem clubs became more accessible to mainstream visitors,
they became more heterosexual and the persistence of cross-dressing spectacles
became less a direct expression of a thriving (homosexual) subculture and more a
performance for white tourists in search of the exciting and the exotic.”12
The large clubs of 1920s Harlem targeted a white heterosexual audience
and presented an entertaining vision of black life that was compatible with what
the whites wanted to see, a vision of a cheerful, carefree, and poverty-free life
offered in a safe and commodified form. The most popular large clubs strictly
enforced the color line. Vowing never to frequent the Cotton Club, Langston
Hughes referred to it as a “Jim Crow club . . . not cordial to Negro patronage,
unless you were a celebrity.” Lewis A. Erenberg notes that white visitors made the
spaces of the clubs uncomfortable for blacks, crowding them out.13 In the whiteoriented clubs, blacks were performers and servers rather than consumers. Racist
door policies in these clubs put first-time visitors at ease, allowing them to gaze on
and consume the manifestations of difference and disorder on display from a distance, without risking contamination. Even in more racially mixed clubs, asymmetries persisted, as evidenced by formal policies that allowed white men to
dance with black women while discouraging black men from dancing with white
women. As white participation in these leisure zones expanded, urban travelers
sought to appropriate “authentic” places, black establishments where whites were
less visible, in a continued display of cultural imperialism and sexual racism.14
The tourist was in search of an authentic other, an undiluted place empty of fellow
These ethnic zones of early-twentieth-century urban America were the
result of local policies designed to contain bodies that public health and housing
programs designated as deviant. The boundaries of these segregated spaces were
conspicuously and differentially porous, allowing for whites’ consumption of the
exotic while ensuring that the bodies that provided their entertainment remained
in place. While the local state played a central role in the production of these
zones in cities such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, its focus was containment rather than the coordinated production and promotion of the sites as destinations for slumming locals and adventurous tourists.15
In contrast, in the postindustrial city targeted by difference-seeking
tourists today, state neglect often facilitated gays’ gentrification of central-city
neighborhoods. Only after their appearance did opportunistic local governments
deploy them in their marketing and development schemes. State containment led
to private entrepreneurship, such as guided tours; state neglect led to “private”
gentrification, which was then appropriated by the state.
The Entrepreneurial City
The transition from an industrial to a postindustrial era has been associated with
the rise of the “growth machine,” of place marketing, of the “entrepreneurial
city.”16 Although cities such as Los Angeles had always fit the entrepreneurial
model, it now became widespread. The local state, once primarily concerned with
the provision of collective goods, was charged with promoting local development,
often allying itself with private capital to attract outside investment. This restructuring of the state is frequently attributed to the same processes that have enabled
the expansion of tourism.
Economic globalization contributed to “glocalization,” an upscaling (to the
“global” level) and a downscaling (to the “local” level) of regulation from the
national level that made regional and local structures more important. David Harvey notes that as technological changes have diminished the importance of space,
the importance of place has grown.17 The post-Fordist international restructuring
concomitant with the globalization of production and increased capital mobility
has made urban elites increasingly conscious of the need to distinguish the
“social, physical, and cultural character of places.”18 Cities such as Baltimore and
Tucson engage in place marketing to an ever greater extent, reimaging themselves
to attract external capital. Commodification of the city has made urban cultural
landscapes central to strategies of capital accumulation.19 However, Michael Keith
and Steven Pile point out how the growth politics of the entrepreneurial city frequently excludes groups based on class, race, gender, and sexuality.20 Yet urban
regimes often deploy identity-based entertainment zones as a leading part of their
symbolic economies. This pattern of exclusion and appropriation is central to the
relationship of urban governments such as Manchester, England, with gay and lesbian places.
Globalization has led to the rise of “world cities,” such as New York, Tokyo,
and London, and to the increasing prominence of a handful of centers of technology and services that coordinate networks of production.21 As these cities have
grown in importance, and as manufacturing has declined, secondary cities —
“wannabe world cities” such as Chicago, Miami, and Manchester — have engaged
in competitive strategies to attract capital, re-creating themselves as places of culture and consumption that meet the desires of the executive and the white-collar
worker-consumer. These cities rely heavily on the promotion of cultures and spectacles in all their forms. As they market themselves as postindustrial, postmodern
places, locations appropriate for the high-tech, financial, and service industries at
least momentarily entrenched as leading economic sectors, cities such as Sydney,
Vancouver, and Seattle lay claim to a certain cosmopolitanism that labels them
participants in the global economy of the new millennium.
