S K Y L I N E | Where You’ve Always Belonged
Reflections on Queer Territories and Bodies
Issue 75. If you like what you see, subscribe to read us in print, too.
The moment I became comfortable holding hands with a same-sex partner in public was the same moment that I was made familiar with the word “faggot.” I began to understand, with a new urgency, the importance of queer spaces, not merely as a geographic identifier, but as a matter of personal safety. Holding hands with another man, I was making both of us potential targets for harassment and assault. Beyond their function as a refuge from the omnipresent straight gaze, queer spaces are also spaces of dislocation, where the normative is revealed as just another mode of performance, and the body embraces new forms of expression, new ways of inhabiting space. To cap off Pride Month, we asked writers to tell us about the queer spaces in their lives. We hear about a London gay pub that doubled as a school, a basement drag bar in Boston, secret fairy-tale landscapes in Dallas, and a supermarket frequented by Houston’s dancing queens.
— Sebastián López Cardozo
A Gay Pub Saved My Life: In Conversation with Adam Nathaniel Furman
Sebastián López Cardozo: As Queer Spaces: An Atlas of LGBTQIA+ Places and Stories — the new book you co-edited with Joshua Mardell — illustrates, queer spaces have historically emerged both by design and by chance, sometimes in lavishly designed palaces and cathedrals, sometimes hidden in a pub right across from your home, or even in a train ride from Premià de Mar to Barcelona. As most queer people eventually discover, these spaces exist in every city and town, but they are rarely the subject of architectural investigation. What did the two of you hope to show through a book that formalizes these spaces?
Adam Nathaniel Furman: There were lots of queer spaces that saved my life when I was a teenager. These were very much in my mind when I started thinking about Queer Spaces; they are the kinds of spaces that tend to be left out of architectural history.
In my architectural education I was constantly coming up against horrendous implicit and explicit homophobia. It was very difficult to produce any work that might be considered queer without being humiliated publicly pretty much every time I would try and present it. In the book, every single type of queer space is at least represented by one or two or three case studies. My hope is that this book allows students to say, “Look, this or that queer project is a serious work backed by a serious precedent. It’s documented by 55 really amazing writers.”
Is there a type of queer space that is especially meaningful to you personally?
When I was a teenager, I was so severely bullied for being gay that I was asked not to attend my high school. It left me with nowhere to study. Frankly, I probably would have died of a drug overdose, but then I was taken in at this local gay pub and they gave me a table and a space to work and study for my exams. My table was by the entrance of the bar’s kitchen, and during the day I would drink tea and study there. It also became a place where I met other queer people who had gone through similar experiences. I learned about what it meant to be gay in the world.
Was this gay pub an isolated, one-building kind of thing, or was it part of a larger community?
It was a one-building thing, but there were always larger networks of solidarity. Through the pub I got introduced to The Black Cap in Camden, which was a famous drag club, and later on to Soho, which sort of became my life. The scene in Soho in the 1990s was extremely vibrant, and protest was part of daily life; everyone was fighting against the homophobic legislation the U.K. government had passed.
What is meaningful about pubs as queer spaces (and I think gay pubs don’t really exist in the same way as they did before) is that they create their own little bubbles — you often have the same familiar people sitting at the bar — and at the same time they connect you to a wider community.
