Bob Damron's Address Book - An Archive of Queer Space - Part 2
First designed as a small, wallet-sized book, the early editions of the Address Book contained no single mention of the word “gay” or “homosexual”. In fact, if a stranger were to get a hold of the book there would be no discernable way to identify it as listing gay establishments. This of course was done on purpose--a safety measure against the threat posed from the straight world, yet to a gay man in the know, the book was full of clues and lingo accessible only to those in the “lifestyle”. In “Contacts Desired: Gay and Lesbian Communication and Community, 1940s-1970’s”, Martin Meeker explores the system of codes used by Damron to differentiate the listings. Meeker explains:
"For example, a “D” indicated that dancing was permitted; a “G” signified that “girls,” likely meaning lesbians, frequented the bar; “PE” meant “pretty elegant” (although some readers may have decoded it as “Piss Elegant,” a derogatory term for upwardly mobile gays)...”RT” was decoded as “rugged types,” but those already in the know would further recognize the “RT” as an initialism for “rough trade,” or masculine male prostitutes; and, similarly, “S-M” was explained to mean “some motorcycle,” although those in the life would have recognized those letters also to stand for “sado-masochism.”
The codes in the guidebooks were legible only to a distinct and specific community, making them a clear example of what Jose Esteban Munoz calls “Queer Ephemera”. In “Ephemera as Evidence: Introductory Notes to Queer Acts”, Munoz describes the survival of queerness this way:
"Queerness is often transmitted covertly. This has everything to do with the fact that leaving too much of a trace has often meant that the queer subject has left herself open for attack. Instead of being clearly available as visible evidence, queerness has instead existed as innuendo, gossip, fleeting moments, and performances that are meant to be interacted with by those within its epistemological sphere---while evaporating at the touch of those who would eliminate queer possibility."
In the years before the Black Cat and Stonewall protests, this level of covert secrecy and innuendo was necessary, but as the rise of the gay rights movement gained momentum in the early 1970s, Damron shed the coded nature of the books and began a remarkable transformation of the guidebooks that in many ways mirrors the transformation of the gay community in the US taking place at the time. This transformation is most clearly visible by the abrupt and sudden appearance of advertisements in the 1974 edition of the guidebook. Every year Damron published a new and updated version of the book, and as the gay rights movement progressed, so did the overt nature of the advertisements. By 1977, advertisements featured fully nude men and by 1979 the advertisements openly courted gay men.
In addition to the growing number of advertisements in the books, the number of listings also dramatically swelled, peaking in the 1982 edition. By 1984 however, the Los Angeles section of the guidebook saw a 60% drop in listings--a fact that can easily be attributed to the start of the decimation of the AIDS epidemic during those early years of the crisis. On the one hand, the advertisements and growing number of listings act as evidence of the success of the gay rights movement, yet the decline in listings that begin in the editions published in the early 80s also speak to the devastation of a disease--one whose destruction was aided by government inaction rooted in animus.
This remarkable rise and fall is what this web-project visualizes and maps. "Disguised Ruins" approaches the address books, not as historical relics, but rather utilizes them as potent archives of queer spaces. The addresses found in these archives tell a story of the psychogeography of queer Los Angeles--a liminal space whose history and presence is continually threatened. This threat is what prompted me to undertake this project--to visualize and record the history of these spaces so that the next time I walk past the former site of Cypress Baths or The Pleasure Chest, I can connect the past with the present. This project insists on marking the existence of queer people and the spaces they created--a map-based resistance that refuses to see the cleaned up and renovated buildings of a newly gentrified gayborhood as just another disguised ruin from a forgotten and unreachable past.