One tool that cities use to make this claim in cultural terms might be
termed their stock of “ethnic spaces,” appropriately bounded neighborhoods that
present an “authentic” other or others in consumable, commodified forms. Over
the past decade queer space has functioned increasingly as one of these ethnic
spaces in consumer culture, serving as a marker of cosmopolitanism, tolerance,
and diversity for the urban tourist. Thus queer and ethnic spaces are offered as
equivalent venues for consumption at a cosmopolitan buffet in a manner that
erases their individual histories and functions, as well as the differential mobilities of the bodies that inhabit them. For instance, the Tourism Toronto Web site
lists the city’s “Gay and Lesbian” neighborhood, along with the Italian, Greektown, and Chinatown areas, and notes that in this “pulsating heart of [Toronto’s]
gay community,” “seeing gay men and women chatting in the eclectic mixture of
cafes and restaurants or holding hands as they walk down the busy streets, give[s]
an indication of the relaxed and open-minded attitude Torontonians have towards
the gay and lesbian community.” This presentation leaves it unclear whether the
sight for tourists is the hand-holding gay men and women or the open-minded
Torontonians. In either case, the gay and lesbian neighborhood is presented as a
tourist attraction equivalent to the city’s ethnic zones.22
To be cosmopolitan is to display an openness and curiosity about other
cultures, to seek out the different. John Urry describes the cosmopolitan tourist as
one who claims the “right to travel anywhere and to consume at least initially all
environments.”23 As identity is constituted through consumption, these practices
allow for the creation of multiple, shifting identities, of lifestyles that can be tried
on, discarded, and reformulated. Queer space is one more place in which cultural
capital can be displayed by the ability to negotiate different identities, to be at
ease in multiple milieus, to maneuver in exoticized surroundings. Emphasizing
the city’s sexual and racial (but not necessarily class) diversity, Seattle’s tourism
bureau boasts of the Capitol Hill area that “no neighborhood in the city has a
more active sidewalk scene, day or night” or “a more diverse population. Seattle’s
gay community, grunge rockers and twenty-something’s [sic] of many races share
the area with longtime residents ensconced in the historic mansions, elegant old
homes and classic apartment houses.”24 In this description, multiple forms of difference overlap, safely domesticated by the elegance of longtime residents.
For the entrepreneurial city, cosmopolitan places serve both as destinations for local and out-of-town tourists and as markers of tolerance and diversity
that enhance the city’s perceived quality of life. The latter function received
explicit attention in the wake of a study released by researchers at Carnegie Mellon
University’s Public Policy School who found that the best predictor of the presence
of high-tech businesses in U.S. cities was the “gay index,” the concentration of
unmarried same-sex partners living in metropolitan areas. The gay index was used
as a proxy for “cultural and lifestyle diversity,” which focus-group interviews indicated was the trait most sought by the high-tech industry’s knowledge workers, “a
gigantic global nomadic tribe.” As the Pittsburgh Business Times put it, “Whether
it’s geeks or gays or people who dress differently or speak different languages, the
cities that rank high on both these lists tend to exhibit tolerance toward everyone.”25 The study provoked soul-searching in Pittsburgh, which ranked low in
high-tech employment and diversity despite its concentration of research universities. In an opinion column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Richard Florida noted:
Minneapolis has made immigration a priority, while the state of Iowa seeks
to become the Ellis Island of the Midwest. To succeed, we [Pittsburgh]
must embrace Indian and Asian students, professionals and workers;
encourage the development of a vibrant Hispanic community; and become
an open, tolerant and gay-friendly community.26
By contrast, writers in the high-tech hub of Austin celebrated local indicators of diversity, noting the city’s concentration of Elvis worshippers. Proclaiming
that “where gays go, geeks follow,” Bill Bishop of the Austin American-Statesman
wrote that “gay men and lesbians are the canaries in the new-economy coal
mine — if gay people can survive in a place, then so will high-tech workers, the
people with the ideas that are now making economies grow.”27 As portrayed in this
study and the media’s response to it, gays are more than merely one component of
diversity and more than a commodity for direct consumption; they serve as markers of the cosmopolitan nature of the metropolis.
