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Why Northside?

Cincinnati Queer Blogging Carnival Submission -- February
Back2Stonewall.com have decided to try a little experiment, and we're bringing other homo-bloggers along for the ride. Every month, we are going to propose a topic, and we're asking others to respond. We are going to solve this city's problems one blog post at a time. This is my submission for our February project (Question: "Why Northside? Is it our 'gay ghetto?'"), and we'll see how many others play along. Check out QueerCincinnati.com for updates and others posts.

It's so easy to trash something. It's so much easier to be a critic than a cheerleader, yea? Our very nature as gay men makes us prone to catty bitchiness and cold hearted back stabbing. We are gold medalists in the fine sport of destroying everything and everyone around us. It's what we do best. And I'm no exception.

In that vein, I love Northside. I tried to rewrite this blog about 100 times, each time criticizing and generally being myself. It appears, though, that it's not always as easy to complain as it is to speak well of something.

I'm not from Cincinnati. If you ask me what high school I went to, I say "Wando." I have, on more than one occasion, heard the response, "What, is that like in Indiana, or something?" I find it funny that 99% of this city, especially this queer city, can't imagine that there is a world outside of the greater Cincinnati metro. It plays a little into the mindset, I think, of us hating so easily on institutions like the great and mythical gay neighborhood of Northside.

I grew up in the deep south -- Charleston, SC, to be exact. Though I was a theatre kid, and it is arguably one of the more liberal mid-sized Southern cities, it is not a gay haven, even if OUT magazine tells you it's a primo gaycation destination.

It's not if you are GAYcating and not just VAcating.

I don't know what it's like for young gay boys in Cincinnati, growing up, where they dream of going when they turn 18. But, for me, it was this place called the Arcade. I never made it, but I've been given the impression that it was a crude mixture of the Dock with the Serpent, with lesbians. I did not dream of going there because it was the cool place to be. I dreamed of going there because it was the only place to be outside of the one sad lesbian bar and some other Golden Lions-esque creation known as Patrick's.

Yadda yadda yadda. I'm in Oxford, and I make it to Celebrity (my first gay bar) and love it. Yadda yadda yadda. I'm 19 and am in the car with two people I met on gay.com, and it's the first time I'm learning about Cincinnati.

"Northside," the older one tells me, "is in a valley between two hills -- College Hill and Clifton. It's the gayborhood, where all the gay people hang out."

He wasn't much for interesting conversation. Hey, I met him on gay.com. They rarely are.

Perhaps it's telling that my first introduction to Cincinnati's gay scene began at the Serpent at the ripe old age of 19, wasted, being tied to the cross and whipped. It also explains my distate for Jacob's -- "only prissy guys go there" -- and my long delayed time at Bullfishes -- "bar for dykes." But I remember loving the fact that I was in a gayborhood. In one block, I could do pretty much anything. I could eat White Castle (which I grew up idolizing because it was my dad's drunk food in college), I could meet gay people (and lesbians!!!), I could go volunteer somewhere (oh, boy... if only I knew then...), and I could get laid. How could I not love this?

And, later, I would learn about gay pride. My first gay pride was Cincinnati. It was lame. Some things never change.

To this day, I still love Northside. It still has that energy for me.

I'll admit it. I sometimes forget what it was like to have been in the South, and be gay. When I go home, and there's only three gay bars and almost nothing to be done ... and you bounce from bar to bar with the same people you were at the first bars with. There's no changing. There's no movement. We talk here about the same people being everywhere you go. But, here, yea, there may be the same people at Little Bit every night, but I can go down the street to Below Zero to a whole new crowd (which will be similar to the crowd from last week). That's great, and wonderful. At least if you make an ass out of yourself at Adonis (which I did this past weekend), you can leave and take the (hour-long) drive to the Dock and find people who don't know that you just fell on the dance floor and knocked some twink's drink out of their hand.

But back to Northside, because it's nothing like that (because if you did the above said thing, everyone up and down the strip will know by the time you hit the next bar).

Northside is a strange, bizarre other world. Even outside of the bars, it's still super gay. Yea, you don't see boys walking down the street hand and hand in the middle of the day (honestly, have you seen that anywhere in Cincinnati? and, really, when was the last time you walked hand-in-hand with your boyfriend? be honest...). But you have such fabulously gay friendly businesses and business owners, and to this day I am amazed by the amount of pride flags in houses.

Everyone talks about "that house on Isle of Palms with the rainbow flag" down in Charleston. Because there's only one.

Is it OUR version of Castro or Boystown? Absolutely not. But we're Cincinnati. We have to fuck it up somehow, don't we? And that's ok. That's who we are as Cincinnatians. We are a conservative city and we have a conservative gay scene.

Is it the ideal place for things like the Gay & Lesbian Community Center or Gay Pride? Absolutely not, but I can't think of much better of a place. I would like to see all that downtown, or perhaps in Over-the-Rhine, but that's just my feeling (and one that a lot of people agree with but nobody who is in a position to make those decisions, unfortunately).

Is it even a gay ghetto? Absolutely not. It's not our separatist enclave. We don't define our world or our life around it -- it would be impossible to be homonormative in Northside daily.

But it's ours, and it is what it is. I can imagine that, young gay boys here in Cincinnati, dream of going to BronZ one day. And I would have been the kid who, growing up, would have snuck off to Northside some afternoon to walk up and down the street and just feel that maybe, just maybe, I, too, was part of something bigger and gayer and somewhere closer to where I belong.

I still do, kind of.

See, late at night, when it's warm, and it's just past midnight so you have the mix of the semi-drunk smokers and the new entrants to the bars for the night, I can't help feel like I'm home in a street full of queers, passing back and forth between bars, hugging, kissing, squealing, fighting, planning, talking, smoking, and smiling. Everyone smiling, and maybe a little tipsy.

It may not be the Castro, but it's enough to feel like this is where I belong.

Barry blogs regularly over at QueerCincinnati.com, and you can follow him over at Twitter, or you can email him if you're really desperate to know the details of his life at queercincinnati@gmail.com. Thanks for reading.

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