I have been thinking a lot about culture since I discussed it a few days ago. When I discussed it then, I focused solely on gay culture and what I wanted to get from it. Now, I want to actually focus on the cultures that I have been apart of both in South Dakota and now here in Jersey City.
The first thing I did, in all honesty, was begin to look at the definition. I had an idea o what the word actually meant, but as I tried to wrap my mind around specifics, I was drawing a blank. I thought specifically of art and theater and parties. But then I thought of other things that are cultural, such as hate and religion, which are things that happen here too. So, I needed to come up with a definition to discuss it. The best definition I came up with that correlates with the dictionary definition is this: Culture represents a specific collective’s creative and ideological concepts that manifest throughout their native environment. That sounds super technical.
Let’s look at it in play. When I talk about living back in South Dakota, there is almost this Wizard of Oz style Kansas look to it. There is a gray environment. People wear jeans and sweat-shirts. The diversity is incredibly limited. Christian ideals permeate throughout thoughts, and Republican ideals stand very proud. Let’s not even get started on sexual repression. Even as I write this, I realize how certain parts are just my imagination getting the better of me. I have cousins who are minorities. Before I left for NJ, I lived in a very liberal county. My friends religious beliefs range from Jewish to Atheist to Christian. My close friends even started a BDSM group. Honestly, my group of friends as a whole care very little for what other people think of them. But that’s my group.
I guess that tells you I was not part of the “mainstream” culture back there. If you look at my pictures, I dressed not normally. I wore blue shirts and green vests. I wore fedoras. We dance like no one was watching, even when people clearly were. We had all body types. My family and friends had open conversations about sex. We were the bohemians in a sea of republicans. If anything, we were the counter-culture of our small midwestern town. And some of them still are.
I remember when I left. Charmaine told me that her husband worried about me. She said, “You’re so bright and colorful and stand out so much here. That when you move, you’re just going to be another person in the crowd.” That’s not verbatim. I’m almost sure she said it more poetically. Nonetheless, that worried me. Hell, lots of things worried me when I came here. I was worried about diversity never having really experienced it. I was worried about not being gay enough. Within minutes of starting my job, I realized I would be fine. Within days, I realized that my difference was what made me accepted here. And that was beautiful.
What about the culture here?
I was lucky to find my way into the Jersey City art scene almost instantly. While working at the pizza place, we did quite a few events with Art House Productions. I met Christine Goodman and various people within the artists community. Then, I started meeting people with Hudson Pride. I saw the great work they did here within the city. I finally began working at LITM where I met artists up close and saw how large the community was. I also began to meet musicians who played throughout the city. Since then, I’ve met dancers and writers. The artists community here is so incredibly strong downtown. However, there is a sadness that comes with this.
The city itself is growing and as the prices of housing goes up, the artists are finding themselves pushed out to move to the Heights. The nightlife is changing down on Grove Street which means a different culture beginning to bloom. The big question is where is this all going to go, and how can we merge the culture of arts and diversity with the boom of professionals and partiers? I can’t wait to find out. We have new, large, music venues. We have new gay bars opening to keep people downtown instead of rushing into the city. It’s going to be a fun time to see how things progress.
Times have changed a lot for me, but the funny thing about culture is I’ve always been able to make or find my place in any given community. The greatest thing is that I get to now watch and help the community here grow and flourish. It starts with people, fiends, and then the people around them. It’s going to be interesting to be apart of all this. And the end result will be fantastic.