Monday, January 28, 2008

It Takes a Village, People.

With the dawn of a new year comes a renewed sense of purpose. Or at least that's what my therapist says. So I'm taking the Supergay Detroit blog and expanding its scope.

The holiday San Francisco trip was important in many ways. First off, caught up on shopping. Secondly, reaffirmed gay solidarity. And thirdly, realized how much living in Detroit is working for me.

It also gave me a chance to discuss my personal gay agenda and my objectives for this blog with friends who agree with me on key points about our gay identities, and to look at ideas to effect greater change.

One friend, over dinner at the
hipsteriest East German restaurant ever, asked me, "How many gay people do you need to move downtown to create a difference?" Isn't that a good question? Thirty, I replied. Thirty this year. And then he said, "You need to create the Supergay Detroit Cultural Enhancement Program."

It was genius. I wish I could take credit for the idea, but in reality I am outspoken but stupid.

So this year, in addition to
social commentary, bar reviews, and timewasting youtubing, I am working to create gay change in the city of Detroit. This year, we are going to get thirty new gay people into three key neighborhoods with great gay potential.

Here are the guidelines:

* The goal is new gay residents - we're not poaching from other Detroit neighborhoods. Let's get people who "get it" to move in from the suburbs, and let's snag people moving in from other cities before they are unceremoniously directed toward Royal Oak by their relocation expert.

* We need gay folks who will be publicly engaged with the community - the goal here is visibility, gang, so gays who want to stay home all the time might as well nest in Brighton. We need gays and lesbians who will be out and about. Singles are great, since they are forced out of the house by their desperate loneliness, but couples who want to do more than watch "Lost" snuggled up on the sofa each week are also needed. This is more than hanging out at the bar, it's being gay at the Y, at restaurants, with community groups ... it's being a part of life in the city.

* Newly-hatched gay people who already live in the city count too! Everyone knows Michigan isn't the most evolved place in terms of accepting gays and lesbians, so it tends to take some people longer than others to pull it together and come out of the closet. Instead of shunning these folks, we need to reward their honesty (while secretly recounting their closeted foibles) and make them a part of gay Detroit. And encourage their move to a designated potential gayborhood!

Naturally, Supergay Detroit has taken the time to identify three neighborhoods with amazing gay potential. If you've been a longtime reader then you know my take on
gayborhoods. The areas I've selected have hit the mark on several key points, including a moderate gay presence currently, a variety of housing options, geographic desirability and potential for improvement on an individual resident level.

I have selected Midtown (for those skewing young), Lafayette Park (for the more sophisticated and mature gay) and West Village (frankly, for everyone) as Detroit's future gay neighborhoods. I'll take an in-depth look at these neighborhoods over the next few posts.

So these guidelines aren't that hard, are they? It's just about openly gay people moving into neighborhoods with amazing gay potential.

Your goal, gentle reader, is to encourage gay migration to these areas. And it won't be hard. People are tired of the generic homogeneity of Royal Oak. And they are getting frustrated by the lack of options in Ferndale. Detroit is the new gay frontier, (even though it's alway had a huge gay undercurrent), and I am all about pointing out options.

This is the foundation of the 2008 Supergay Detroit Cultural Enhancement Program. I strongly believe change starts from the ground up, so everyone stop waiting for leadership to text you an invitation and accept this one instead. Creating change is our gay birthright, so let's get to it!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Flamer on Park Ave.

Among the beautiful things of being downtown is the gift of the unexpected. For example, when I went to the Park Bar tonight for what I assumed would be a quiet meeting of friends, it turned out to be the insane pre-party for the Lenny Kravitz concert at the Filmore (f.k.a. State Theater).

And then, for some reason, some guy starts spinning fire and another guy starts playing the didgeridoo outside Park Bar/Cliff Bell's on Park Avenue. I don't know how and I don't know why, but I know it brought me joy.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Is it Inn yet?

As you may or may not be aware, Eastern Market on a Saturday morning is a gay hotspot in the city of Detroit. You get queers of every stripe bustling around, picking up gastronomic delights or just getting a high-calibre hangover cure (bacon or a bloody) at one of the many great breakfast spots in the market. It's great to walk around the market just for the people watching - the hot farmer boys, the cactus lady who looks like a drag queen (haven't seen her in a while, though, is she still around?), gay couples galore, and even a tranny once last fall! You may be able to guess how much that thrilled me.

