By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
A bitter wind whips off the Bronx River, spinning loose trash through the desolate streets below the Bruckner Expressway. The prospect of finding anyone out in this industrial area at 3 a.m. seems remote. Yet here, on the corner of 140th Street and Walton Avenue, huddles a crowd 300 strong. The throng is waiting to slide $20 through a slit in a scratched-up bulletproof window and enter the warehouse, a club that even its promoters call a well-kept secret. This fact suits the mood of the place, which is located in an old Fieldstone building once owned by the gangster Dutch Schultz. During prohibition days, Schultz ran numbers in Harlem and monopolized bootleg beer in the Bronx. Among the first of the mobsters with a fondness for newspaper ink, Schultz changed the tilt of his name (he was born Arthur Flegenheimer) and the cut of his wardrobe to fit the profile of a natty thug.
The symmetry's accidental, of course, but the men on line outside Warehouse are also thugzand the z is no typo. In place of fedoras and spats, they're wearing do-rags and XXX FUBU jackets. Instead of double-breasted worsteds, they sport gold caps and platinum necklaces heavy as bike chains. Their bandannas are knotted sideways in the manner of the One Eight Trey Bloods. Their shoes are Timberlands or the neonerd Wallabies. Their trousers are army fatigues worn so outrageously big they slide off the wearers' hips. If the clubgoers' mode can be loosely classified as thug stylethat is, a harder, more gangsta-identified version of standard urban wearit's the appropriate look for a nine-hour hip-hop party at the largest gay club in the borough and, for tonight at least, the city's largest gathering of homo thugz.
Homo thugz? Doesn't everybody know that hip-hop hates faggots? The lyrics, at least, have never been ambiguous on queer status in the hip-hop nation. "Rrrrrr arf arf what the deal," rhymed DMX in "Get at Me Dog." "Well in the back wit ya faggot ass face down. Lucky that you breathin' but you dead from the waist down." DMX has hardly been a lone voice speaking rhymes that, when they don't offhandedly insult homosexuals, often "openly advocate violence against gay people," as the compilers of Web site Da.Dis.List. make plain. Hip-hop has long had a field day with the specter of the faggot, from Mase's reflexive posturing on Harlem World("I'll be lacin' em, hollow tips, I be wastin' em. That's what you faggots get, tryin' to fuck with Mase and 'em") to Snoop Doggy Dogg's Iron John whimper on Love's Gonna Getcha ("I can't believe that dog would dis me. That faggot, that punk, piss on that sissy") to the Notorious B.I.G.'s limp but bilious rhymes from the grave. In the hip-hop hierarchy, the faggot is the un-man: passive, disempowered, he's down in the gutter with the bitches and 'hos. By faggot is meant, of course, the girlie manwho vogues in his spare time, worships the anthemic divas, and takes it up the keister when he isn't giving head in a local park.
"A lot of people don't like faggots," explains clubgoer Craig Henderson. "There are all these myths about faggots being soft and feminine, like you're lacy and wear chiffon and listen to Barbra Streisand. Straight-up homies, niggaz, and thugz can do what they want. You can walk through projects and be gay. But you can't walk through the project and be a faggot, because that's when they'll mock and harass."
Upstairs in the two-story Warehouse is a dance floor, a stage, and a lounge with islands of boxy seating and carpet-covered banquettes. The long wood island-bar is lit by fake Tiffany lamps and Christmas bulbs; at one side of the lounge is a food concession, Junior's Hotpot, where patrons can buy chicken wings and collard greens as well as beeper lighters and laser key chains. Junior, who also goes by the name of Lester Richards, is a veteran of New York's underground black gay scene, from the storied Paradise Garage to such louche bars as Jay's and Better Days. "It's a whole change in how people are seeing gay men," says Richards. "A lot of straight men see gay men as strictly a sex object. There's a guy that works here who's straight, and he thinks people are gonna jump across the counter to get him. I told him it's not like that. It's not like we're all sex perpetrators or femmes. Around my way, they call me a homo thug. It's a style thing, like you're not putting your business in the street. You're gay but you keep it on the d.l."
There are those who'd suggest that the subterranean culture of the d.l., or "down low," has not just glamorized canine behavior in heterosexual men but has served to recloset gay men of color. They point to alarming CDC statistics demonstrating disproportionately elevated rates of HIV infection in the black and Latino communities. They cite the difficulties of tracking viral vectors among men who have sex with men who don't identify as gay. "Gay culture is a misnomer," as hip-hop producer Matt Wobensmith once remarked. "There isn't just one gay culture. Gay white people tend to privilege homosexuality as their identity, whereas other people have to juggle several identities." According to Wobensmith, this makes it harder for blacks to come out, especially black males.