Cherry Grove & Fire Island Pines: The Famous Gay & Lesbian Resort Communities on the Atlantic

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CHANGE , CHERRYS and The Reel Deal:
by Barbara Ann Levy

In recent days a Grove publication has sensationalized the closing of a bar restaurant in the Grove that has seen a change in ownership over the past several years.

Whoa! Let's put this in perspective, shall we? Cherrys is one part of a much larger picture. Big personalities seem to occlude the view.

The economy has suffered in NY State post 9-11 and has hit the Grove as well as the tri-state area hard. As the song goes, "We are not alone!". Corporate America is moving out in large numbers as Islamic extremists threaten the northeast and tell Muslims to move out of the area. Throw in an electrical fire or two , the downing of Flight 800 and an arsonist in the Grove in the past four years not to mention the ELF in the area and you have, "... trouble , my friend in river city spelled with a capital "T" that stands for trouble: "Trouble, trouble trouble!"

Throw in another couple a' bitter cold winters, a frozen Great South Bay and businesses and homeowners alike continue to get clobbered: construction schedules get put back, etc etc.. Rising insurance rates and threats to the ecological balance of Fire island courtesy of our President's current threat to cut the Army Corps of Engineer budget all contribute to collective insecurity in the Grove not to mention the nation. We are a microcosm...remember ?

Unfortunately the disco diva days of the Grove are over as they are in the rest of the country in this wartime climate. They were great fun and a symbol of gay liberation but we need to let go already to let "the new whatever" happen! We have "The L-Word" , "Gay Eye for the Straight Guy" and a host of other glbt inspired TV shows.

Change is hard for most members of this predominantly glbt community. One should ask, "Who are we now?" Some lesbian members want it to become a Buddhist community! One summer, a group of (east ) Indians wandered through a business establishment in the Grove to look for opportunities and this past summer one member of the community told me on the QT that, "The Russians are coming!".

The struggle continues between an old guard who are over 70 years of age+ and a new energetic glbt generation who are in their 30's. Its a new era. Smell the coffee Mary!

I for one carry on by the seat of my pants and will continue into what may be my last season , my 7th, as an art gallery owner in the Grove. Amazing enough in this economy! I have put everything I own and then some into this business. It has been a major challange in my life, to keep it going at great odds in this economic climate and on an island to boot . On the one hand, insurance rates are prohibitive for all businesses in Cherry Grove. Permits to do almost anything on Fire Island are rife with corruption, special interests and greed thanks to "Crookhaven" Township. Steve Levy promises to clean it up . I do hope that he is successful. I for one was nearly taxed by the state of NY on my own money that I pumped into my own business! Today I am a member of the US Chamber of Commerce, by invitation.

I fear that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Today one business is having a hard time getting permits to carry out a legit business enterprise that most likely will not open on time because of this dysfunctional small town power-mongering. There is also a deep seated hateful rivalry between "city people" and those that live out here. There is envy and a class conflict. Most folks that live in the Grove have trust funds or stashes of cash that Long Islanders from the South Fork have had to work doubly hard to get and keep and therefore resent this easy monied population of the Grove. I found this out when as a "city person" I moved into my house in Cherry Grove post 9-11 and then into an apartment on the mainland for the winter months. FYI-You live in a red light district as seen by Islip townsfolk. Out of the horses mouth! I kid you not! One person in a considerable place of authority from the township informed me at a political fundraiser that there is an unwritten rule for those in positions of authority at the beach to turn the other cheek and allow the law to be broken as a pattern in Cherry Grove. Now....I can tell you as a former trust fund baby myself who lived in NYC for 27 years that NYC people do not want to live in a red light district in the summer months! They are professionals: doctors, lawyers, teachers, therapists etc.. Don't get me wrong. "City People" do want to party in the summer months, to let their hair down but they also want to call the shots in a community they call their own. They should call the shots. Homeowners pay taxes in Cherry Grove. Few people from the mainland on Long Island pay taxes in Cherry Grove. Who SHOULD call the shots?? Visitors are guests of the homeowners and as such they should be respectful and considerate when they visit a place others call home. Forceful intrusion into the community by others is seen as an intrusion by homeowners in the Grove.

This year I became a member of a new Chamber of Commerce. I am hopeful that this group will pump new life into the Grove to make it an energetic and fun place to be in the summer months with an eye toward balance that might be palatable for all members of the community. Guests are welcome but need to consider the rights of others who contribute vast sums of money and time to the area and who respect the National Seashore and who protect it.


It is in my opinion.... As gay men, most of us are concerned with beauty. Whether it's inner or outer. We start out alike in many ways, yet some of us lose track of who we are, and what's really important in life. Sort of like the "Rags to Riches" story. Wherein, the person coming from nothing, makes his fortune. Sometimes he forgets that at one point he was poor, and he becomes someone else when he's made his money. Like he needs to forget who he once was, and where he came from.

