Harmonopoly 29: On NIMBYs, Drag and Why I'll Be Leaving German Village When My Lease is Up

Support queer art before Chad and Becky kill it in your neighborhood too

One of the strange things about coming out an an established adult is your growing understanding that homophobia is now a thing that will affect your entire life. There are people in this world who hate you for no good reason, and we live in a society that gives them the structural support they need to turn their hate against you in concrete ways.

It’s a bit like being in a high school bathroom stall and hearing two people come in and immediately start a nasty conversation about someone. You eavesdrop for a few seconds and then you realize that these people are actually talking about you, Jesus Christ, have they always hated you this much? Does everybody hate you now!? You feel your stomach drop to your knees and hold your breath, hoping they don’t realize you’re there so they can brutalize you in a more personalized way, and spend a few ugly moments processing the idea that there are people in the world who arbitrarily hate your guts because you committed the crime of being alive in a way they did not like. You can only wait for it to end.

Except it doesn’t end. There are always more awkward bathroom conversations, and even if you confront the bitches huddled over the sink trash-talking you on this particular occasion, you cannot confront them all. And it would not matter if you did, because they’d still talk shit about you anyway, and there is not a single thing  you can do about it.

As a straight-passing person, I did not have to think much about homophobia. Now that I’m finally out, I think about it all the time.

If you follow me on social media, you may have seen me yelling about the ridiculous efforts of  a handful of cowardly NIMBYs to get drag shows banned from Wunderbar, a bar in the German Village neighborhood of Columbus. There’s a good article here that quietly outlines exactly why this is so goddamn dumb. I don’t think it’s worth summarizing, but I would like to point out that the response from the German Village Society is so disingenuous that it’s nearly self-parody. Saying that Wunderbar is using ‘smoke and mirrors' to trick people into supporting them when you’re the folks who exploited city code to get a pierogi bar reclassed as a cabaret is a hell of a take! 

Also the claims that these actions are not motivated by homophobia are ridiculous; Wunderbar has had live entertainment since they opened, but we’re supposed to believe it’s a coincidence that they only got hit with a zoning violation once they started hosting drag shows? OK, boomers.

Also also! If the sentiment of the neighborhood is less “we hate the queers” and more “our property vaaaaalues”, that’s still morally indefensible and gross. Your house is not more important than a human being. Frankly, I am not invested in figuring out the hidden rationale for why my neighbors got a drag show kicked out of my neighborhood, because I am over doing mental gymnastics for people who are intent on showing their asses. They are all wrong regardless of individual motivations, and collectively they look like a bunch of pearl-clutching homophobes, and they’re gonna have to live with that.

I feel confident saying the bar isn’t the issue because Wunderbar is one of my favorite bars in Columbus. The staff is extremely nice, they have a quiet, chill vibe that I enjoy, and they serve vegan pierogi and non-alcoholic drinks so you can have a good time whether you’re drinking or not. It is pretty much perfect any time of day, for any occasion. I have taken friends there, I have taken a few dates there, and sometimes I’ll go there by myself with a book and enjoy a serving of vegan Hungarian Poutine while I soak up the ambiance. 

I go there a lot, because I live in German Village. I live maybe half a mile from Wunderbar, right on the border of the neighborhood, in a one-bedroom apartment I can somehow afford on my own. I felt so lucky when I found it. It seemed like a legit miracle in Columbus’s Hunger Games-style rental market. The first thing I moved in was a cat tree, but the second thing I put up was a pride flag. My first pride flag, in my first solo apartment. A big, exciting day for me!

Because I was not yet used to thinking about homophobia as anything other than an abstract concept, it did not occur to me that my neighbors might not like my flag. After all, German Village is one of Columbus’s original “gayborhoods”, a point that the German Village Society gleefully dwelled on in their ridiculous tone-deaf response. I had been assured this was a safe place to be gay, so I moved here and set about being as gay as possible, and had a great time with it up to now.

I no longer have the luxury of considering this neighborhood to be welcoming of myself or other queer people; that was taken from me the day I read in the paper that some of my neighbors are offended enough by queer people making art in a bar that they sought city intervention to prevent it. A handful of my neighbors dislike queer people, or love their property more than they care about other people in general, and the system works in their favor so there is nothing to be done about it.

