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September 5th, 2011


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01:37 am - Personal Musings On The West Coast and The Rest of the US
My friend Racheline is a life-long New Yorker, who made an interesting post about visiting the West Coast and how strange it is for her every times she goes there, and that post caused me to think about what the West Coast means to me.

My own experience of the West Coast is very different indeed. I grew up on the East Coast (in the DC area), and went to college in St. Louis MO and Madison WI. Then I move to LA. I loathed LA while I was there, and even more so when I visited it after moving to Portland. I hated it because it was too huge, too sprawling, and simply too exhausting to live in. However, like the rest of the West Coast, it had something I had not experienced before – a feeling of freedom in terms of appearance, both relating to gender norms and also general eccentricity. This freedom is expressed different in different West Coast cities – in LA, it's all about how there are people far, far freakier than you, both bizarre celebrities and simply someone roller-skating past you wearing a jumpsuit and a brightly colored cape (this happened to me in Glendale on evening). Unless you are actively working quite hard to be further out than everyone else, eccentricities of dress or gender presentation are simply too common and too unworthy of comment in much of LA, and people who dress and act in such ways are vividly not alone.

I've never lived in San Francisco, and so I don't know what that dynamic is there, but in both Portland, and I think in Seattle, eccentrics are quite common and so are people with various forms of unusual gender presentation, and rather than being competitive (like so much is in LA), it's more of a relaxed lack of caring on the part of many people, combined with the knowledge that when you walk down the street in the closer-in sections of the city, someone who does not present themselves as having a standard appearance will both not be alone, and will also not be worthy of comment, other than the occasional compliment, if you look particularly good (my London Opera Trenchcoat and also my wonderful 3rd Dr. style Inverness cloak both draw such comments regularly.

I never even notice this freedom and comfort, until I visit places not on the West Coast. I've visited the DC area, New York City, and a couple of Midwestern cities, and a suburb in Arkansas since living in Portland, and they all vividly lack this freedom. People dress far more normatively out on the street. Such, you can find Goths in their goth-clubs, and suchlike, but during the day people look vastly more mainstream. Also, just as importantly for my overall lack of comfort, public gender norms are far stricter and there is far less open gender variance in public, at least during the day and in brightly lit areas. This didn't surprise me one bit in either the DC area, Arkansas, or the cities in Ohio and Indiana that I visited, but both teaotter and I were quite surprised to see how much more normative almost all portions of Manhattan felt than any random street in urban Portland. In general, both men and women dress and act far more conservatively in public, and I find my various jewelry, nail polish, and foppish dress to be far more unusual than it is on the West Coast. Similarly, I remember amberite spending time in Maine at a liberal arts college and coming back very troubled by how strongly gendered everything was there. Even Becca's obviously artificially colored red hair and overall soft-butch appearance often looks distinctive on the East Coast in a way that she almost never does on the West. I have people I care a great deal about who live outside of the West Coast, but no matter how wonderful the visit is, coming back to someplace where walking down the street doesn't make me feel like an alien or an intruder always allows me to relax and feel far more comfortable than I do anywhere else in the US.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

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From:kitten_goddess
Date:September 5th, 2011 01:12 pm (UTC)
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Whenever I visit San Jose/San Francisco, I automatically start aspecting my Kin self as soon as I get off the plane. Last time I was there, I was literally squeeing at everything, from the fog to the buses. Everything seems brighter, more colorful, and cleaner there than it does at home in DC. In San Francisco, I have noticed that same sex couples can kiss and people will smile. In DC, everyone looks away and pretends not to notice. Everyone in San Francisco thinks I'm a native Californian. Whenever I come home from PantheaCon, I go into withdrawal from the West Coast for a fairly long time afterwards.

The good thing about DC, however, is that nobody shoves their religion down your throat like they do in the South. I lived in West Virginia for nine years and that was a major minus. If religion is even mentioned in DC, people have the attitude of "Yes, cough. That's nice. Now go away and leave me alone." Washingtonians leave each other alone. While acceptance is not possible without conformity, at least no one will try to stop me from acting as I want to. I am still very grateful for tolerance.
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From:heron61
Date:September 5th, 2011 10:37 pm (UTC)
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Everyone in San Francisco thinks I'm a native Californian.

As I've mentioned before, when I first met you, I assumed you had grown up in California.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:September 5th, 2011 01:14 pm (UTC)
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BTW, how long are you going to be in the area this week? It's been ages since I've seen any of you, and I miss you guys.
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From:kadath
Date:September 5th, 2011 04:51 pm (UTC)
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I like the East Coast (Northeast, specifically) because people shut the hell up and leave you alone when you're in public. It's the only place I've been in the US where the defaults for casual interaction favor introverts.
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From:dancinglights
Date:September 5th, 2011 05:04 pm (UTC)
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Yes! That! Friendlier can also be more exhausting!