Many people argue about "the best breakfast" in the Market, with Russell Street Deli being the popular choice for many. You will see gays lined up to grab eats there any Saturday. And while it is great, it's always packed, and after you wait in line you have to share a table with people cafeteria-style. Now I'm down with that at the Hudson hotel in Manhattan, but I get less thrilled when I have to share a table with a seven year old. I have a filthy mouth.

Popular doesn't always mean best (ref: high school), so I've turned my sights elsewhere, and discovered possibly the gayest spot in the Market.

Butcher's Inn is located at 1489 Winder, just across the street from R. Hirt. While not a gay restaurant per se, it is gay-owned, and if the waiters the last time I was there aren't gay then I need a gaydar tune-up. But even when the staff isn't gay, the attitude pretty much is. I mean, you've got your Between the Lines right inside the door and everything. The current ownership reopened it last year after an extensive renovation. Gay gentrification is best when it serves booze.

Still might be considered a whorehouse,
depending on which one of you shows up.

The place is pretty cool inside, all historic 'n' shit. First of all, points because it used to be a whorehouse. Second of all, there is a ton of very fun ye olde Detroit memorabilia on the walls, and not in a typical Detroit memorabilia kind of way. For instance, minimal sporting references - that turns me on.

On a recent Saturday morning visit we didn't have to wait for a table and our cute gay (probably) waiter was like "bloody mary?" right away. We weren't drinking, but that didn't stop him from offering a bloody mary every time he stopped by the table. That also turns me on. He was fun and personable and Detroity and great, and you know it's always better when you have a good server.

But really the best thing there is the food, though. It comes out pretty quickly, which is great on a Saturday morning, and as far as my untrained palate can tell it's fresh and tasty. Most of the stuff is from the Market area. The thing that really blew me away the first time I went was how good their sausage was - um, it turned me on. But seriously, it's really really good, and when even the rye toast is impressive, you know you've hit a winner.

I have never been there for dinner, but they do stay open in the evenings. Open mic nights and live music potentially make it less appealing from a gay perspective, but certainly not from a general person perspective. To their great credit they started having a gay night on Mondays last year, but it fizzled out before I could get there. Eh bien. Mondays are hard, and word of mouth isn't always the fastest advertising.

The clientele each time I've been there has also had gay representation (aside from me), and it tends to be a little less Royal Oak gays and more like East English Village gay types. And that turns, well, you know.

So let the suburban gays follow the crowd to Russell Street - you head over to Butcher's Inn and have a real gay Market day.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hawkins Ferry: The Original A-Gay

In the grand pantheon of Supergay Heroes, one stands higher than the others. W. Hawkins Ferry, who died twenty years ago this month, was born to Detroit royalty and lived a life that was not only seventeen kinds of fabulous, it left a legacy that is felt widely through the area to this day. He was the original Detroit A-Gay.

The appropriately-named Ferry is best known for writing the definitive book on Detroit architecture, The Buildings of Detroit. Long out of print (it was published in 1968 with an update done in 1980), this book throws local architecture buffs and Detroit lovers into a frenzy. Some consider finding a copy of this book a Detroit rite of passage, although it really only usually takes a trip to John King books.

While “the book” is his claim to fame among the hoi polloi, the cognoscenti know he is a major figure in Detroit’s cultural history. An heir to the Ferry Seed Company fortune, he came from a long family tradition of arts appreciation and philanthropy - his grandfather, Dexter M. Ferry, was one of the founding fathers of the
Detroit Institute of Arts. Hawkins himself was a trustee of the DIA from 1960 to his death, and sat on the Collector’s Committee, the group that decides on art acquisitions for the museum. He was also president of the Friends of Modern Art for years. He attended Cranbrook and was a Harvard-trained architect and architectural historian who studied under the Bauhaus greats Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer.