Gays and the Entrepreneurial City
Although the gay zones that signal such diversity are relatively new, “gay spaces”
have long existed.28 While subtle signifiers or public cruising can construct temporary and invisible networks of queer space on the heterosexual street, the creation of explicitly gay places has been an important part of the evolution of the gay
community in the West. For instance, lesbian and gay bars played a crucial role in
creating a social community by providing a public space in which political consciousness and movements for public recognition could incubate.29 Here expectations were reversed; “anyone who walked into such a bar was presumed to be
gay.”30 However, these gay places remained invisible to the population at large.
Commodified zones of gayness arose with the gay male gentrification of
urban neighborhoods, one part of a “spatial response to a historically specific form
of oppression.”31 As these neighborhoods grew, the seeming invisibility of gay
places receded and a new relationship with local governments evolved. The literature has focused primarily on the creation of these urban communities as a phenomenon of gay, white males predominantly in the Western, industrialized world.
Jean-Ulrick Désert notes the media’s recognition that gays have “stabilized”
neighborhoods in cities such as Houston, Seattle, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Miami,
and Chicago. Middle- and upper-class gays aided gentrification, which displaced
the residents of downtown neighborhoods. Lawrence Knopp observes how these
“alternative codings of space” have generally taken place in “racist, sexist and
pro-capitalist discourses” that structure the public space in which they are articulated. Other scholars focus on the role of consumption and commodification in the
construction of the gay community and in the simultaneous (re)development of
downtown areas and pink economies around gay and lesbian commercial and
entertainment zones in Amsterdam, San Francisco, London, Sydney, and other
global cities.32 These zones then become available to cities marketing their distinctiveness to the cosmopolitan tourist.
The literature on the role of queer space in the entrepreneurial city focuses
on gay tourists’ attraction to areas such as Soho, in London, or the “gay capital” of
Europe, Amsterdam, in addition to the creation of consumption opportunities for
the local gay community. Official tourism boards for destinations such as Amsterdam and Philadelphia, as well as those of France, Australia, Quebec, and England,
have actively pursued the gay market, which marketing studies portray as disproportionately white, affluent, male, and educated, an image that circulates as the
dominant representative of gay ethnicity.33 Gays are also targeted by leisure zones
seeking to reduce violence and rowdiness. In Romford, on the eastern edge of
London, the police encouraged one club to start a gay night as part of a broad
effort to attract a “more sober and ethnically diverse crowd.”34 Similarly, the director of a British gay tour operator claimed that “hoteliers love the fact that we’re a
gay company because they tend not to get their hotel rooms or apartments smashed
up, and they tend not to get complaints from other residents about terrible
drunken revelry at four o’clock in the morning.”35 Attempts to attract gay tourists
often take place hand in hand with major corporations such as British Airways.
Although some of these corporations have attempted to use existing gay events,
such as Sydney’s Mardi Gras, as building blocks, most localities market themselves as “gay-friendly” places rather than as explicitly queer spaces, as places in
which gays can mingle, shop, dine, and enjoy traditional tourist sights. These contrast with “gay-created” destinations such as Palm Springs, California; Provincetown, Massachusetts; Russian River, California; and Key West, Florida, which
originally arose without state support. At these destinations the concentration of
queer bodies themselves is the primary attraction.
More interestingly, even as they were targeted as consumers, queers became
commodities, when straight spectators began to attend pride events and drag
shows. Regular tours of bounded gay neighborhoods, such as San Francisco’s
Castro District, became common. The presence of gays and lesbians themselves is
an integral part of the construction of these sites, to the extent that customers of
Big Onion Walking Tours in New York often demand a homosexual guide for
“Before Stonewall: A Gay and Lesbian History Tour.”36 Even when on vacation,
gays and lesbians who arrive as consumers are at times consumed themselves.
Neville Walker notes that at Gran Canaria, Europe’s biggest gay resort, there is a
“shift change” in the bars at 10:30 P.M. as families leave and a gay, “more hedonistic crowd — higher spending, better haircuts”— arrives; there is mingling as
some straight tourists stay to watch the “safely risqué and . . . not particularly gay”
drag performance, a short venture into a queer world.37
Spectacles and places, which play an even more central role in the consumption of queerness than in the consumption of “ethnicities,” became marketing instruments for the same city governments that had only recently engaged in
the active repression of these spectacles.38 In 1992 the organizers of the Montreal
Pride Parade found themselves embroiled in controversy after issuing prohibitions against cross-dressing and “vulgar” or “erotic” displays to avoid offending
straight spectators.39 By the end of the decade gay community organizers had
worked with the city’s tourism office to support publicity and planning; what was
by then described as the “ambiance, friendliness and open-mindedness” of Montreal, in conjunction with the 1999 International Gay and Lesbian Pride Festival,
brought over two hundred thousand out-of-town visitors and $12 million into the
The histories of two of the best-known gay events in the world illustrate
local governments’ changing relationships to the mainstream commodification of
gay neighborhoods and festivals. Toronto’s Pride Week bills itself as the largest in
North America; Sydney’s Mardi Gras claims to be the largest outdoor nighttime
parade in the world. The two institutions tell similar stories of their evolution.
