Up From RuPaul

In Search of Homo Harlem—and a New Black Gay Reality

Much has changed in the 16 years since Baldwin gave that interview. But as the current stereotypes about black gay life attest, the ignorance persists—from Harlem to Chelsea. "The gay world as such is no more prepared to accept black people than anywhere else in society," Baldwin explained. "It's a very hermetically sealed world, with very unattractive features, including racism."

Then, too, Harlem is less embracing of sexual diversity. Straights are less likely to socialize in gay-friendly venues, while black gay men are more likely to march in the Chelsea parade. That's largely why the spaces Wilson remembers from his gallivanting days don't exist in Harlem today. They all disappeared with the rise of gay liberation, so that, by the 1970s, all that was left was the Mt. Morris Baths.

But even without spaces to meet in, there is a rich gay life uptown—and some people like it that way. "Harlem has a kind of social network that goes unseen to a lot of people," explains Kevin McGruder, executive director of Gay Men of African Descent, who has lived in the neighborhood for years. "We know each other, and we know where to go. But people on the outside, if they're looking for a Christopher Street up here, they're not going to find it. That may change, but I think people would really be ambivalent about whether that's something that they want."

Dave Wilson as a young man at the keys: ‘‘There’s no place here where we all sit down together. Every-thing’s changed.’’
photo: courtesy of Michael Adams and David Wilson
Dave Wilson as a young man at the keys: ‘‘There’s no place here where we all sit down together. Every-thing’s changed.’’

Which leaves the world celebrating RuPaul and Blatino porn stars, but ignorant of all the shades of black gay life in between.


For information about Michael Henry Adams's tour of homo Harlem, call 212-426-5757.


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