While back in Chicago for a friend’s wedding, writer Oscar Raymundo witnessed the city’s gay community conflicted over at-risk youth and the violence brought upon Boystown. It got him thinking about getting older, the stability of settling down, and what it means to make a family of one’s own. He shares his experience a three-part travelogue. [Read the first installment].
“Can you believe they’re getting married?” Mo sat next to me in the sun-stroked patio of a bar overlooking Montrose beach.
“Actually,” I sipped my second pint of 312. The temperature was hovering in the high 90s, with the heat index somewhere close to hellish. “Yes.”
The couple had met during our freshman year at Northwestern and they had gotten engaged the night before graduation. Them together was the closest thing I had ever know to a “meant to be.” And I’ve always been told that people who were meant to be… were meant to be married.
“I can’t even imagine moving in with my boyfriend,” another friend said. “I just need to be away from him sometimes; I need my space.”
“Moving in with someone doesn’t mean spending every waking moment with them,” I said. We sat in silence for a second, thinking back to all the friends we had lost to love.
“No,” Mo said. “But that what it ends up becoming.”
“Why?” I asked, almost whining.
“That just how the cookie crumbles,” she said and looked away. Or, in this case, the wedding cake.
I met my friend Craig Seymour, author of All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington D.C., at a new bar in Boystown. Elixir Lounge with its model décor and shirted bartenders has been billed a classier alternative to Hydrate next door, though the bars share an owner. A former editor now working at Eater.com recommended Elixir, with its sitting room-only policy. Because nothing says “hotspot” like a waiting list.
“I live just around the block, and to me it boils down to safety,” Craig said in regards to the violence in Boystown.
According to Craig, at the town hall meeting where the stabbing was first addressed, things got heated, the racial tension toughened by unsolvable issues. “Someone even began quoting To Kill a Mockingbird,” he said. “It was ridiculous.”
To alleviate the fear felt by Boystown business owners and residents (some a part of the Take Boystown Back group), more police presence was arranged. But three cops walking almost hand-in-hand down Halsted at 7pm is not as effective as one cop surveying the entire area at four.
“Boystown used to be a safe-area, not anymore,” Jeffrey, the bartender in a fitted black shirt, butted in. This topic has become so controversial in the community that anyone with a passionate response (just about anyone who has ever been to Boystown) feels the need to interject whenever the conversation is overheard. We didn’t mind, however, for Jeffrey was absolutely dreamy.
I asked him what sort of trouble these kids were causing, besides, of course, the obvious stabbings. But besides the few and isolated yet much-covered instances of assault with a deadly weapon, the major extent of typical, mostly non-violent disruptions took place in the form of loitering outside of Steamworks, the infamous sex club complex.
After a couple whiskey cocktails, I walked up to meet the rest of the wedding party for late night food. D.S Tequila is also relatively new in Boystown, and plays on the old assumption that Mexican food is best when shitfaced. We sat as Shane from the Road Rules served us nachos. Shortly after, I got word that a bunch of people were going to Cellblock for dollar drinks, so we went.
I had never been to Cellblock while an undergrad. The dive bar kept my gay friends entertained with a whole wall playing gay porn videos; my straight friends kept themselves occupied with the wii play pad. One of the bridesmaids couldn’t get enough of the gay porn though. My friend Jordan introduced me to a kid I went to school with but never talked to. We might have met, but I don’t remember.
Jordan mentioned how all his friends, six or seven guys total, had agreed to meet at Cellblock through Twitter. No texts were sent, let alone phone calls, just public broadcast of one’s chosen location. Meet the Real Gay Twitter Mafia of Chicago.
We ended the night at Berlin, the eclectic danceclub further down on Belmont. As we trespassed through Boystown, a friend mentioned how the north side of Halsted had a more authentic, gritty, queer feel to it; whereas the south with its tourist trap-like restaurants and elixir-serving minibars felt a little co-opted, if not completely corrupted, by the mainstream.
That is until you get to Belmont, of course.
Berlin was hosting a fundraising party for About Face Theatre, which most recently put on The Homosexuals. “The play is an exploration of friendship through the lens of sex,” the writer of the play told Time Out Chicago. “It’s about friends who fuck.”
I could never fuck my friends, not that I haven’t tried. I’m not the type who minds using the same fork for my salad and my pancakes (yes, I eat salad before pancakes), but there is something about compartmentalizing my relationships that gives me stability: college roommates, writing buddies, professional acquaintances, Twitter friends, best friends, boyfriends, fiancé. Mingling things seems likely to lead to a tangled mess, with all those pesky human follies such as jealousy, miscommunication, and rejection.
If everyone knows exactly what specific expectation to fulfill as part of your emotional support, how can you be let down? Well, having grown distant from steady paramours in the area, I found myself suddenly being let down by fuck buddies at Berlin. I took a cab back to the Allegro, where Mo and I were now staying. The rehearsal dinner was the following day, and I needed to recuperate. Who could forgive themselves to let the bride down?
[Check back to read the third and final installment. In the meantime, if you want to read an explicit, unedited version of this travelogue,click here].
(Photo by Julie Michelle)