If you pay attention to real estate news in Philadelphia, you’ll notice a few key narratives that play themselves out repeatedly. One enduring trope is the authentic vs. the superficial: Who’s a real South Philly person? What’s a real West Philly business? Which is the real neighborhood name?
It’s the latter question that’s been preoccupying me lately, in particular regarding what we call the part of the city that runs from 11th to Broad between Spruce and Market. Five years ago, City Paper’s Ryan Creed wrote about the attempt to rebrand that area—known as the Gayborhood—as Midtown Village. But as recently as last month, members of Philadelphia Speaks, an online forum, were debating the merits of the name “Gayborhood” as though the words “Midtown Village” had never been spoken.
Midtown Village is used in real estate and by the Midtown Village Merchants Association. I suppose it satisfies people who continue to look for an alternative to “Gayborhood.” But why is an alternative sought at all? “Gayborhood” is clearly the word that’s most accessible and familiar to people. When I say “Midtown Village,” people think I’m talking about a shopping center, or maybe a diner that closed.
Let’s look at a different example: 10th and Race. That’s Chinatown, right? Not everyone who lives there is Chinese. Should we change the name to something like “North Midtown” so Anglo homebuyers won’t be intimidated? Of course not. It would be completely disrespectful to disinherit a community and its history that way. But we’ll do it to the Gayborhood.
There’s a fear of contagion embedded in this argument about the Gayborhood’s name. No home buyer is afraid he’s going to become Chinese. But homophobes do worry about their children becoming gay by virtue of exposure—to a teacher, a friend, a parent. And maybe even non-homophobes would prefer not to deal with raised eyebrows when they say where they live.
Well, that’s tough. Philadelphia holds an important place in American gay history, and we should celebrate it. Real Philadelphians don’t back away from a challenge. Real Philadelphians are proud of their history. Used to be when you lived in Byberry, you’d get a joke about being crazy. No one moved. You know why? Real Philadelphians were proud to be crazy.
This piece originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of Philadelphia magazine.