“The Island of Misfit Toys”

Supergay Detroit debriefs us on Motor City Pride, which returned to Detroit for the first time in decades earlier this month:

The most incredible thing about this Pride was that for the first time since I moved to Detroit, I actually really felt like being gay here was totally normal.  I mean as completely normal as it would be in Chicago or Washington, DC or Boston or anywhere else I’ve lived.  Everywhere you went there were gay people or rainbow flags or just people asking how Pride was going.

In my email to business owners for the Pride Project I said that Motor City Pride moving downtown had the potential to change perceptions about Detroit in a way that hasn’t happened since the Superbowl was here in 2006.  In the way Pride exceeded every expectation, I really believe that was the case.  What I didn’t expect was that it was going to change the way *I* thought about Detroit.

The whole weekend left me feeling a little feisty, like maybe it’s OK to say that something can just be GAY for its own sake without people getting defensive or worrying that people will feel left out.  (It’s Detroit, for God’s sake. The Island of Misfit Toys.  Everybody belongs.)

I LOVE his characterization of Detroit here, since it is so apt.  It reminds me of when John Waters was on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!  earlier this year and he talked at length about how living in Baltimore has influenced his film-making.  I totally knew what he was talking about, because Detroit also has a very John Waters feel in a lot of ways, from the ripped-from-the-tabloids city politics, to the endless Youtube videos of ordinary Detroiters behaving badly, the seemingly limitless tolerance of Detroiters for chaos and messiness and squalor.  Remember Edith Massey?  She would have fit right in.  Detroit is just a John Waters kind of town.

(Speaking of which, Waters apparently addressed the U.S. Conference of Mayors last week when they met in Baltimore, which, I don’t even know where to begin, that is so perfect and surprising and hilarious at the same time.   I will have to try to hunt down a transcript.)

Spending a lot of time in Detroit literally alters your vision.  Out of towners tend to react with polite horror when they drive through town after a long absence, nervously eyeing their surroundings and trying to mask their disapproval.  I was the same way — when I first moved to Detroit I was secretly fascinated that there were white people living there still and wondered what their lives were like.  Now that I’ve been coming and going regularly for several years the blight, the poverty, all the things good and bad that make Detroit so exotic for small-town or suburban white people, seem kind of normal to me.

I wasn’t around in the 1970s, but I wonder if that’s kind of how gay ghettoes in our country started out too.  Gay culture started to emerge from the closet at the time when violent crime was peaking.  The gayborhoods often popped up in neighborhoods that were declining, in cities that themselves seemed to be dying.   To your average American, homosexuality was shocking, gay people were dissolute and criminal and dangerous, and you certainly wouldn’t take your kids for a drive through a neighborhood where those kinds of people congregrated.   Now the country’s great gayborhoods are thriving, prosperous and high-density places (though I’m pretty sure most parents still might think twice about taking young kids for a walk through, say, Boystown or the Castro).   I’m not saying that Detroit, even its best neighborhoods, will ever be fortunate enough to enjoy anything near that kind of a turnaround.  But those places had the same naughty, scary, Wild West kind of feel.  Gay people are used to seeking out grimy bars in  questionable neighborhoods, just like rave kids or music scenesters.  We’re used to feeling different and wary of our surroundings.  Frankly, I feel safer in a lot of parts of Detroit than I did in East Lansing on a Saturday night when I was an undergraduate, ignoring drunk fratboys yelling “faggot” or dodging a beer bottle aimed for my skull.

I think I know what Supergay was talking about when he writes about how Motor City Pride felt normal.  You had a lot of random people show up who may or may not have been gay — they just wanted to come check things out.  Lots of moms bringing their young kids, lots of younger teens, way more than I recall ever seeing at Pride when it was in Ferndale.  You had people of all  ages hanging out on the riverwalk, fishing, selling things, Detroit police officers peacefully mingling with the crowd.  And the behavior of attendees certainly seemed better than what you get from white suburban kids a lot of the time after major sports events or, say, the Downtown Hoedown.

I agree with Supergay that press coverage was pretty meager.  I’m not surprised that the Detroit News pretty much ignored it, but I would have expected a little better from the Free Press.

Supergay also pleas, “Someone open a downtown neighborhood gay bar NOW.”   I’ll second that.  We need a second gay bar in Washtenaw County too (Aut Bar could use the competition).   Preferably with a patio, but I’d happily take even a shitty dive bar.  I’ve decided Depot Town in Ypsilanti would be a perfect site.  In the meantime, word on the street is that Necto is making Tuesday its second gay night of the week starting tomorrow.  I’m going to try to sneak over & investigate.   There is also a queer dance party at Live one Saturday each month which I need to check out sooner or later.

4 responses to ““The Island of Misfit Toys”

  1. Nice piece–as was the original article.

    I’d second the interest in a transcript (or Youtube?) of John Waters at the Council of Mayors talk.

    And glad to hear Detroit had a successful Pride rebirth. I’ve been to Boston & DC Pride, but opted out of Portland’s this year in favor of walking through the roses. DC’s at least felt very much like “Bank of America (or whichever host of corporate sponsors) presents Pride.” Glad to see Detroit do it right.

    • Alas, Bobby, I’ve had no luck finding one. (And believe it or not, johnwaters.com doesn’t seem to be registered!?!?!?!?!)

      I’m impressed that you’ve been to not one, but 2 Prides! Should I attribute that to RU’s influence? Anyway, you should schedule a trip back home next year in early June & then you can check out MCP for yourselves. Columbus Pride was my very first, believe it or not. Dan from the Real World, season whatever, was the big celebrity appearance — I remember we thought it was a really big deal. And even Toledo has a Pride now.

      • I guess I’ve been at 3, if you count Corvallis, and you probably shouldn’t.

        I was at Boston’s in 2004. I was an ally before meeting Rachel, but I think I also might have had a crush on an HRC canvasser. Is Pride a bad place for me to hit on chicks? Might be, cause nothing ever came of it.

        I guess I still haven’t done a midwest Pride. Someday.

  2. Andy, drop me an email sometime so we can figure out this Ann Arbor Blogger meet-up.I think it’s a great idea.

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