IMPRESSIONS FROM QUEER LIFE
In Boston, in Bay Village, on a brick corner, behind the day-drunks on pleather stools, past the tinseled stage, down a black stair, you expect to crack the door and puncture these shells of increasing obscurity, to poke a hole and feel the glow of the city’s warm center on your face, then slip through that hole and arrive, finally, inside the yolky-golden center of the center: the mythical where you’ve always belonged. And you do belong here, in the basement, but it is not your myth and on no account is it a middle. This takes a second to dawn on you, because symbols from your actual dreams are scattered around like props of the play you’ve always wanted to act. A rope of red LEDs spell out “Jacques” on the wall. Behind the bar Kris rasps out a velvet “whatcan I getya hun.” There are tables, and in front of them, a low stage. A mirrored ball lazes overhead. All of these at first confirm your anticipation with carefully apportioned doses of saccharin nostalgia and counterculture lowbrow. But material facts intercede to stretch and scale each snug symbol beyond any comfort in recognition. The ball is unlit and maybe just six inches in diameter, so it casts nothing but the image of the exposed plug and mounting plate from which it dangles. Behind the stage is a mirrored cubby no more than two feet wide where the queens will crowd and sweat inches from their own reflections before stepping out. Kris tells you about the day next year when she’ll retire to the comforts of old age and with the exact same smile remembers aloud running as a boy from the police, the priests, his parents, and the Southie boys. The glowing rope of the sign is too long, so maybe a hundred feet of excess traces the cove halfway-ish around the room: an enormous, dashed “cut here” line marking off the ceiling as a detachable lid before it runs in loops to eke out j-a-c-q-u-e-s — barely resisting the torsion of bent plastic from the outside and barely holding against the explosion of blinky light marking out the inside center of each cursive stroke. It’s not a middle and it does not exist to confirm the symbology of your dream. Dark fragments have paused in transit to make a little crevice against astronomical odds. You’re there, sheltering between things, finding real solace in the assurance of codes that are nonetheless already unraveling. Kris will move along. The rope will untwist. We’ll forget how to make any of it yield to sense again. It’s queer.
— Andrew Holder
The Empire of Light
Oak Lawn — The Bubble, as we called it — was, in the early 2000s, both a clearly delineated geographic space of some twelve square miles between downtown Dallas and Love Field Airport and a fairy-tale landscape of heroes and monsters. Queens of various alignments (lawful-good to chaotic-evil) held sway over their own little fiefdoms and rewarded fealty with honor. While the Metroplex baked in the Texas sun, the “gayborhood” seemed wreathed in perpetual twilight — a liminality spun of erotic possibility and youthful fantasy, fueled by any number of spiritual intoxicants.
Tucked away from the lights and noise of the Cedar Springs strip, hidden behind the splay of oak and pecan trees, rambling two-story courtyard apartment complexes formed the dark fabric of our realm. Paid for, as often as not, with permanent disability checks (by this time anyone over the age of thirty was a survivor of the ongoing AIDS crisis) and furnished from the estate sales of nearby Highland Park and nocturnal dumpster-diving expeditions, these homes were time capsules, monuments to their wounded denizens’ hopes and dreams, and a refuge for the lost boys who slept fitfully on their floors.
There was a tension, then, between the out-and-proud legitimacy of the bars on the strip and the shadow society of the neighborhood that surrounded it. Whether the bars supported the neighborhood, or the other way around, the strained symbiosis between the gayness we saw on billboards and the queerness we lived fueled all manner of conspiracy theories about who, exactly, was in control of what. Not all our theories proved untrue.
Those of us who made it out lived to see Oak Lawn transformed. Few of the old apartment buildings now remain, except around the frayed edges, where the old Mexican American neighborhood that predated 1960s counterculture gentrification keeps a foothold. The apartments gave way first to blocks of three-story townhouses in the 2000s and by the mid-2010s were replaced by behemoth, self-contained complexes.
The redevelopment of Oak Lawn gayborhood over the past twenty years coincided with greater visibility and social acceptance, but along with corporate sponsorship and newfound normativity, something strange and wild was lost. Those of us who knew it sometimes glimpse its ghost.
— Lauren Phillips
Dancing Queens at Disco Kroger
It was the last call. I left the gay bar, tipsy and starving, with the playlist of summer bops on repeat in my head. I followed the colorful party crowds and passed through a few blocks of bungalows behind rainbow-coated fences. I started, humming along, marching through the red-orange-yellow-green-blue-indigo-violet-colored crosswalks on Westheimer Road toward the intersection with Montrose Boulevard. Five minutes later, I arrived at a 24-hour grocery store, where the lights cast a quirky ambiance while club music blared from the speakers. It was two in the morning in Disco Kroger.
A queer landmark in Houston, Disco Kroger was affectionately named for its club-like soundtracks and late-night party clientele. Situated in the heart of the Montrose neighborhood — home to the city’s LGBTQIA+ community and an eccentric oasis for hippies, punks, and artists — Disco Kroger served as a meeting place for the queer crowds after bars were closed. Sheltered in a generic one-story warehouse clad in tacky limestone and stucco, its charm lay in the juxtaposition of the mundaneness of everyday life and the madness of countercultural revelry. You could see drunken parties dancing through the produce aisle alongside the everyday shopper picking up a last-minute frozen pizza or a couple of breakfast items. You could see night-shift nurses tiredly waiting in the checkout line and drag queens searching for a pack of cigarettes after working a show at a nearby bar.