Hawkins Ferry was by all accounts a “confirmed bachelor,” and his sexual preference was generally known if not openly discussed. Genteel and well-mannered, he was a fixture in Grosse Pointe society, but notably did not marry and succumb to the phenomenon we now know as
Grosse Pointe Gay. Snaps for Hawkins! From the 1940’s through the 1980’s he participated in the conservative worlds of philanthropy and society not just as a fringe character, but as a major player. Being gay was not super cool then like it is now, but he had money, education, pedigree (don’t pretend it doesn’t matter), taste, access, and drive.

As a patron of the arts, Ferry amassed an impressive collection of Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist art, which he bought for his own enjoyment and for the purpose of donating to the DIA. He bought all the great 20th century modern artists: Picasso, Calder, Arp, Maholy-Nagy, Leger, Miro, Giaocametti, and Rauschenberg, among others. In his
New York Times obituary Jan van der Marck, the DIA’s curator of 20th century art at the time, said, “He bought more ambitiously than the curators dared to propose.” Over the years he donated an entire collection to the DIA - which was the subject of an exhibit in 1987 and a book by Wayne State University Press - with the rest of his personal collection given to the museum after his death. His gifts to the DIA form the core of their modern collection today.

He also left an architectural legacy, most notably bringing modernist master Marcel Breuer to Grosse Pointe to build their Central Library branch in the late 1940’s. (Once upon a time modern wasn’t a dirty word in the land of
Lilly Pulitzer.) He even threw in a Calder mobile as a gift with purchase. This building was added to the endangered modernist building list last year when the GP library board announced plans to raze the building and construct a new building with more space. There is a great write-up about the effort to save the building and some additional pictures here, and it appears the building has been issued a reprieve. Grosse Pointers may not like modern, but they like being called cultural Neanderthals even less.

A rare modernist moment in Grosse Pointe.

Ferry constructed the ultimate bachelor pad on the water in Grosse Pointe Shores. He hired William Kessler to build an International Style villa to use for entertaining and showcasing his art. One architecture expert and three martini lunch companion places it among Kessler’s best work, and attributes that to Ferry’s involvement, saying, “it affirms Hawkins Ferry as the Harvard-trained architect who was very much aware of the International Style as it was coming of age.” It actually might be for sale right now – in foreclosure maybe? – I can’t remember, but one person I was discussing it with said it really can only be the house of a rich gay man – it’s all parties and art and glamour. I’d look into it but it would put me just a bit too close to my parents. Not that I don’t love them to death.

A relatively unattractive photo of an extremely attractive staircase. See this and other photos
from the house's recent real estate listing by following the link in the comments section.

"Have a seat next to the Giacometti."

I do know that a large installation by Harry Bertoia that was left to the DIA but remained in situ under an agreement with a subsequent homeowner was recently removed for restoration and ultimate reinstallation in the DIA. Also, word is the house is starting to show some signs of its age. But man, talk about the ultimate gay fixer upper! And mere footfalls away from the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club for booze and food and tennis to boot! True urban living.

There are a few other bits of the Hawkins Ferry legacy that do not get their own paragraph but warrant mentioning. He endowed a position at the Wayne State University College of Fine, Performing & Communication Arts, the W. Hawkins Ferry Chair in Modern & Contemporary Art History. He was a major part of the “Art in the Stations” commission during the construction of the
Detroit People Mover in the ‘80’s, and in fact the Pewabic Pottery mosaic in the Times Square station is dedicated to him. And finally you must know that while Hawkins was apparently not overtly gay acting in any way, his sister’s nickname was “Queenie.” Queenie Ferry! It’s too much.

In Honor of W. Hawkins Ferry: I guess it's the thought that counts.

I have no idea what his private social life was like, although surely he had his straight friends in GP (who doesn't?). I do know that later on in life he had other gay friends through his work at the DIA and with the arts in Michigan. Naturally I know absolutely nothing about his personal life except that if he had any kind of life partner thing going on nobody I talked to knew anything about it.

I always imagined Ferry would travel to see his gay friends in other cities around the world, and he’d have small exquisitely-appointed dinner parties at his house with the crème-de-la-crème of gay society and possibly a barefoot manservant like in “The Birdcage.” It was the fifties and sixties and seventies and there had to be this secret world of A-gays where a shopping weekend in Paris was always an option, as long as you weren’t busy escorting a Grosse Pointe blue hair to a charity gala. And then during the week it was meetings and planning and doing things to make the area just a little more amazing – at a time when there was money and growth and jobs and a touch more optimism.

