In Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, science fiction writer and linguistic theorist Samuel R. Delany makes the best case I’ve seen for the necessity of “red light districts,” — and specifically for the necessity of what was once the world’s most famous seedy neighborhood — in the lives of the cities whose desires they create, reflect, and service. Places for anonymous sex, by Delany’s lights, should be included in any city planner’s bag of tricks. No pun intended.
His points ring truer to me than they might to you, especially the case he makes for these kinds of spaces as rare examples of venues where cross-class, cross-ethnicity and cross-generational friendships — no matter how fleeting — can occur. Having access to educated, well-off gay men in my late teens (after I got my driver’s license, before I went away to college), despite the generally uneducated rednecky environment I grew up in, shaped my intellect and my ambitions, and improved my conversational skills, my networking skills, and my sociability generally, in ways that my straight buddies, from the same socioeconomic class, never could have imagined. It’s hard to describe without sounding icky. It’s not that I became a kept boy (I did not!). Nor was I anything like a hustler. It’s just the socialization that occurred around and between and on top of everything else in the cruising areas I frequented was, ultimately, life-changing, in a million uncannily tiny increments, mainly because I met people I never would have met in the ordinary course of my days. Delany does a good job of explaining it, much better than I can.
The first half of the book, which breezily documents some of the human contacts Delany made while cruising for anonymous sex in the Times Square area over the course of about thirty years, is a more entertaining read. The second half veers into academic rigor and analysis of “superstructure” versus “infrastructure” and linguistic subtleties within subtleties about the ways we talk about and legislate around sexuality and class differences. I was prepared for both modes, but many readers will love one half, hate the other.
The temptation is to imagine that Delany is being sentimental about the changes wrought on Times Square — changes which, by all accounts, have proven to be successful in ways that he was deeply suspicious would never materialize. But then I had my own little sentimental moment when I decided, after reading this, to Google “Peep World,” one of the last holdouts in the area’s sleaze trade, a place where I myself have had a Delany-esque fun time or two, just to see if Delany, or anybody else, has ever written about it in its heydey, only to discover that it has been recently demolished and will be replaced by (of all obscene things) a fucking Hooters.
I’m outraged. Outraged.