Tokyo Valentino is not a historic cultural site for the gay community. It’s a place where sleazy men bang, who otherwise don’t have a place to bust a queer nut. Look, I’m a liberal, sex-loving gay man, but I can tell you without trepidation: I don’t need a dark room with raggedy video booths to affirm my identity. The gay community doesn’t need Tokyo Valentino. We are more than glory holes and hustlers swirling on GHB. So don’t send me a petition to “Save Our Gay Landmarks” if that gay landmark is Tokyo Valentino. This type of conversation waters down the true meaning of historic gay businesses, and threatens to inextricably tie the gay community with unsavoriness not reflective of who we are.
But I do think we should save Tokyo Valentino. We should preserve this sex store because we need seedy businesses in Atlanta. There will always be a need for spaces where suburban men can come and have anonymous sex. Drugs and hustlers are part of our capitalist ecosystem, and it’s important that we give them a place to exist. Using the power of zoning and city ordinances to bully adult businesses out of town is short-sighted. The activities that happen there will move somewhere else. If you aren’t willing to let what happens at Tokyo Valentino happen anywhere in town, and in public, then it’s vital we give space for these businesses to cater to these needs.
There’s a lot of talk about “The Neutering of Cheshire Bridge,” and I think this is an important conversation to have. A city should have a red-light district, because that sort of illicit and illegal activity will happen regardless of how hard we try to legislate it out of our community. Let the hustlers have space to hustle — or else they might walk down to your neighborhood instead.
Part of the problem is the growth of residential properties around Cheshire Bridge, and new residents wanting to “clean up” the area. These new folks do have a point — Cheshire Bridge can be skeezy and gross, and a lot of this action happens out in the open. Businesses like Tokyo Valentino have a responsibility to keep it clean and keep it quiet — and this is what we should hold them accountable to. On the flip side, it’s important that new residents of this area be cool! You chose to move to an area where blowjobs can be had for $20 behind a chain link fence. If the gays and the grays can get along at The Colonnade, then surely we can find a middle ground on the issue of sex stores and strip clubs on Cheshire Bridge.
The place you buy dildos and lacy panties is not a historic LGBT site. Saving Tokyo Valentino is not about saving our queer history. So don’t sell it to me that way. But, making room for Atlanta’s red-light district is important, because it’s safer when we can keep this activity under view of the community.