Here is a man who had the best American education, met the world’s greatest modern architects, collected amazing art, built a gorgeous modern house, brought world-class architecture to his hometown, wrote the bible of local architectural history, was deeply involved with the area’s premiere cultural institution and had the means to inject more fabulous into his life anytime he wanted if somehow he found it lacking. Most importantly, he did not buy into a fully closeted life at a time when gay lib did not yet even exist. I think it’s funny I never picked up on the gay thing with him until someone told me, but it all makes so much sense.

Hawkins Ferry might not have been thrilled about a big Supergay writeup about his life, but we live in such different times now and I think it’s important to shed light on the contributions that gay people have made and continue to make to life in Detroit. It is fantastic that, in an area where there are few gay role models, we can point to a gay man who did so much, well, gay good stuff, and who did it right and did it with class. That’s a real gay hero.

Remember how cute Jonathan Richman was?

He just popped up on my iTunes. The original hipster.

What was that about a "little dinosaur"?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Gay Trash

There has been follow-up from the San Francisco visit. A third party forwarded the following email to the friends I was visiting the day after my departure ...

Dear Mrs. Kravitz,

I was walking my dog (and minding my own business) and couldn't help but notice what was in your neighbor's recycling bin. Who do they think they are: Lindsay Lohan? How can they live on Fresca, Diet Red Bull, Veuve Cliquot, Ghiradelli Chocolates and Pellegrino? Is this some kind of Gay holiday diet?

It's as small a gay town as our very own Detroit, it seems. Or at least as nosy.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Simply Sandra

The centerpiece of the Supergay Holiday Getaway was New Year’s Eve … Sandra Bernhard at the historic Castro Theater. Goin' gay all the way into 2008!

Sandy has been near and dear to my heart since the summer of ’89, when I somehow picked up the cassette of her one-woman show “
Without You I’m Nothing” at Tower Records while on a summer internship in Washington, DC (unfortunately that was the extent of my picking up that summer). It was a new kind of comedy, unlike anything else I’d encountered before – that emotive, evocative, intellectual storytelling where the point was to engage as well as entertain. It changed my life! And it changed the life of my friends at college the following year as we made it the soundtrack of our late-night drives to Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester, Mass.

A scene from "Without You I'm Nothing," the movie.

Over the years Sandra wore many faces …

Madonna’s BFF, Madonna’s ex-BFF, angry ambiguous lesbian, angry affirmed lesbian ... she carved out her own niche in the world of comedy cabaret and she owned it. At a show during the Ann Arbor Summer Festival back in ’05 (never underestimate the power of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival), where she was fine-tuning her upcoming show and return to excellence “Everything Bad & Beautiful,” she had transformed into a mature woman open about her sexuality, speaking about her girlfriend and daughter, proclaiming her opinions about the world in which we live, and still being outrageous and touching and sexy. Has a woman with less to offer aesthetically ever been so confident in her sexual appeal? Other than your whorey mom, I say no.

Sandra live is not quite the same as Sandra on tape. She gets angry. She tells screaming fans in the audience to shut up ...

“Sandra!!!!” they screamed.

“That isn’t pretty” she replied.

She occasionally lets her rants get the best of her, but always in that jaded, put-out kind of way that makes it seem like your sister bitching. Seeing her be annoyed is half the fun.

Naturally, Sandra had something to say about the gays … “You used to be out partying all night, and now you’re moving to the suburbs” she said with a sneer to the crowd of gays in their 40’s and 50’s . She talked about the drift toward conformity, here in the gay ghetto that once represented the exact opposite. And where was the spirit of
Sylvester in the gay world today? (As if to confirm that absence, after the show one of the guys I was there with asked who Sylvester was. Seriously!) The crowd chuckled, of course, but the truth of that did hit a little close to home, as evidenced by conversations overheard after the show.

It wasn’t all politics and annoyance, though. Sandy entertained and interpreted songs her way, starting with “U and UR Hand” by Pink, singing an homage to the San Francisco of old, and ending the night with her now-classic interpretation of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette.”

