The year was 2000. For LGBT (Q wasn’t in at that time) POC youth from NYC, the piers was the place to be if you managed to venture out on your own. “Meet me at McDonalds” didn’t stir inquiries of location amongst my circle of friends at that time. We knew via our Tmobile sidekicks where to meet. Hours were spent walking up and down Christopher Street, landing our evenings on the grass at the piers to show off in peacock form. Velour outfits were trending because of the surprising coolness in temperature and DKNY sneakers snagged you glances from the older crowd. Names were on everything; earrings, necklaces, rings, white-t’s and even belts! Aaliyah and Jay-Z were in heavy rotation and X-Men ruled the box office. This was the 1st summer post the Y2K scare and leading up to the horrendous Bush defeat of Al Gore. People were happy to be alive. The expression of gender identity for lesbians flowed between a spectrum of hard binaries in the young POC environment. AG’s were paired with femmes and the only sight of youth drag queens came if you stayed out past 10pm, a rarity for me considering my A train commute. Androgyny was frowned upon and before someone wanted to know your name (they didn’t need to ask considering it being in plain sight as an adornment), the initial question was often “what borough are you from”?
“Free at last, thank God almighty I’m free at last!” screamed with sarcasm as embraces of love, hand holding and public kisses were exchanged with little anxiety of being heckled or beat up. I mean that literally. Back then a pair of jean shorts drew in unwanted cat calls from the opposite sex and it was not uncommon to be followed for blocks despite expressing disinterest or disgust to a suitor. Have the times changed New York?
My siblings didn’t understand why the hell I was trekking from Dyckman to West 4th so often, yet under our grandma’s summer supervision my choices reigned supreme. Their preoccupation with the freedoms that summer merits took their attention off of me long enough for my 2x’s a week travels. I was a mere 14 years old at the time with knowledge of dance clubs and bars such as Heavens, Escuelitas, Henriettas, and Cubbyhole….. The Lab, Lovergirls and Chi-Chiz weren’t too far off in the distance as places I frequented while visiting the city from college years later. This was during the era when adolescents paid for fake id’s in the village and a $20 bill could persuade a bouncer to let you in. No drugs or alcohol needed. The motive was full gay expression through the form of dance, with a specialization in battling.
Present day I enjoy reminiscing. Dance battles via boomboxes by the water were won with combinations of the heel-toe, toe-wop, bruk up and semi choreographed hand gestures that don’t hold a candle to modern day voguing. Shade was thrown during defeats, a luxury afforded because of a brick thrown by Marsha P. Johnson decades prior (RIP Queen & yes she threw the “1st brick” at Stonewall)! The piers were closed down the summer of 2001 for what would be a 2-3 year transformation that left the parade permanently rerouted with excessive police barricades. No longer were gay POC youth allowed full range to flaunt, strut and embody aspects of their gay identity openly on the waterside of the west side highway without heavy police presence. During the post-2000 parades the village was packed with generations of LGBT individuals, yet the racial divide was stark. POC’s on the piers, with the inner streets and restaurants predominately lined with gay white males. We were happy with the bare minimum of being able to safely co-exist in the space through inauthentic solidarity. That was my young reality, when my summers were spent outside of the Long Island suburbs and the embodiment of my queerness had a safe space for expression with my chosen family.
Today I get ready to attend my 1st WorldPride event, with notice of the dramatic increase in gay flags on the windows of businesses expanding outside of Chelsea. How long will they stay up? What has LGBT equity looked like post Stonewall 50 years ago? Are their individuals who identify on your colleges board, are they in supervisory positions at your place of employment, does your district council member support LGBT rights? Oh the joy of seeing yourself reflected in positions of power.
Present day the velour outfits have been donated, the name plate belts retired in my mothers basement & the light footwork gets expressed during family bbq’s and intimate gatherings. I am grateful to those who came before me, and during this part of the relay race towards LGBTQ rights I am proud to continue pushing forward for the continued progression of equality and equity for my community!
There may be a video floating around in the ether of me dancing on the stage of 106th & Park as a youngster in the aforementioned velour suit, and as the saying goes “I was killing it”. That will NEVER be shared lol but below is the 1st song I ever learned the art of footwork to thanks to the undivided attention of my older cousins and their invented dance competitions in my grandmothers living room; well synced and creative choreography with my younger family members awarded us caramels and a lifetime of hand-foot coordination. It’s inspiring that at such a young age I constantly had the message “It Takes Two” submerging itself into me! Happy Pride!