(My other favourite cities include London. Go figure.)
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From:kadath
Date:September 5th, 2011 05:15 pm (UTC)
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I resent being forced to spend my emotional capital for the day on inconsequential interactions. It's not friendliness if there's no chance of a friendship developing. It's just imposition. Bah.

(My faves are Boston, Montreal, and Quebec City. Never been to London, but I would probably like it.)
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From:amberite
Date:September 5th, 2011 10:23 pm (UTC)
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I do think some of that depends on how you grew up. As a native Californian, short-term interactions just don't take much emotional capital for me. Long-term friendships, on the other hand, are awkward and make me always worry about screwing something up.
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From:kadath
Date:September 6th, 2011 03:13 pm (UTC)
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I would probably learn the script if I had to spend longer than a couple weeks, but right now I just find it immensely jarring anytime I'm somewhere store clerks and subway riders expect to make conversation. I DON'T KNOW YOU LEAVE ME ALOOOOONE D8<

Long-term relationships, platonic or otherwise, don't tend to bother me after the first six months or so. I don't hide much about myself, so I figure if they're still around at that point, they knew what they were getting into and they can deal with the fact I like to eat dry StoveTop.
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From:lupagreenwolf
Date:September 5th, 2011 05:23 pm (UTC)
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Yeah. I went from the Biggest Small Town in Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh) to Seattle, and although Portland eventually suited better, there was a distinct shift in setting, and not just geographically.

hell, even when I was 18 and visiting Seattle for the first time for s week-long trip I could tell it was the kind of place I'd been starving for my entire Midwestern life.
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From:mindstalk
Date:September 5th, 2011 06:15 pm (UTC)
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West coast: San Diego. LA's black ghettos or Hispanic districts.

East coast: Boston's Jamaica Plain and its gender-free contra dance. Northhampton. NYC's beatniks.
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From:heron61
Date:September 5th, 2011 10:36 pm (UTC)
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My only experience with Boston was a brief day trip back when I was 16. It sounds like the culture might be somewhat different up there, compared to the rest of the East Coast.
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From:mindstalk
Date:September 6th, 2011 12:29 am (UTC)
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Well, where's Stonewall? NYC. Where were the Beatniks? NYC. JP seems alt-friendly, probably Cambridge too, I'd guess South Boston or Roxbury not so much. But San Francisco... Castro and Haight and Berkeley, sure. Sunset? Mission? Sunnydale? Fremont? I suspect things are a lot more finer grained than coast vs. coast.

Mind you there is some regionalism... medical marijuana is mostly in the West, but gay marriage is mostly in the Northeast, as is universal health care. :)
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From:heron61
Date:September 6th, 2011 04:54 am (UTC)
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I've been to both the East Village and Christopher Street in NYC, and it definitely seems considerably more normative and mainstream in terms of people's overall appearance and also gendered behaviors than most of the West Coast. This surprised me quite a bit, and yet was also quite clear. Some of this is the fact that NYC (as is almost all of the East Coast) is simply more publically formal than most of the West Coast.
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From:kadath
Date:September 6th, 2011 03:07 pm (UTC)
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Boston is very strait-laced, but it's also very mind-your-own-business. It is a black-and-denim kind of town. Visiting West Coasters are always commenting on how drably we dress, and I'm always like "what are you talking about? That's Brooks Brothers!"--total fashion disconnect. Though I think that stems largely from practicality; you can't let your sartorial freak flag fly half the year here or it'll freeze off.

It's certainly not for everyone, but I like it here.
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From:pendelook
Date:September 6th, 2011 10:59 am (UTC)
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I feel like that about being able to look/dress more freely out here, too. I don't even care if it's competitive or not, so long as I know someone else is taking the attention off me and nobody is going to stare or remember me. I'm not sure I would even really want any compliments I might get from being up in Portland-- growing up on the East Coast, which is pretty scary when it comes to "conform or be seen as A Freak Forever", has made me jumpy and paranoid that any attention I get is secretly sarcastic/negative, so I just want to be able to do my thing without being talked to or about.
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From:slothman
Date:September 6th, 2011 09:56 pm (UTC)
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I was quite surprised to hear of a man in California having trouble taking his wife’s last name when they married. Here in Silicon Valley, when I married obsessivewoman, no one at the Social Security Administration or DMV even blinked when I handed them the marriage certificate and filled out the paperwork. I suspect my “aloha shirts every day” policy would get me some strange looks back East...

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