She doesn’t always win fans with her shows, but if you don’t mind a little confrontation, then there is no better entertainment than Sandra Bernhard. She will confront you and comfort you at the same time, and for the gay community, there is no one better at truly reflecting the cultural zeitgeist than our own Sandy.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

How Gay Are You?

Do you lay awake at night, plagued with self-doubt about whether or not you are gay enough? Do you hesitate to approach friends, family or even strangers on the street to inquire, fearing the news that you do not live fabulously enough in this world?

Well fear no more, there is now a simple test to determine your level of gaiety in the privacy of your own home. Try the Gay-O-Meter today!

My shameful results. I will be working to improve my gayness in 2008.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

San Fran Epiphany

I’m quite happy in Detroit, but sometimes I just want to be around some gays. OK not some gays, a lot of gays. I want to see them in restaurants, I want to see them shopping, I want to see them meandering from bar to bar. I want to see them walking dogs and hosting dinner parties and working out and grocery shopping. Not one or two gays, but gangles of them. I want to hear Bronski Beat while shopping at Bloomingdale's and discussions of Broadway musicals while reading the paper at a coffeeshop. I want the full immersion program. So I went to San Francisco for New Year’s. And of course SF did not disappoint.

I stayed with two great friends in their tony digs near the Castro. Unlike other visits, this trip was very much about entertaining at home, which was appropriate for the holidays (as well as for the really crappy weather we had), so the visit wasn’t a booze-fueled bar crawl like a holiday at home would have been. Instead, it was a bit like living everyday life in the city, if you lived there and didn’t need to have a job (which is my dream).

I don’t need to recount the obvious joys of San Francisco, mosey out there and check it out yourself. While certainly gentrified to the gills in its post-dot-com way, it still maintains vestiges of it’s boho charm.
Reports of an invasion by the stroller set notwithstanding, the Castro remains a thriving and vibrant gayborhood (if quite a bit more upwardly-mobile than my first visit fifteen years ago). It’s literally gay people everywhere you go, an experience I always find a little jarring at first.

It was great to be around so many gays near my age. In Detroit there is a real tendency for guys in their 30’s and 40’s to stay firmly rooted in the OC, or to leave. There is a bit of a lost generation of gays in the Detroit area, where a large portion of the gays born from, say, 1960 to 1975 have moved on to the gay centers of the country. SF, being one of those centers, has every color of the gay rainbow represented: twinks, hipsters, circuit boys, porn stars, bears, guppies, silver foxes, drag queens, leather queens … you get the idea. Oddly, lesbians aren’t that visible here, just like almost everyplace else I’ve ever lived (except Ann Arbor). I swear, they have a secret network of burrows so they can move around unseen.

Near the end of my stay I heard a few stories from long-time residents about how the city was ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. The large beautiful park in the fancy neighborhood my friends live in used to be a haven for drug users and gay cruising.

Buena Vista Park is now for doggies, not druggies or daddies.

In the same area very nice homes used to be quite rundown. One guy related a story about passing on buying a building that now houses three expensive condos because he thought it was far too expensive at $300k ten years ago. And of course there are the stories like the NY Times article linked above that depict with a rosy hindsight the glory days of neighborhoods like the Castro or Haight-Ashbury and lament the romance and excitement of those places that is lost now that they've been Starbucked.

Detroit could be said to be in that place right now, and I think people need to start thinking about that. There will be a time when there will be a Starbucks on every corner and we’ll talk with a dreamy look in our eyes about the great community that thrived at
Café de Troit, where it seemed like everyone you met was making something happen in town. Lower Cass will get the Ilitch touch and we’ll laugh about the days of dodging crack whores and roosters on our way to Honest John’s. Corktown will turn into Birmingham and we’ll actually miss all those hipsters and Terry-oke at LJ’s.

Let’s keep pushing for progress in town, but don’t forget to appreciate what we’ve got. Detroit is in a really unique place in time right now. Have fun and take advantage of it, because someday we’ll be talking about it like people talk about the Castro or New York City in the ‘70’s. And won’t it be nice to say you actually were a part of it, instead of just a bystander?
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