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Are You a Queer Floridian Contemplating a Move to New York City?

Gov. DeSantis and Mayor Adams
From left: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and New York City Mayor Eric Adams

New York City Mayor Eric Adams wants you, but make sure to bring an open mind, thick skin, sharp elbows, and a thick wallet.

March 1, 1993, was my first official day in New York City, after leaving my career on Capitol Hill behind. I was headed to my first acting class, and later to a job interview as a waiter. All actors must be waiters, so I thought.

At 29, I was making Frank Sinatra proud by "making a brand-new start of it." I had found a place to live, with a roommate, in a building in what was then a rather run-down Hell's Kitchen. I got up that morning with passionate optimism. I was going to make it here!

The building had a clunky elevator, and as I headed down to the first floor, indeed I had "New York, New York" humming through my mind. I gallantly stepped off the elevator, made a left toward the exit, and all that optimism was pushed out of me.

There, in broad daylight, outside the window of the building, a woman, rear end facing inward, was pushing out too. She was defecating in a flower planter just outside the entrance. I had no idea what to do. I was frozen and thinking, Is New York City going to be this shitty?

On Monday of this week, New York City Mayor Eric Adams unveiled an ad campaign to coax LGBTQ+ Floridians who are upset about the new "don't say gay" law to move to Gotham. "We want you here in New York," Adams said. "This is the city of Stonewall. This is the city where we are proud to talk about how you can live in a comfortable setting and not be harassed, not be abused -- not only as adults but also as young people."

I found some irony in this campaign. When things got tough in New York City for me -- and trust me, it does get brutally tough sometimes -- I usually headed to South Beach to blow off some steam, and revel in the sun, sand, waves, and nightlife on Ocean Drive and beyond. And on each trip, I contemplated moving there. For years, South Beach became the place to go and somewhere I wanted to live.

Now, it seems, New York City is the place to go and the place to live and relieve all the worry.

The whole concept of escaping to Florida has been flipped on its head by Mayor Adams. And Florida, with its autocratic leader Gov. Ron DeSantis, is making the state less and less hospitable to the LGBTQ+ community. The only difference between Putin and DeSantis is that Putin persecutes queer people. DeSantis just tapes their mouths shut.

So should Floridians who are queer and whose mouths have been taped shut in the classroom, and whose rights are diminishing, uproot and flee to New York City? It sounds good in an ad, but there need to be plenty of considerations given before you put your condo on the market.

I lived in Manhattan for over 28 years, leaving last summer to go directly across the Hudson River to New Jersey. In the end, it was time to go. And like Eddie Albert's character in Green Acres, Oliver Douglas, our city-adverse Puerto Rican rescue dog said you can keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside.

As I write this, though, I'm looking directly across the river at the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I lived there briefly and moved nine times in my first two years in Manhattan. I was always looking for a cheaper deal since being a waiter, a trainer, or an overnight proofreader at a law firm barely paid the tuition of my acting school.

Once I settled down and got back into my profession -- being an actor was not a good investment, financially and or time-wise -- I started to enjoy all that New York City had to offer. All the great bars, clubs, restaurants, theaters, etc.

And New York City did give me more of an opportunity to be my gay self. Everyone in Manhattan knew someone who was gay, so it wasn't a big deal. People don't care who you are or who you sleep with as long as you don't get in their way.

I get asked quite frequently by the children of my high school and college friends about whether they should move to the city after they graduate from college, so I'll offer some of that same advice to anyone in Florida who might be considering moving to New York.

Besides packing extra layers of clothes for the winter, you'll need to also bring with you an extra layer of skin. The city can be unrelentingly tough and unforgiving. It is not for the faint of heart. The minute you walk out the door, and if you're lucky you don't see someone defecating outside of it, it's a daily battle.

Let's take a typical workday. There's the serpentine walk to the subway and the dreaded packed-to-the-gills crowd waiting on the platforms. Everyone is plotting their plow ahead to get into the next arriving subway car, and when it arrives it is a verifiable push that comes to shove -- fellow passengers be damned.

In New York City, everyone is always in a hurry, and where they are going is more important than where you are going. It's required selfishness if you want to get to your destination on time during rush hour or if you're battling crowds on sidewalks or elsewhere.

And if you think it's hot in Florida, try waiting on those platforms during rush hour, perspiring shoulders to shoulders on 90-degree days with exorbitant humidity. There was many a day I showed up at work looking like I had just taken a grueling swim.

Now back to that serpentine walk. It was bad enough from the '90s to the mid-2000s to attempt a stroll down the street. Then came the horridness of cell phones. That selfishness down below has crept up to street level. Everyone has their head buried in their phones. That platform selfishness covers sidewalks because, remember, everyone's text messages are more important than yours.

If you have never been to New York City, you will be shocked to see how many people can fit on those narrow sidewalks, even worse now with outdoor dining huts leaving even less space. I have seen my fair share of cell phone-addicted people involved in head-on collisions with other mobile device addicts. And when it happens, it ain't pretty. It's always the other guy's fault. Always.

I was running once along the Hudson River, and a woman on a bike plowed into me while she was typing on her cell phone. I hit the ground hard. I was bleeding from my head and from my knees. She looked over at me, and the very first thing she said was "Where's my phone?" I'm certain my editor would not print my response.

Depending on where you live, New Yorkers are also much more prominent than you are. I've lived in high-rises most of my time in NYC. Once, a mom and dad and their toddler daughter got into my elevator, and the father was talking in baby gibberish. The wife looked at me and said, "Are you watching this? My husband is one of New York City's most sought-after attorneys. He's on TV all the time and makes millions, and look how he behaves. Isn't this the funniest thing you've ever seen?"

I was utterly speechless.

In NYC you literally see everything disgusting, and after a while, you start to see things multiple times, and you just become immune to it. I've seen dozens of defecations, scores of open ejaculations, and countless public urinations. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

There is always something new that happens during a typical day in Manhattan that will surprise you, delight you, frighten you, and enlighten you. Put 8 million people together in a crowded city, get them stirred up, and let the fun begin; however, the fun comes with a cost.

Now for some really blunt news if the rest wasn't enough. New York City is a verifiable money pit. It is excruciatingly expensive. There have been stories that while queer people in red states want to move to urban areas in blue states, they just can't afford it, and that's the real drawback of New York City. It's why I had to give up my dream of becoming an actor: the money.

Having said all that, I had the best 28 years of my life in New York City, and as such, I pretty much have a story for everything. And the best of everything, stories, food, and otherwise can be found in New York.

If you're queer in Florida and thinking about relocating, make sure you're ready to take on the world. People might be more accepting of you as queer so long as you don't get in their way, but you might not be as accepting of everyone else.

Don't forget to bring your thick skin, your open mind, your sharp elbows, and in all seriousness, have a plan for how you're going to afford living here.

And if on your first day in the city you discover someone defecating on the sidewalk, think of it as a good omen!

John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.

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