In this work, I want to think about this “warp” between communities, which can be private-public relations in a space, and also site—non-site relationship.
The idea of the work comes from my experience as follows.
> One of my friends recently told me about an experience he had at Port Authority Bus Terminal. He was waiting for a friend at the entrance of the terminal. Standing still for a while, he noticed some people looking at him, and finally two of them came up to him one after another and talked to him. One was a drug dealer, the other was a prostitute. My friend often uses the terminal just to pass through, as most people do. But he had never before remained standing in one place, and never had such an experience.
Most of the people who use the terminal are busy, and they walk fast just to get to the busses and subway or are busy shopping or getting something to eat quickly before the buses arrive. But there is a different group of people who hang out at the terminal all day. The two groups of people don’t communicate with each other.
Probably my friend stood at a place which is used by people who want to buy drugs or hustle. But he didn’t know the social rituals in the community in the terminal.
I’m interested in the fact that in this experience my friend “warped” from one community to another by just standing in front of the terminal, as if by some kind of magic.
I also had interesting experiences of Times Square. I will write some of them in order to explain complicated intersections between identity and community, and between space and community, focusing on thinking about this “warp” feeling we sometimes experience in our daily life, not just as defining “heterotopias” or restricting it to a political context.
When I walk to the Hunter MFA studio building from the Port Authority Bus Terminal several times a week, I often find the neighborhood and people are still changing pretty fast. There are still many people hanging around who had been there before gentrification began, but many high rise condos still being built, so the original occupants are going to disappear eventually. What is happening in the area now reminds me of the days when I was working for a year as a bartender in a gay hustler bar called Stella’s, which was off Times Square. It was just after the restaurant where I was working closed because of the World Trade Center attack in 2001. By that time, most of the Times Square sex industry had already been wiped out because of Giuliani’s “quality of life” campaign. But a few hustler bars still hung on, and Stella’s was one of them.
A New York lawyer friend of mine was also a friend of the woman who owned Stella’s, and he introduced me to her. The clients of Stella’s were mostly white, and the hustlers were mostly Black and Hispanic. Both clients and hustlers came to the bar to drink as customers of the bar, which, in order to avoid run-ins with the law, didn’t concern itself in their customers’ other “business.” A large percentage of the hustlers were straight, and they came to Stella’s because they wanted to hustle extra money. Some had just been released from prison and couldn’t get proper work because they had a record; some were addicted to drugs and desperate to make money to pay for their habits, and some just needed extra money because they’d just had a baby. Most of the hustlers who didn’t live in Hell’s Kitchen commuted from Harlem and the Bronx. On weekends, there were strip shows at a small theater downstairs in the bar, and more than 20 guys danced in turn and asked for tips.
One day, a guy called Jeff, who is now my friend, asked to reserve the whole bar in order to throw his own party. He studied business at NYU and had just started some internet businesses, including a gay escort website called Rentboy.com. He threw a party to advertise his escort website, and the people at the bar agreed because most of the bar staff didn’t use the internet yet, had no idea what an escort website was, and didn’t realize that it could threaten their business.
Rentboy.com became a huge website with 20,000 hits per day and 70,000 escorts listed in major cities throughout the world. Such websites made hustler bars and escort service agencies outdated, because clients no longer needed to risk the indiscretion of going to a bar or finding a hustler on the street, or to pay an agency’s expensive fees. Nor do they have to become involved in the complicated social rituals in the closed circle of a bar. More importantly, there are escort review websites that are popular among people who hire escorts, in which anyone can read or write reviews of escorts on line. If something bad happens to a client, if an escort is a rip-off artist, it can immediately be posted. There is a similar website about clients used by escorts to avoid risks.
In this situation, the basis for the two groups of people—escorts and customers—is not identity. Some of escorts are gay and some are not, although all of them want to earn some money. Customers are gay or bi-sexual, but their ages vary. Also, some are married and some are single or coupled with other gay men. They are all different because their lives vary, and this place is not related to their everyday life. They come to the bar just for mutual need rather than out of sameness.
At Stella’s, I became a friend of a hustler who was in jail in Los Angeles before he came to New York City. He told me the interesting story that in jail in Los Angeles male prisoners are divided in wards based on their ethnicity, nationality, and sometimes gang membership. If someone declares that he is gay, he is send to the gay ward, where prisoners have to wear yellow pants instead of blue. But many straight prisoners make a false declaration in order to get into the gay ward, because the gay ward is the safest place in the prison. As a result the group in the ward is not totally made up of gay people. There was also a gay ward in New York, but too many straight prisoners made false declarations that they were gay and eventually the gay ward became the most dangerous one in the prison, so the gay ward was abolished finally in New York.
This episode shows strange disconnections between identity and community. In some communities, gay people pass as straight, while straight people possibly pass as gay in other communities. In any case, people may camouflage themselves to survive, which is totally the same as camouflage (or mimesis) in natural life. In this case, camouflaged identity not only blurs the identity-based community, but totally dislocates it. This episode also reminds me Trompe l’oeil, which is a traditional technique of visual art-making. In Trompe l’oeil, t is supposed to look real, but at the same time we enjoy a kind of “warp” feeling when we realize that what we took to be real is not in fact real. This feeling arises at an intersection, or crisis point, of two realms—reality and fabrication.