In 2021, after 42 years in operation, Disco Kroger was torn down. For many of us, it was an instant queer space that came alive when most went to sleep, a sweet dream we hoped would never come to an end.
— Leyuan Li
LONDON (LIVESTREAM) — “Mis armas mis tacos [my heels my weapons]” reads a sign in a photographic spread that concludes Queer Spaces: An Atlas of LGBTQIA+ Places and Stories, a book edited by ADAM NATHANIEL FURMAN and JOSHUA MARDELL.
In between cheeky digs at the architectural canon, designer EKAM SINGH and photographers SARA YAOSKA HERRERA DIXON and FACUNDO REVUELTA narrated their contributions to the book’s 100-plus case studies; Furman and Mardell moderated. Singh gauged the vibrancy of New Delhi’s queer enclaves before and after the overturning of section 377 of the Indian penal code, which had prosecuted homosexuality. Herrera Dixon discussed how the murals, signs, and face paint evident in her photographs attest to the many grassroots networks that have been part of the Centro Cultural Guanuca in Nicaragua. In a similar, celebratory vein, Revuelta relayed his photographic foray into a housing project and the Trans Memory Archive in Argentina. In closing the panelists were asked in what ways they share a context. They answered that they are united through the experience of making and documenting much-needed space. Acknowledging that the Atlas is an incomplete canon, Furman and Mardell said they hope students explore the book’s case studies and “multiply from here.” So get dressed! Or don’t! Take some photos at the function, your atlas is waiting to be filled.
— Angie Door
6/17: Collective Refusal
I Would Prefer Not To: Live Broadcast, a panel hosted by Architectural League of New York
NEW YORK (LIVESTREAM) — Asked to comply, Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener responds “I would prefer not to.” It’s a weary veto for our current moment, suggests critic, curator, and MIT architecture professor ANA MILJAČKI, who borrowed the phrase for her new Architectural League–backed podcast. As an “oral history” project, its prompt is simple: Which commissions have architects refused to accept, and why? In a live broadcast on Friday, she engaged PAUL LEWIS, the outgoing President of the Architectural League, and MARIO GOODEN, who has been nominated to be the League’s next President. The decisions not to take on a specific project, said Miljački, “don’t leave paper trails, but their lessons are politically relevant and urgent.” The transdisciplinary Gooden opined that refusal, being more than negation, creates space for “alternate production” (a descriptor that could easily apply to Gooden’s eponymous studio, threaded as it is with performance, drawing, and writing). “Buildings aren’t the end all be all. They’ve gotten us into some of the problems we’re facing right now,” he said.
Lewis recalled bailing on a Soho loft renovation early in his career. While the job offered a tantalizing budget and creative freedom, it would have meant contributing to the aggrandizement of a jerk. Lewis said that he and his LTL colleagues apply a different standard to their work, asking themselves, “Does the project allow for the design of spaces that enhance the collective?”
In these private and personal refusals, Miljački sees the possibility of a “collective no.” But possibility always invites questions. As she posed to her guests, “What would it mean to organize and socialize around a set of topics so that the profession begins to exert a certain amount of power?”
— Laura Raskin
EYES ON SKYLINE
IN THE NEWS
Practitioner presentations dominate the week ahead, with faculty talks at SCI-Arc, a lecture from the Architectural League’s ongoing Current Work series, and more.
Duet + Duet with Casey Rehm, Soomeen Hahm
8:00 PM | SCI-Arc
Gubns Architect-Maker Pop-up
1:00 PM | London Festival of Architecture
Kashef Chowdhury/URBANA: Critical Response with Paul Lewis
7:00 PM | The Architectural League of New York
League Prize Night 3: Farzin Farzin and stock-a-studio with Farzin Lotfi-Jam, Xavi Laida Aguirre, Tei Carpenter
6:30 PM | The Architectural League of New York
Our listings are constantly being updated. Check the events page regularly for up-to-date listings and submit events through this link.
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