As a gay man growing up in a typical suburb, I, among many others like me, was eager to fit in. We, as young gay men were trying to find our place in a young male society. We weren't fully accepted by girls our age, and we definitely were not accepted by the boys, or considered the "same" by them either. We yearned to feel included, whether it was the cool boys we wanted to hang with, or just be picked for a team in gym class. School, usually when asked, was hell for most young gay men. We were still trying to fit in, and when the overly straight, or totally closeted, boys saw the slightest "weakness" in you, they stomped all over it.

Which brings us to adult gay men, that after years of feeling less than, are in total control of themselves, and what they choose to do with their lives. Some are smart. Some are creative. Some are sensitive. Some are all of the above, and much more. Some of us are comfortable in our own skins, and some feel the need to do whatever it takes to fit into a society they never felt they belonged to. I'll call it "The Boys Club." These boys aside from having productive careers, need to push themselves to the highest level of masculinity, or their vision of it, as best they can. The Boys Club is a level of acceptance that is a very high to the other boys in the club. They tend to have a hard time acknowledging the boys outside the club, and tend to relate only to other "members." I've found that in order to become a member, you need to have the required look. Therefore, gym membership is mandatory. The accepted level is hard to achieve. You'll need to work your body past natural shaping, and go beyond that of healthy muscle toning. A good visual would be a male bathing suit model, or a male porn star. More muscle, the higher club level. In the beginning it seems normal to these men. To want to be fit and in good shape. But then, the temptation to be in "the club" makes them dive into this behavior full force.

I even thought for a while that I needed to be on this same path myself. Then before I started taking fat burning vitamins, and drinking protein shakes with a splash of creatine powder, I realized that, I DON'T LIKE the men in the boys club, and didn't want to be any part of it. In fact, when I looked around, most of the men outside of the club hate the men in it also! They forget who they once were. They forget how much it meant to them to be accepted by their peers. They become shallow, judgmental, and very self absorbed. Their bodies, and their workout routines come before everything - their work, their families, and most importantly, their relationships. Unless of course their partners are club members also. They like that the best because it's like looking into a mirror. The boys in this club love who they are, and what they've become. It's as if the members ask themselves, "What were you doing with that non- member?!?" Unfortunately, some of these men, though seemingly wanting to be "healthy'" also start up with things that are totally UNhealthy. Steroids for one. Creatine is a more natural substance closely related to steroids, but not as dangerous. I'm sure there are many more supplements that I'm not aware of. Also, ironic as it may be, a lot of the boys also dabble with recreational drugs like Ecstasy, K, Crystal Meth and Cocaine, to name a few.. So obviously, there is no "club code" on staying healthy and fit.

It seems to be more about a big ole party, of looking good, and feeling "fine." Too bad under the influence of these drugs the boys can't behave normally in social settings, not to mention perform sexually. Which reminds me, one of the reasons most of the people "join" this club, is to meet more men, and/or, to have more sex!?! Go figure!

What I find most members are missing is their soul. They sort of "sold" it for this new and "improved" version of themselves. Some have no insight on the human spirit. No compassion and no feeling, or feelings. Again, unless it's for other members. They'll be compassionate to their "brothers" if they find a hot new protein bar, or a new kind of razor for body hair removal. Aside from self motivated suggestions, they really don't have that much to offer to their non-member, well balanced peers. Gay or straight. If it didn't take too much time away from their gym time, a place of worship, or some soul building workshops could be an answer to the clubs dilemma. It could be anything from meditation, to yoga, to even getting in touch with a higher being, or God. Balance is key. Mental and physical. That way, upon confrontations with non- members and members alike, they'd feel comfortable to smile, and say hello. We healthy men wouldn't be such a threat to them. Maybe they'd see that some of us are actually fit, and attractive, and choose not to be in the club.

Maybe if we as non members went to their club meetings, and explained to them that by talking to us, and allowing us into their world, they won't magically turn back into who they used to be. But maybe learn that who and what they once were, was not really bad at all. We can teach them to combine who they once were, and show them a way to still be fit and even muscular, if they choose to be. Aside from explaining to them that carbohydrates can still be their friend. If we can't somehow make that connection with these club members, then everything that we were against growing up, trying to fit in, will get worse. Gays against Gays. It's not a pretty place. We can't forget the acceptance that we've wanted for so long. We can't let our outside appearance dictate our being accepted. These club members need to learn acceptance from within. When all is said and done, their highest attribute (to themselves) will rot away, and not go with them to where we're all going after this life. Hold onto your beauty boys, your INNER beauty. You'll go further, and have a more enriching and meaningful existence. You will prosper, and you will be loved and accepted by all walks of life, not just your own.

As gay men and women, we've had to put up with a lot in our lives. Young and old. We can't turn into the people that made us feel bad growing up, or the ones that still to this day try to put us under a table. No one deserves to be overlooked, or under appreciated. Especially in our own community. If you choose to remain in the "boys club," then you become more horribly ugly than you can imagine. In and Out. It doesn't matter how beautiful you think you are on the outside. Balance is key. Right or wrong, yes or no, top or bottom. Balance. --J. Bellavia

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