The First Ward Report – It’ll always be Boystown to me!

The First Ward Report – It’ll always be Boystown to me!

Or Homo Heights as one of my favorite gay friends and former coworkers, Dennis Hills-Cooper, frequently referred to it.

You see, from 1985 to 1990 I toiled for a social service agency at Belmont and Broadway, the heart of Chicago’s gay male community. And much like growing up in south Evanston had a massive social impact on me, that five-year stint was instrumental in forging my far more reasonable brand of liberalism.

And it was a quite fascinating experience in that it wasn’t all that fascinating. The novelty of seeing men walking down the street hand in hand quickly wore off, and with that pairing up exception, it was just like any other neighborhood. There was absolutely nothing flamboyant or in-your-face about it.

But the best part of that five-year experience was, for about eight hours a day, five days a week, I was a minority. Despite the occasional hilarious application of the term “breeders,” an appellation I wore with pride, I never felt the least bit “oppressed.” In fact, that may well have been the best cultural time of my life.

The watching-the-paint-dry western Chicago suburbs don’t even begin to measure up, so I will always enjoy those fond memories of “Boystown,” as it affectionately came to be called.

But now, as the Tribune just noted, Boystown is under siege by minorities who claim to be even more minority than gay white males. And whenever these overly “woke” folks find a good thing that isn’t all about them, they just can’t leave it alone. It’s like a Pitbull’s fundamental drive to dominate, if something offends their delicate sensibilities – and everything always does – they do their damndest to destroy it.

First, it was the rest of the “Alphabet People” as the brilliant Dave Chapelle likes to call them. Apparently, the mere mention of the “exclusionary” term “Boystown” incited the lesbian, transgender, and non-binary residents into running for the cover of their safe spaces.

Then, in one of the most bizarrely ironic twists this 4.5-billion-year-old planet has ever thrust upon us, Black Lives Matter descended upon the neighborhood with a “Drag March for Change” protesting racism, transphobia, anti-lesbianism, and wait for it…that female impersonators of color weren’t adequately represented at the local venues.

How many times do I have to tell you that truth is far stranger than fiction?

My advice to BLM would be to stage a march or two in their own communities to fight the particularly pernicious stigma that’s still attached to gay black men, but that’s just me.

So, a non-binary podcaster co-authored a 2020 Change.org petition seeking to have Boystown renamed to “Northalsted,” (Get it? Just one “h!”) and after it amassed a whole 1,500 signatures, the local business group capitulated and removed all of the fabulous Boystown rainbow streetlight banners and replaced them with a far more sedate Northalsted variety.

See! This is exactly the kind of thing that can happen when you take gay white males out of the design equation.

Now, just a scant year after that name change, our intrepid least-you-could-possibly-do podcaster is lamenting that “It seems that nothing has changed – not a thing. It’s a great disappointment.” What? A specious name change that did absolutely nothing to change the perceived underlying dynamic? No! Who knew?

If Chicago leaders had known it was that easy they would’ve swiftly renamed “The Robert Taylor Homes to “The Hamptons!” Problem solved!

Look! Anyone in any group can discriminate or simply be the occasional bleepin’ idiot. It’s all part of the American dream. So, stipulating that no one’s perfect, after five years of being immersed in it firsthand, I can unequivocally say that gay white males are one of the most accepting minority groups on the planet.

To wit, per that great philosopher, Bill Engval, “I’ve decided if it wasn’t for the sex, I could be gay. Hell, then it’s just hangin’ out with your buddies.” And the best part is they generally don’t have insolent and whiny children to muck it all up.

So, how about this!

Just like Columbus Day honors the spirit of exploration, why don’t we honor the fact those brave 80’s gay male pioneers faced down the worst kind of Chicago Police and general bigotry – not to mention an AIDs epidemic – to buy dilapidated buildings, bars, and storefronts and create a vibrant community virtually from scratch.

They didn’t storm expressways, destroy businesses, or assault people during out-of-control protests, they simply changed their world and made it a better place. Those fine folks endured all sorts of crap to build a neighborhood that was, and still is, the envy of so many other Chicago enclaves.

That means they should be revered and not reviled.

Ain’t it funny how these overly-entitled folks who won’t lift a finger – or simply weren’t there – to build something meaningful fervently believe they have an inherent right to all the benefits of that hard work. So, here’s a thought! Instead of bitching and constantly tearing things down, why not contribute to that legacy instead?

Ah! But then it wouldn’t be all about you anymore, would it?

You can change the name to The Willis Tower, Macy’s, DuSable Drive, Native Americans Day or Northalsted, but real Chicagoans will always refer to them as The Sears Tower, Marshall Fields, Lake Shore Drive, Columbus Day and Boystown.

And it will always be Boystown to me. Carry on gentlemen!

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