I struggle with letting go of people, places and things. When they have meant something ,it is so challenging to accept that it will never be for me what it once was. There is no truer case of this for me than Greenwich Village and the Piers. As a New Yorker born and bred, I’ve always looked at the whole city as a big ass playground to explore, to be apart of , to claim even if my claims are really in another zip code. The Village served for a huge chunk of my young life as like a second neighborhood of mine. I took myself there for the first time at age 12 and learned about the Piers as a hangout for Queer people especially us Black ones. It was a marvelous place and idea for young closeted me to know of a place that reeked of gayness, that was meant for me, that seemed to be where I’d belong. I reflect on that time with the amazement I do sometimes of looking back on younger me and wondering how so many bad endings were spared for me. To be young and usually always alone exploring and looking and wanting all the adult things. To be a young gay Black boy is to always be on your own in so many respects. You have no one to really turn to about sex, about identity , there is no safety in expressing one’s self and you realize “kid” or “teenage” spaces are not for you.
In the Village I saw hordes of young Black gays out having fun, meeting lovers and friends, I saw voguing and learned lingo. I absorbed the style and the attitude and the culture of Black queerness. It was in the Village that I had my first kiss, the first time a guy picked me up and introduced me to love making. It was being desired and chased and loving it . It was the antidote to all the dates I never had and the proms I never went to. In the Village, I didn’t wear any of the straight caricature that I needed to navigate my Harlem and Stamford worlds. It was in the Village that I got in touch with my femininity and accepted the burgeoning young woman that I couldn’t run from. It was all of these things and the masses of Black gay men and lesbians and black transwomen who dominated Christopher street and made me feel in the chaos of NYC that I had a place of my own. It became the place where ideas about gayness and transness and Black gayness and Black transness were honed and nurtured. I look back on it now with this realization that our “community” while centered in a place only existed for the people who all lived outside of the Village. But somehow down there away from the mean Harlem, Bronx and Brooklyn streets we became our Black rainbow.
A recent trip down there has solidified for me what I’d known for a while but that I hated to accept. The Village for my community and the Village of my youth is gone. I blame at once gentrification, the influx and expansion of NYU, GRINDR and all these other apps and the accompanying heavy police presence that has always threatened our community. I was shocked walking down Christopher how dark the streets had gotten and how whiter and straighter it got. The Pier’s legendary Saturday ki-kis were gone. There was no voguing. There was no trade. There were no transwomen or drag queens. I hadn’t seen a fem agress or AG in sight. Instead it was mostly white and mostly NYU esque and there were families with small kids. And I felt terribly alone and old because the Vill that I thought I’d see. The Vill I held on to in spirit and whose memory still propels me everyday to be the proudest, fiercest Black transwoman I can be was no longer there in the flesh. My Village died. It’s one of those things about gentrification that I don’t think the newcomers get or even care to. It’s that when they come into a space they always colonize it, they always change it and destroy what already was. They make the space uninhabitable and through force and power push people out and away. It never exists peacefully. Two neighborhoods in one is a farce. A place has to reflect its people. The history and culture of these areas serve as a bloodline in certain extents. I find as a Black transgender woman in NYC that I have no physical spaces. I have no areas of the city where my kind congregate in culture and for support. I find that there will always be this colonization that happens for our spaces. It makes you wonder though what’s supposed to happen to the conquered people? Where are we to go when you come in and take what little we have? And I realize that while the Village wasn’t ours from a residential or property right’s perspective it was ours in a historical , social and cultural perspective. Much the same, like my native Harlem another conquered community that once proudly boasted and enriched our Black American culture.
I’m gonna work on acknowledging and accepting change. After all such is life and things have to change, evolve , be reborn. That doesn’t mean I have to like it or even respect it. It just means a more purposeful remembering, it means honoring the history through memory. It’s by seeing the rainbow flags and the the benches and the beautiful NYC and NJ skyline and irrespective all the newcomers ,knowing this place was once mine. And who I was and am owes credit to my Village. They can never take away what it once was for me and I’ll never ever forget.