Within the realm of gay Los Angeles, West Hollywood and Silver Lake are like the Sharks and the Jets. One is a community of party boys and twunks (the portmanteau of twink and hunk, for all you basic heterosexuals), characterized by their chiseled physiques and designer tank tops. Contrastingly, the other is an edgier, more bohemian realm that prefers tattoos and scruff over Diesel jeans and washboard abs. And, like the rival gangs of West Side Story, these two diametrically opposite social spheres have long engaged in a turf war, specifically over the mantle of L.A.’s most quintessential gay neighborhood.
For a glimpse into these opposing "gayborhoods," one need look no further than YouTube, where a pair of current web series encapsulate their respective queer experiences. Representing WeHo and its overt aura of hedonism is Go-Go Boy Interrupted, by local comedian Jimmy Fowlie. The series chronicles the misadventures of Danny, a substance-abusing club dancer who, at 30, ages out of the only profession for which he’s qualified. As a former go-go boy, Fowlie’s comedy also contains an autobiographical aspect.
“Some of the stories are pretty real,” said Fowlie. "Like waking up in crazy people's houses from a blackout. In one episode, I look at photographs of the room I wake up in and I try to piece together the clues [in order to figure out who I slept with]. And I used to have a horrible drinking problem and that was a very real thing.”
Currently in its second season, GGBI features a number of notable guest stars, including Lynne Marie Stewart (aka Charlie’s mom from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Miss Yvonne from Pee-wee's Playhouse), Heather Morris (aka the dumb lesbian cheerleader from Glee) and Scott Evans (aka Chris "Captain America" Evans’ gay little brother). But it can be argued that Fowlie’s most prominent co-star is the city of West Hollywood itself. As Manhattan was considered a character in Sex and the City, WeHo plays a similar dramaturgical role in GGBI.
“West Hollywood has such a personality as a city,” said Fowlie. “It is fun, it is cool, but it can also feel a little intimidating, and so it is the perfect backdrop for Danny to be questioning himself in. WeHo really attracts a young demographic. It almost feels like every year a new shipment of young hot guys arrives. So to me, it is very interesting when someone has spent years using their sex appeal and youth and beauty as a sort of currency. What do you do when it starts to fade?”
At the other end of the spectrum — and set a little farther east — is the darker, more introspective Self-Obsessed, created by and starring comic book artist Sina Grace. Adapted from his eponymous graphic novel, the series explores Sina’s real-life nadir, when both his professional and personal lives hit rock bottom. He is finally able to turn his situation around after experiencing an epiphany while tripping on 'shrooms.
“The web series as a skeleton is all autobiographical,” explained Grace. “I had a [comic book] series come to a screeching halt after some disappointing sales. I had a touchy breakup. I’ve done drugs to find the truth.”
Grace also serves as an Everyman for the gay Silver Lake set. While WeHo glorifies its muscle-bound Adonises, the objects of this protagonist’s desires are exclusively "bears," or hairy, zaftig men. While sexuality is a defining characteristic of the gay community, Grace has experienced a higher level of transparency while living in this part of town.
“Gay Silver Lake to me is all about art, music, fashion, community and, most importantly, sexual honesty,” said Grace. “There was a period where I met so many guys who were in weirdly discreet open relationships, or they were straight-up jeeping on their honeys, and it was on the Eastside that I started meeting men who were able to openly discuss being in open/ poly[gamous] relationships without the unnecessary drama. It takes courage and bravery to flaunt an unconventional lifestyle, but I think that kind of openness is why there’ s a more chill vibe in gay Silver Lake.”
But, to Grace, what most differentiates neighborhoods east of Hollywood from their western rival is the artistic element.
He explains: “Gonna grossly generalize here, but I see a lot of self-expression through fashion and body art in Silver Lake, whereas in West Hollywood there’ s a loud-and-proud vibe where the boys wear short-shorts and tanks and are much more jubilant. Both scenes adore indulging in the cultural markers of gayness or whatever, but I think Silver Lake is like your art fags who have a bunch of John Waters pins on their jean jackets, and WeHo is a bunch of peppy up-and-comers who really know how to rock floral prints to a business meeting. It’s like, Silver Lake has all the gay artists, and WeHo has all of their agents and managers.”
This contrast is evident in the differing tones of the overtly comical GGBI and the brooding Self-Obsessed. This chiaroscuro contradistinction traces back to the historical significance of the two gayborhoods. In the 1920s, liquor and gambling were illegal in the city of Los Angeles but not in the unincorporated area that is now the city of West Hollywood, leading to a proliferation of casinos and nightclubs springing up on the Sunset Strip. This neighborhood also attracted an influx of gay Angelenos fleeing the homophobic LAPD in favor of the more benign purview of the Sheriff's Department. This integration of nightlife and queer culture continues to define West Hollywood to this day.
Meanwhile, Silver Lake is equally significant to L.A.’s LGBT culture. The neighborhood’s Black Cat Tavern witnessed one of America’s first gay riots. On New Year’s Day 1967, LAPD raided the bar, arresting and beating its patrons for simply kissing one another in celebration of the holiday. The resulting protest, which predated the Stonewall riots by nearly two years, was met with increased police brutality. Nearly 50 years later, gay Silver Lake still retains an element of political-mindedness and seriousness that defines its LGBT community.
Although gay Silver Lake and WeHo are polar opposites, their common denominator is their shared sense of community. On the East Side, this usually manifests within the creative realm.
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“The [neighborhood] made me more of a community-driven artist,” said Grace. “Every once in a while, a bunch of us cartoonists meet up at coffee shops for draw dates. It’s so much fun. You learn so much when you’re hanging out with other artists. I see that with my musician friends in Echo Park. When you’re in proximity to so many artistic types, it just begets more art.”
While West Hollywood is often criticized for its cliquishness, it too benefits from a strong sense of community. Beyond its club scene, the neighborhood hosts a number of LGBT clubs and activities, such as WeHo Dodgeball, an organization of which Fowlie is a member.
“It is an amazing community and it feels like I’m so much more connected playing on a team, versus just to be in a bar staring at people,” said Fowlie. “Not that there is anything wrong with it, but a community totally weeds out the crazies. I guess some people think L.A. is full of horrible fake people who will sell you out, and I am here to say, ‘Yes! That is L.A.’ It is a huge heap of garbage and everyone you meet is walking trash! But this heap of garbage is my home and this walking trash is my best friends. I actually think WeHo is such an incredible place to live. I think the people have a bad reputation for being superficial or, like, weird wannabe famous people. Those people exist, but there are also a ton of super fun creative people who are hilarious.”
As for which area merits the mantle of L.A.’s quintessential gayborhood, WeHo and Silver Lake are too distinctly different to properly judge. It's like comparing apples and oranges. Or twunks and bears. Or the Sharks and the Jets.