Crossing over into neighbourhoods of the body: urban territories, borders and lesbian-queer bodies in New York City

Jen Jack Gieseking

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


The geopolitical focus on territory as a fixed and cohesive nation-state simultaneously conceals the ways territories form and are operationalised at other scales. At the same time, the fleeting ability of minority bodies to make and retain cohesive, property-owned territories overlooks the limited agency that marginalised groups possess while they continually reproduce social territories as they navigate their everyday lives. Lesbians, gay, bisexuals, trans and queer people began to develop urban territories – often dubbed neighbourhoods or gay districts – in which to find, build and share a sense of safety and refuge. Yet all urban territories are not neighbourhoods or districts because not all groups possess the power and capital to secure their boundaries through property ownership. In this paper, I draw specifically upon the experiences of urban lesbians’ and queer women's often overlapping public displays of affection and harassment in New York City to demonstrate the shifting dimensions of territory in these women's lives beyond the neighbourhood/district model. I make use of two cases: the popular ‘gaybourhood’ of Greenwich Village in Manhattan and the border zone of Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. Using a queer-feminist theoretical approach and drawing on Elden's geopolitical theorisation of territorial ‘volume’, I argue that a broader meaning of territory is possible. When lesbian and queer women produce and then return to them or their former sites, they experience what feminist theorist Gloria Anzaldúa describes as ‘crossing over’. This approach highlights the role of the body for rethinking social and cultural territories and borders across scales. I suggest that territory plays a significant role at the urban scale as operationalised through the everyday movements of bodies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)262-270
Number of pages9
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)


  • body
  • border
  • gender
  • geopolitical
  • lesbian
  • neighbourhood
  • queer
  • territory
  • urban
  • women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development


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