by Don Cotter
The Black Gay life is many-faceted and one could never bring together the many elements which go into making it one of our most complex social structures.
However, since much has been made about Black relationships and the Black Gay middle class, I thought some kind of insight into the mysterious world of Black Gay cliques might be interesting.
I am not an expert in the area of social dynamics but, like many others, I have been a part, as well a victim, of Washington's well established social circles or "cliques," as everyone chooses to call them.
A clique, simply defined, is a small, exclusive group and the important words are "small" and "exclusive." Using the literal meaning of this phrase, one has to admit that society is nothing more than a complex structure composed of small exclusive groups ranging from a family to a corporate board.
It should come as no surprise that these groups also exist within the Black Gay community.
Thirty years ago there was no Black Gay society in Washington as it exists today. Those who admitted to being Gay, and had the courage to be seen in public places or Gay settings, had only one or two places where this would be done without fear of being "discovered."
One bar was the "Nob Hill" which catered to the middle class composed of high government workers, ministers and school teachers. Then there was the "Cozy Corner" whose clientele consisted of drag queens and others who were considered 'low-lifes." And strange as it may seem, even these places had their cliques.
In the Nob Hill, because it was open to the public, anyone could patronize the bar. Outsiders, however, were scrutinized with a very critical eye and easy admittance to the clique was virtually impossible. If one did not possess the correct social and economic qualities, one was shunned.
During that time it was necessary, for a number of reasons--mainly economic and social--to maintain a low profile and be as discreet as possible with Gay relationships. This condition provided the catalyst for discreet house parties, cocktail sips and dinners.
A clique evolved as a result because invitations were extended along socio-economic lines. This meant that the same group of people showed up at most affairs. This clique of Black men found comfort, security and enjoyment in doing things together.
From these intimate groups emerged the social clubs, the key that opened the door to Washington's Black Gay society. The granddaddy of all the social clubs and organizations was "The Rounders of Washington, D.C."
It was composed of no more than twelve members at any given time and its membership could all be considered as part of the emerging Black middle class. Needless to say, it was very exclusive and snobbish.
It provided certain members of the Black Gay community with an assortment of activities in which they could participate without fear of embarrassment or harassment.
As a result of the exclusivity of The Rounders, another organization formed--"The Best of Washington." They took the Black Gay social life one step further because, at the same time, more public places began to accept Black patronage and commercial establishments were used for parties, banquets and dances.
Black Gay social life left the comfort and safety of homes and moved into the mainstream of public life. This new openness lessened the impact of the old established cliques but gave rise to even more complex groupings.
Soon cliques were composed of persons who lived in the same neighborhood or apartment complex. Those who frequented the same bar or church formed a clique. Even skin color was used as a basis to form a clique.
But regardless of the basis upon which a clique was founded, the impact on one's personal life is the same today as it was [then]. The clique can be a very useful tool for social growth as well as a devastating one.
For some, the clique is the only means of escape from a life of boredom, frustration and loneliness. Many people do not possess the physical, social or economic attributes which would permit them to exist on their own among Washington's Black Gay community, for the name of the game is acceptance.
It is the clique that provides the invitations to parties, cocktail sips, picnics and other outings. It is the clique that provides social introductions which under other circumstances probably would not have happened. The clique also teaches one how to dress, improve one's personality and can sometimes help one's career.
But there is another side of the coin--another function of the clique is to keep some people out. All cliques have their victims. And what about those people not fortunate enough to belong to a clique?
It can be a devastating experience. Washington has a reputation for having some of the most exclusive and vicious cliques on the Eastern seaboard. That may be true, to an extent, but I refuse to believe that this is something unique to D.C.
However, I have known many people who have migrated to Washington, or who were new to the Gay life, and have had a very rough time socially. Some lasted only a few weeks. Others stayed for several months. But they were so victimized by the clique structure that they were forced to move elsewhere.
When I say "victimized," I am not referring to physical harm but to the mental anguish and suffering that comes with being consistently rejected from social events and parties, frozen out of friendships, and spurned by potential sex partners.
Depending upon the clique, victimization can take place for a number of reasons: a person can be too dark complected, too old or too young. If one is uneducated, or unemployed, or living in the wrong part of town, one can be excluded. The clique does not take notice of those it hurts or the impact that rejection has on the person's life.
It sounds calculating and cold and many times it is, but good or bad, cliques, groups or clubs, regardless of what they're called, will always be a part of Washington's Black Gay life. The trick is learning how to deal with it.
You may also enjoy: Under Grace's Hat
For a time in the 1980's "Grace" was the must-read
social column of Black Gay Washington, DC.
because, at the same time, more public places began to accept Black patronage and commercial establishments were used for parties, banquets and dances.As a result of the exclusivity of The Rounders, another organization formed--"The Best of Washington." They took the Black Gay social life one step further because, at the same time, more public places began to accept Black patronage and commercial establishments were used for parties, banquets and dances.