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Coping in New York, a Step at a Time

By Eric Hunter · November 1st, 2001 · Gay & Lesbian Issues
In the days following Sept. 11, I was honestly surprised at the way I avoided all the sadness and loss that surrounded me.

At a time when most of my friends were drawn to the television, attending memorial services and generally grieving, I couldn't bring myself to face the reality of what had happened.

I declined invitations from friends to join them for visits to the closed portions of lower Manhattan. When my partner and our friend, who had thankfully escaped the World Trade Center with his life, made a trip to ground zero, I begged off and spent the afternoon at home.

A good friend of mine from Cincinnati who had recently moved to New York City sent out daily journal entries via e-mail to help her cope. My partner even shared some of his observations with our family and friends in regular e-mails.

With the increased appetite for information and connection to the tragedy, both of these e-mail missives were compiled and published in the pages of our own hometown Cincinnati Enquirer. But I couldn't even read the complete e-mail each day. Instead I filed them away in my electronic "to read" folder, where they are still waiting for me.

Sure, I watched the news and read newspapers like any media-obsessed New Yorker. But in the back of my mind, I yearned for the return of my favorite television shows with all the ads -- as if seeing them again would mean that everything was back to normal. Or at least everything was going to be all right.

In my efforts to try to make sense of my experiences of the past month and a half, I decided to start reading back through editors' letters, columns and other pieces from my favorite publications to see if they would offer me any inspiration.

Judy Wieder's letter in the Oct. 23 issue of The Advocate was one of the first ones to hit me. Titled "Equal at Last," she makes the point that in the face of tragedy, human traits like sexual orientation are irrelevant.

"Being gay or straight did not enter into the outcome," Wieder writes.

But she continues by raising the question that if we are "all equally heroic, equally vulnerable, equally courageous, equally frightened, equally lucky and just plain equally human, then why are some of us still fighting for equal rights and opportunities in this country?"

Wieder makes sense for herself by arriving at the conclusion that this horrible tragedy has shown her that, despite her momentary doubts, her magazine is vital, relevant and necessary.

Out magazine editor Brendan Lemon makes the connection between the post-Sept. 11 New York City and New York City during the height of the AIDS epidemic.

Remembering back to the '80s, Lemon writes, "I used to walk through some of the same neighborhoods -- Chelsea, midtown, the west side -- and feel a similar wartime dread: anger desperate for an outlet. I had the same sense of everything struggling through the process of irrevocable alteration, the certainty that only after the immediate casualties were accounted for, that the deeper psychological work would begin."

But the column that hit closest to my own fresh sense of loss was Bob Morris' column in the Oct. 28 New York Times. Longing to return to the days before Sept. 11, Morris pines for the meaningless anxieties -- too many parties to attend, gossip scandals, lavish movie premieres, boutique hotel design and competitive dining that made life in New York so vital, so unique, so distinctly New York. "I long for the days when we could take things for granted," Morris writes. "Now we are more aware of everything. Consciousness has a steep price."

Reading Morris' column helped me realize that I, too, was mourning the loss of my New York. The New York where gay culture, fashion, gossip columns, Broadway, the latest restaurants and velvet ropes mattered. The New York that had been a beacon of hope for a boy from Cincinnati with big dreams. The New York I had worked so hard to become a part of.

Hell, to hear my older gay friends tell it, I had already missed the golden years of being gay in New York City. I don't want to miss out on anything else.

Although I know New York's peculiar fascinations will resurface, they are forever changed. I am not sure how I am going to get over that. At least I know I have taken the first step here.



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