Gay Voluntary Associations in New York: Public Sharing and Private Lives

Gay Voluntary Associations in New York: Public Sharing and Private Lives

Gay Voluntary Associations in New York: Public Sharing and Private Lives

Gay Voluntary Associations in New York: Public Sharing and Private Lives

Synopsis

Gay Voluntary Associations in New York is a sensitive and insightful ethnography of social groups that have gathered around common interests in an urban LGBT population from the time of the AIDS crisis to the present. Anthropologist Moshe Shokeid examines the social discourse of sex, love, friendship, and spiritual life in which these communities are passionately engaged.

Drawn from long-term anthropological research in New York City, Gay Voluntary Associations in New York uses participant observation to explore such diverse social associations and religious organizations as seniors groups, interracials, bisexuals, sexual compulsives, gay bears, and Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish gay congregations. As an outside observer--neither gay nor American-born--Shokeid examines the social discourse within these voluntary associations from a critical vantage point. In addition to the personal information and intimate expressions of empathy freely shared in the company of strangers at social gatherings, individual stories and experiences are woven into the narrative to illustrate the existential conditions and emotional template of gay life in the city. Shokeid's nuanced portrait of the affective relationships within these groups offers deeper comprehension of the social dynamics and emotional realities of gay urban communities in the United States.

Excerpt

In the early 1980s my family and I lived in Queens, New York, where I studied the Israeli immigrant community, nicknamed Yordim (Hebrew for “those who go down”; singular, Yored). I found that the Israelis there were reluctant to admit that their relocation to the United States was more than temporary. As a result, they organized nostalgic get-togethers, what I defined as “onenight-stand ethnicity,” but did not form the voluntary associations—often leading to enduring social institutions—that other earlier and present-day, Jewish and non-Jewish “permanent” immigrants had (Shokeid 1988). It was during that time that I was invited to attend a service at the gay and lesbian synagogue, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (CBST) in the West Village of Manhattan. I was fascinated by that social experience, and a few years later (1989) I returned to New York and started research at cbst. the period of my observation there coincided with a time of challenge for the synagogue. It was faced with the question of whether, as a lay-led, all-volunteer organization, it could still continue to meet the needs of its now sizeable congregation, many of whom were ill with aids. Or would it have to hire a full-time paid rabbi and paid staff, thus transforming its founding social bricks and the ethos of a voluntary organization (Shokeid 2003 [1995], 2001)?

In the mid-1990s, while still maintaining contact with cbst, I broadened my field of interest to the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in the West Village (the Center). Starting in 1995, during sabbaticals and research fellowships, I observed a number of the voluntary groups holding meetings there. Located in a massive New York landmark school building (on Thirteenth Street), the Center hosts a wide variety of organizations and activities. Actually, anyone can ask to use the Center’s space in order to initiate a new activity aimed to serve the interests and welfare of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. the annual report for 1996, for example, listed about 120 groups that met on its premises. in addition, the Center promotes many public events, discussions, lectures, exhibitions, parties, dances, and . . .

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