Both started in the post-Stonewall era as protest marches, with activists focused on
decriminalization in Toronto and on an end to discrimination and police harassment in Sydney. For more than a decade uncertain relationships with city governments led to police responses that alternated between violence and arrests in some
years and protection in others. The number of participants fluctuated, never surpassing five thousand, until the 1980s, when attendance started to rise, buoyed by
increased publicity and fund-raising sparked by the growing awareness of the
AIDS epidemic.41
Throughout the 1980s the festivals’ size, length, and range of activities
grew, as did the associated commercial opportunities. The city governments completed the shift from repression or occasional tolerance to full-fledged promotion
and participation. In 2000 Toronto’s Pride Week claimed to be the largest cultural
festival in Canada, one in which city officials openly participated. By the 1990s
the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras had expanded to include an arts-andmusic festival and ties with almost every cultural institution in the city; in 1998 it
brought in an estimated $99 million.42 It was such a signature event that the organizers of the 2000 Olympic Games incorporated a drag queen sequence in the
closing ceremonies, despite protests that “drag queens do not truly represent
Aussie culture at all.”43
Sydney’s Mardi Gras is now so popular that the organizers sell tickets only
to members of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Association. Full members
can purchase up to three tickets. International and interstate visitors are advised
to arrange for tickets before leaving home, as associate and international members
may purchase only one ticket and must provide proof of an address at least 150
kilometers from Sydney. Some secondary events marketed in package tours centered on Mardi Gras are listed as “exclusively gay and lesbian.” Knopp claims that
the restrictions on ticket sales have been imposed because the increasing popular-
ity (among “non-gay-identified people”) of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Party
led the organizers to fear assimilation and the dilution of the event’s queerness.44
Fears of Colonization
Similar concerns have emerged elsewhere as non-gay-identified people’s consumption of queer space has grown. In the South Beach neighborhood of Miami, gay
local residents and business owners express concern about the “heterosexualization” of the area.45 Jon Binnie’s discussion of the development of gay space in
Soho, along Old Compton Street in London, reflects perceptions of exclusion based
on class, race, and age, as well as fears that as the country emerged from a recession, increased disposable income in the general (i.e., heterosexual) population
would lead to a gradual marginalization of gays from the neighborhood as it was
reappropriated by straights initially attracted to it by the spaces of consumption
created by the gay community.46
The everyday consumption of queer space is particularly visible in Manchester, where the “Gay Village” has received international attention since the
debut of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Queer As Folk. Originally enabled
by the deindustrialization and decline of the central city, the gay community
moved into the city center, a process that was difficult at first due to police harassment (including the attempt to close the city’s first gay club in 1979) and explicit
exclusion from alliance politics but was later consolidated owing to a shift in the
local political terrain. Although gay issues per se have not been a priority for the
city government, gay establishments and neighborhoods have. The spatially competitive nature of the post-Keynesian economy has led policy makers to reevaluate
these zones as marketing assets rather than a regulatory problem. Steven Quilley
notes that the Gay Village has become an explicit part of the local government’s
development strategy based on a service or leisure economy, as an emblem of the
“happening and hip” soul of Manchester.47
There has been a parallel transformation of gay culture, from an introverted, closed, private space epitomized by dark, unmarked bars to a space appropriated from the night and beckoning with neon signs and full-length windows
open to the street. The distinction between interior and exterior has blurred.