Perhaps there could be a change with some public support, but everyone else in my neighborhood seems apathetic. This is a dream NIMBY scenario: I may be new to queerness, but I am not new to the way Columbus selectively enforces code to push out marginalized people and keep property values rising

And yes, affluent gay folks have benefited from this too. If you have enough money, people with power will make a seat at the table for you. That’s capitalism, not liberation, and let’s not even get into the respectability politics gap between two affluent gay people buying a house and drag queens performing for tips at a bar in their neighborhood. 

Anyone in the know is aware that the “gayborhood” trend is a double-edged sword for queer life in our city. The same forces that have allowed gay folks to gentrify neighborhoods are the ones that have made our city too expensive for many queer businesses to survive. Columbus has lost bars, coffeeshops, bookstores, and other venues for LGBTQ folks to gather. Because of that, it should be no surprise that queer folks will show up and do their thing anywhere they feel welcome. I mean, where the hell else are we supposed to go?

You feel welcome until you don’t, I guess. On Valentine’s Day, I went with some friends to what turned out to be the final performance of Matriarch’s Wunderbar drag revue. They got a good turn out for a holiday and it was clear the people who loved the show had turned up en masse to say goodbye. The show was incredible. I was delighted by the diversity of performers: there were all kinds of LGBTQ people in the mix, interpreting drag through their own unique lens and giving us a series of unforgettable performances. There were death-defying death droppers who killed it, of course, but also so much more; a very funny comedian; some amazing performers who used their time to make bold political statements about being Black and trans artists; a drag queen from Chicago who did two incredibly emotional numbers, one of which included a defibrillator that I sincerely hope was not functioning, and so much else I can barely remember it all. 

(ETA: Matriarch Mess was kind enough to reach out and let me know who the performers were. Selena T. West, KatAtomic Conquers, Envy Mwah, Mercy Mwah, Joy Lafontaine, Jaelyn Zimmerman, Robyn Culture, AS Green, Lucky Stiff and of course Matriarch- thank you for an incredible show. Go see them if you can!)

There wasn’t any obscenity taking place, as far as I could see— nobody was showing more skin than you’d see at the Y, and the jokes weren’t any cruder than you’d hear on a Chuck Lorre sitcom. At one point I went out to see how loud the show was from the outside. It was barely audible, of course, and you would have had to enter the bar to even realize a show was going on. The neighborhood at large seemed to be safe from the dangers of visible, audible queerness.

I was not; in fact, I was swept away by it. I laughed, I got emotional, I was all in on the show and in the feeling of community I experience so rarely in this city. It was art, it was performance, it was queer folks throwing each other dollar bills and yelling and clapping and being there for each other in the face of something beautiful coming to an end.

And then it ended, and I cashed out, and walked home. A night that would never happen again, thanks to a couple of jerks who have more money than sense and nothing better to do than punish people they don’t understand. What a letdown.

As I walked home, I quietly mourned that this would be the last iteration of the show. And for the first time, I thought about the houses I was walking past, and I wondered if the people within them meant me harm. After all, the complaints that led to the show being banned were said to come from neighbors. Were those same neighbors looking out their windows as queer folks drifted away from Wunderbar for the final time? Were they quietly relieved, happy we’d no longer be darkening their doors? Or were they still angry, still disapproving, still demanding some reassurance that their narrow worldview is the correct one? 

I thought about myself. I’m a three-hundred pound softy butch with blue-green hair and a septum ring; if you see me out and about, you’ll probably remember it. What might happen when I walk down this street again, if those people remembered seeing me tonight?  

Would they yell at me, catcall me, throw stuff at me from a car? Do something even worse? Or would they just continue to hiss behind their closed doors, whispering to their children about what people like me do to a neighborhood like theirs and begging civic groups to make us go away?

Will I someday learn that these are the people I nod to at Staufs, ope myself past at the Book Loft, smile at and greet when I want to pet their dogs? Are the ones who are nice to my face also the ones who don’t want me here, or don’t care if I get driven away?

So yeah, I don’t really feel great about living in German Village anymore. I’m a stubborn woman, so I’m not taking my pride flag down. The neighbors can deal. But I also likely will not stay here once my lease is up, and I will make sure every queer person I know who considers moving here is aware of exactly why I decided to leave. 

I’m your loss, German Village. Me and people like me. How much do you want to lose?

Loading more posts…