by Jessie Pinkham
Mr. P and I lived in Philadelphia for a year, long enough to learn he hated it and I didn’t love city life either. I like quiet to facilitate writing. Anyway, one day he wanted to go for a walk. I had a headache, so he went out solo, and he came back with an amusing anecdote.
For context, he doesn’t wear a wedding ring because it drives him nuts, so he’s lacking that indicator of being taken. And I am biased, but I think he’s a good-looking man. 😉
He’d gone up to City Hall and decided to take a different way home. Eventually, he noticed none of the women he passed were paying him any attention whatsoever. The men, on the other hand, were being unusually friendly.
Then he looked up and saw a rainbow street sign, and all became clear. He was in the Gayborhood.
Sorry, fellas, I know he’s a catch, but he’s spoken for! (And straight.)
When writing Pursuing Happiness, my goal was complete realism. I wanted to engage with the challenges that inevitably result from an unhealthy childhood of religious abuse and isolation, and to support the effort, I decided to set the story in Philadelphia. Because I work in Philly and visit often for non-work reasons, I’m familiar with the city. In my own humble opinion this is conducive to creating a setting which rings true and supports my ultimate aim of realism.
A lot of the local flavor comes in the form of small comments, such Matt wishing he had enough money to live in the Gayborhood. Philadelphia truly has an area known officially as the Gayborhood, complete with rainbow street signs and crosswalks. It’s not a cheap area to live, so it’s out of Matt’s budget, but it’s a good place for LGBT folks to find romantic and/or sexual partners. More often than not, men in the Gayborhood are assumed to be into other men, as Mr. P’s experience shows.
Philly is, on the whole, a place where LGBT folks are accepted and valued, so it’s a supportive home for Matt and Levi as they learn to embrace their sexuality. I imagine they pick up their free weekly copies of Philadelphia Gay News, a detail which didn’t make it into the story. As Levi describes the city, “I like the diversity. People with neon hair, guys holding hands, dogs wearing clothes, and nobody stares.”
This is the city where Thomas Jefferson wrote that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights. We’ve come a long way toward making that a reality, though we still have further to go. I think it makes Philadelphia a perfect setting for Matt’s story of leaving his repressive and toxic family in order to make a fulfilling life for himself.