If you pay attention to real estate news in Philadelphia, youâ€™ll notice a few key narratives that play themselves out repeatedly. One enduring trope is the authentic vs. the superficial: Whoâ€™s a real South Philly person? Whatâ€™s a real West Philly business? Which is the real neighborhood name?
Itâ€™s the latter question thatâ€™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 Paperâ€™s Ryan Creed wrote about the attempt to rebrand that areaâ€”known as the Gayborhoodâ€”as Midtown Village. But as recently as last month, members of Philadelphia Speaks, an online forum, were debating the merits of the name â€śGayborhoodâ€ť as though the words â€śMidtown Villageâ€ť 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 â€śGayborhood.â€ť But why is an alternative sought at all? â€śGayborhoodâ€ť is clearly the word thatâ€™s most accessible and familiar to people. When I say â€śMidtown Village,â€ť people think Iâ€™m talking about a shopping center, or maybe a diner that closed.
Letâ€™s look at a different example: 10th and Race. Thatâ€™s Chinatown, right? Not everyone who lives there is Chinese. Should we change the name to something like â€śNorth Midtownâ€ť so Anglo homebuyers wonâ€™t be intimidated? Of course not. It would be completely disrespectful to disinherit a community and its history that way. But weâ€™ll do it to the Gayborhood.
Thereâ€™s a fear of contagion embedded in this argument about the Gayborhoodâ€™s name. No home buyer is afraid heâ€™s going to become Chinese. But homophobes do worry about their children becoming gay by virtue of Âexposureâ€”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, thatâ€™s tough. Philadelphia holds an important place in American gay history, and we should celebrate it. Real Philadelphians donâ€™t back away from a challenge. Real Philadelphians are proud of their history. Used to be when you lived in Byberry, youâ€™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.