Two years ago, I moved to Philadelphia from a small, quiet, gay-repellant town in South-Central Pennsylvania.
Like any small-town boy leaving home, I waved goodbye to my own mini-metropolis I’d known for so long in favor of a city that promised me all of the gay-tastic goods I’d ever dreamed about as a prepubescent boy staring dreamily at Prince Charming.
While things haven’t quite turned out in the picture-perfect way my 16-year-old self may have fantasized of while scrolling through Temple’s College Board page, I still find myself walking down windy Broad Street with a new attitude.
When I began this column as a first-semester freshman, I was immediately infatuated with the idea of being given a voice as a gay man – something so mind-boggling from the perspective of a rural country boy – that I hadn’t the slightest clue how to take advantage of my platform. Whereas before I’d fought tooth and nail just to get editorial space in the Letter to the Editor section of my local newspaper, I’d now stumbled upon a bi-weekly space to share my thoughts and engage in dialogue with not just who I perceived to be my like-minded gay brethren, but the entire melting pot of Temple.
I could go on about the things I’ve learned in my time writing this column or living in Philadelphia, but those are things I’ll save for my eventual memoirs – I need to preserve my selling lines, after all. Instead, I’d rather translate these personal lessons into a guide for how to live as a member of the GLBT community in this city, and provide a benchmark for my inevitable successor to look back on.
Sitting in the park, staring at the clouds and sipping on my fifth cup of coffee, my mind wandered into a deep thought about cycles. Like the columnist who maintained this space in the back pages of the newspaper before me, and the numerous unknown, silenced voices who have taken up presence in this publication during times when it was not popular to speak about terms like heteronormativity and what it means to be GLBT at Temple, I realize that I am but one part of a never-ending “circle of GLBT life.” Though I have poured my heart and soul into discussing the trajectory of the GLBT community and analyzing what it means to live in this city, I will also not be the last to do so. Someday I will look upon this same column with my own fresh set of eyes once I’ve rounded the corner of this circle.
Living as a GLBT individual in Philadelphia, it seems, is everything I wanted it to be and, simultaneously, the very thing I didn’t expect to encounter.
I yearned for a community to call my own, and did manage to find one, but not without a striking realization that – like any other group – it is one with flaws and shortcomings that will continue to hold back a group of people so ambitious and determined that its goals sometimes get lost in its quest for authority. Philadelphia, for both the young student and the established adult, is a place where the GLBT community all-at-once thrives as a key headquarters for the GLBT rights movement, and yet flounders as it finds its original ideals masked by a new brand of self-righteousness and entitlement.
There’s a difference between having pride, and ignorantly having an image of being above the rest of the world. The GLBT community, of all ages, types and ego sizes, should not lose sight of what it has really set out to do.
But despite this, I have discovered that there is a lot more to be grateful for, living in an urban center of the Northeast. I’ve witnessed a mayor speak more passionately about the GLBT community than I’d ever imagined any of my hyper-local politicians doing, a city layout that boldly dedicates a multi-block radius to GLBT life and culture, and a university administration that embraces all-inclusiveness in a way that, I’m proud to say, has left me with many tight column deadlines where I’ve had a refreshingly limited number of issues to rant about. The Philadelphia and Temple communities, with all their flaws, are environments to be embraced and enjoyed, while never forgetting to keep a careful check and balance on the maintenance of these wonderful spaces.
My recent ventures took me to the streets of New York City, where I scanned my surroundings with awe and bewilderment, fascinated by the hustle and bustle, and amazed by how seamlessly people of all types blended together. And though this type of Utopia is a personal dream of mine, I must admit that looking around at this environment, contrasting it with Philadelphia, gave me a sense of pride, a distinct pride in the closeness of the GLBT community in Philadelphia, with all of its mean-girl attitude and occasional snarky malice.
The reality is that Philadelphia’s GLBT community, which includes the tight-knit community of Temple, boasts a culture that I truly believe cannot be found or mimicked elsewhere in this country. Because beneath the surface, with all of our problems and diva-centric moodiness, we have a brotherly loving bond that unites us in a way that makes each of us valuable parts of a whole.
And that, for all of the high-strung strutting down 13th and Locust streets and persistent, power-hungry figureheads in our community, makes us taller than any of our city’s skyward-bound buildings or politicians standing on their pedestals could ever be, with or without our drag heels.
Brandon Baker can be reached at email@example.com.