Style and the Value of Gay Nightlife: Homonormative Placemaking in San Francisco

Another of my journal articles on San Francisco gay bars appears in the current edition of Urban Studies. My very simple point is not all gay neighborhoods are (or were) the same. The point was so simple it languished in 4 journals for 7 years, going through 9 revisions. But now it’s out – complete with maps!

Gay Bar, from Dallas Voice

Reductionist conceptions of gay nightlife and the neighbourhoods they anchor have obscured their diversity amid claims of gentrification or displacement. The divergent trajectories of San Francisco’s three gay bar districts present a natural experiment to specify the relationship between gay placemaking and urban processes. In 1999, each neighbourhood anchored distinct stylistic practices but by 2004, one had collapsed, another became stylistically mixed, while the youngest expanded and became homogenous. In that neighbourhood a particular gay style and mainstream cosmopolitanism converged, spatially institutionalising what queer theorists call ‘the new homonormativity’ comprising sexual discretion, mainstream political assimilation and boutique consumerism. Adherence to this particular gay style conferred spatial capital, allowing cosmopolitans, gay and straight, to literally ‘take place’ anywhere, while nonconformist gays lost their places. Contrary to popular and academic claims, not all gay places are associated with gentrification: homonormativity fostered gentrification from within, nonconformist gay nightlife fell victim to gentrification from without. This study thus contributes to a clearer relationship between gay men and urban revitalisation, nightlife economies, and the valuation of some forms of urban creativity and placemaking over others.

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