Increased visibility, however, has its costs; some locals note a “watering down” of
the queerness and safeness of the Village.48 As new (straight) capital has entered,
the entertainment guide of the Manchester paper, the Guardian, has added the
adjective gayish to describe bars that are predominantly straight but “pay lip service to the gay community,” in a neighborhood where gay sexuality has explicitly
become an urban spectacle: “Whether you’re straight or gay, Manchester’s gay village is a great place to spend an evening.”49
In this context, gay bars are increasingly obliged to label themselves. In
addition to noting the age and sex of the clientele, Virtual Manchester’s listing of
gay clubs estimates what percentage is gay, observing, for instance, that “too many
straight girls” can be found at Paradise Factory.50 CruZ101, which bills itself
both as “the cornerstone of Manchester’s gay village” and as a “SAFE GAY
space,” reserves the right to refuse one’s application for admission (which asks for
a declaration of sexuality as well as for one’s name, address, and date of birth).51
Napoleon’s, the first gay club to open in the village, claims to
welcome all gay/bisexual and all Transvestite’s Transsexual’s. We work and
do what we can to keep our Club the Best and Safest for everyone allowed
to come in. . . . [We] have worked to try and keep Napoleons as Gay and as
friendly as possible we are sometimes Straight Friendly but we will not let
just anyone in the Club. . . . try it for yourself and we know you will be
back to visit us that’s why its the Longest Running Gay Night club in the
U.K and Europe. (quoted verbatim; emphasis mine)52
By contrast, Metz, a popular bar-café with venues in several cities, displays the
motto “Don’t discriminate, integrate” on its home page and claims that “metz is
gay, metz is a melting pot, metz is metz.” Metz’s “philosophy” is to be “a space
created for all men and women who respect others regardless of their sexuality,
race, colour or beliefs. All are judged attitudally [sic] not sexually.”53
The Straightening of Bent Space
Aaron Betsky argues that the commodification of queer space has meant that
“almost as soon as [queer spaces] were started, they disappeared into [our] culture as their very power became useful for advertising, lifestyles, and the occupation of real estate.”54 Queer space as a commodity and a spectacle is neither new
nor limited to an audience read as straight, as can readily be seen from the impact
of the rapid expansion in travel abroad by gay U.S. tourists, in the consumption of
a different, often racialized, form of otherness.
In her study of lesbian bars in mid-twentieth-century Detroit, Rosemary
Thorpe notes lesbians’ reactions to “being on display to heterosexuals” who
“visit[ed] bars to watch homosexuals interact.” Nan Alamilla Boyd’s essay in the
same volume traces how the evolution of gay bars in San Francisco was inter-
twined with a tourist economy based in part on the city’s reputation as a “haven for
sex- and gender-nonconformists,” which allowed “homosexuals [to continue] to
socialize publicly alongside adventurous heterosexuals and voyeuristic tourists.”55
Such a visible and publicized queerness may create, particularly in the media, an
aesthetic queer space that is knowingly shared, although with differing degrees of
enthusiasm, by straights and queers, or at least by the cultural vanguard that is
the target of lesbian chic marketing.56
Spaces centered on white middle-class consumption do not necessarily
welcome queers. Places are constructed in ways that determine their material
future. Gay urban spectacles attract tourists and investment; sexually deviant,
dangerous rather than merely risqué, landscapes do not. The state has an interest
in shaping the forms of (nonthreatening) gay space that are legitimized; by offering tolerance, if not acceptance, the state can elicit appropriate behavior from
queers who police themselves, assuaging the state’s moral anxieties.57 Stallybrass
and White note the relation between the established order and rituals of transgression, emphasizing the ambivalence of containment; the development of a middle class is contingent on “the formation of manners, habits and attitudes appropriate . . . to each social domain.”58
The increased visibility that facilitates tourists’ identification of queer sites
also marks them to the public at large. Wayne Myslik explores the apparent contradiction of gay neighborhoods perceived as safe havens when they frequently
“become hunting grounds” for gay-bashing expeditions.59 Despite their awareness
of the greater danger of queer bashing in gay neighborhoods, however, most of the
white, mainly middle-class gay men he interviewed felt safer in them. Myslik
argues that these neighborhoods are most important as sites of cultural resistance;
they provide symbolic meanings for struggles that have moved from the political
to the cultural sphere. For this group, safety was the freedom to be openly gay,
to challenge the norming of public space as straight, rather than freedom from
This safety may be put at risk by the increased visibility and consumption
of gay space, particularly when the identity that forms the foundation of this cultural capital is urban, middle- or upper-middle-class, predominantly white, and,
despite the short-lived 1990s fad of lesbian chic, primarily gay male. This is the
same segment of the queer community that drove the gentrification of downtown
neighborhoods, that serves as the target of niche marketing in the new regime of
postmodern capitalism, and that circulates as a global image of gay identity. As
these neighborhoods become visible sites of consumption for non-gay-identified
people, “gay people are . . . seen — straight people just are,” and in these places
only the appropriate gay people are seen.60 There is a perceived watering down of
gay space, a sim…
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