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GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 8.1-2 (2002) 183-206
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Cities, Queer Space, and the Cosmopolitan Tourist
In 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 [End Page 183]
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?