UPDATED WITH CONTENT NOTE.
[CONTENT NOTE: transphobia, othering of sex workers. This post contains a phrase many trans* people and sex workers find objectionable: “tranny hooker.” At the time it was written we were unaware of the problematic nature of the phrase, and sincerely apologize for any harm we caused. We have since endeavored to permanently delete the term from our vocabulary. This post remains here as both a stinging reminder for ourselves and as a signpost for others of how blind we can be to our own privilege, and that being an ally is a process that requires an ongoing commitment to listening and learning. Again, we offer our deepest regrets.]
It takes a lot to stand out in my neighborhood. I say this with undying affection and admiration for the astounding human diversity that is the hallmark of New York City in general, and the West Village in particular. The old timers here, those fortunate few who somehow survived the AIDS epidemic, talk of the days when the West Village was a thriving gay enclave. And it still is to some degree, although gentrification over the last few decades coupled with the AIDS crisis before that conspired to shift Manhattan’s epicenter of gay culture to neighborhoods North, like Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen. (Gay Sex in the 70s is a fascinating documentary of life in the West Village during the extraordinary years between the Stonewall riots in 1969 and the AIDS epidemic hitting New York around 1981.)
I want to tell you about the women here.
These days, there are more strollers on the streets than gay bars. But upon closer inspection, those strollers are quite a marvel to behold: infants of every ethnicity on earth, each being pushed along by a parent or nanny of a different ethnicity, more often than not. There are big old dykes as butch as they come, and pretty young lesbians ambling along arm in arm. There is my neighbor Denise, an elderly Section 8 housing tenant, whose husband John is funny, frail, and very sick.
Professional women abound: lawyers, bankers, executives, in designer suits and expensive heels. Models and actresses abound too, some famous (Gisele Bundchen, Sarah Jessica Parker, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Molly Shannon live here) and some just getting by. Dog walkers with pink hair. Asian women working at dozens of nail salons. Tattooed bartenders. Preppy NYU students. Police women from the 6th Precinct. Irish immigrants waiting tables in Irish pubs. Mexican and Russian immigrants who clean apartments and do laundry for a living. Stunning drag queens. (And if you’re out late enough, stunning tranny hookers.) Well dressed elderly women teetering on walkers, with health aides for companions. The homeless. Realtors clutching keys and printouts, schlepping their clients around. Joggers and bicyclists, who somehow find the will to jog and bike no matter the weather. Artists. Writers. Women in wheelchairs. Aging hippies with flowing gray hair. Very good veterinarians. Young activists armed with with clipboards, seeking signatures and donations for this or that cause. Famous fashion designers.
This is why I say it takes a lot to stand out in this neighborhood. Living here is like gazing at a well-stocked salt water aquarium: each fish is so uniquely dazzling that the overall effect is mesmerizing. That’s why I am struck by the irony of what it actually does take for a woman to stand out here: disappearing.
Woman in burqa, Christopher & Greenwich Sts. May 2011