Sunday, October 4, 2009

Where the 'Boys' Are?

A news story (which should not have been news in the first place but that's another matter altogether) contained the term "Boystown" in its lede, to refer to the North Side neighborhood in Chicago that is the hub of the city's (and dare I say the Midwest's) gay community.

I cringed, groaned and wished for a reason to update the story so that I could change "Boystown" to "Lakeview neighborhood," which it should have been. I can't stand that term, "Boystown." I have hated it since I was a young Leftie rabble rouser in college, when I first heard it used by a well-meaning fellow Leftie at a conference of Lefties at a Midwestern college. (That in itself was something, actually, with the GLBTs in one room and the non-gays -- at the time at least -- in another, and I think the point of the session was to figure out how to be more GLBT-sensitive and inclusive, etc.) One of the leaders of the group in the non-gay room (yes, that's where I was) tried to explain to the other Midwesterners how things were in Chicago, and led off by saying, "In Chicago, we've got a neighborhood called 'Boystown,' ..." That in itself made me want to run straight into the gay room.

The term has, to the best of my memory, been used casually, as a nickname, but never officially, and never as something that would appear in a newspaper (or news Web site). But lately use of the term has grown, I've noticed, and its become a de facto designation of the area. And, for the most part, I hate it. I hate it mainly because it reduces a group of people to mascots and circus clowns, as it every gay was "Jack" from "Will and Grace." Bestowing such a term on a neighborhood allows others to look at and treat its residents like children, and not adults. We don't use terms like "Jew Town" to refer to certain neighborhoods anymore -- and that is a good thing -- so why do people use a term like this? To show how cool or "with it" or not square they are? Puh-lease.

I realize that neighborhoods have often been referred to by the national origins of its residents, such as Little Italy or Greektown, etc., but none of these have the connotation of "Boystown." When you refer to people as "boys," you dismiss them as not worthy of the adult table, and deserving only of a ghetto. When you say Chelsea or The VIllage or The Castro to identify a neighborhood, you and the person you're addressing have an idea of what the demographic makeup of the residents is, so you don't need to use an insulting term such as "Boystown." If someone in Chicago really wants to make sure someone else realizes that the area they're talking about is the "gay" area, why not just say "Halsted Street," or "North Halsted," and then, "nudge, nudge, say no more, you know what I mean???"

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