Postcards From Home: Paul Rowley

As part of GCN's current Travel issue, we talk to members of the Irish LGBT+ community who have made new lives abroad.

Paul Rowley wearing a hat and glasses, behind him a desert landscape

Paul Rowley has been living in New York for 25 years.

Why did you move away, Paul?

I’m an accidental American. I honestly never had any intention of moving here, but my Mam applied for the Morrison visa lottery for me back in 1992 and I got one. So before I knew it I was sleeping on a friend of a friend’s couch in the Bronx. It was the sweaty hot summer of 1993, and he was terrified that he was going to get evicted for letting me stay there, so we had to pretend to the roommates that we were brothers. Which became hilariously complicated when we started hooking up! Those walls were thin!  

Right away, I fell in love not only with him but with New York City. I got a $4 an hour job working in Tower Records and started to get to know the town. Because I was Irish – aka ‘foreign’ – they put me in charge of the World Music section, which was 98% salsa music, plus one copy of A Woman’s Heart on cassette. But the job was just a means to an end. I met my friend Terrence there and he immediately took me under his wing. He was roommates with a gaggle of NYC club kids and DJs, and he made it his business to show me the town. Limelight, Save The Robots, Sound Factory, Club USA, The Roxy – it was all of that in one night as we tore from club to club. It’s where I first got to hang out with drag queens and got my eyes opened to the wonder of NYC.

What do you miss about Ireland?

I miss my friends and family of course, but I’m lucky in that I travel back to Ireland a lot. And people come here to visit as well. So I’ve really kept very connected to everyone there, even though I’ve lived longer here now than in Ireland. I also miss Europe in general – being able to get on a plane for an hour or two and be in a different country. I still find that whole thing very glamorous!

What do you not miss?

I used to ‘not miss’ a lot more. I used to not miss the conservative climate, the patronising lecturing of the church that managed to seep its way into the papers and the media, but of course things have changed a lot since I left and I’m so happy to see that, so now I don’t have much I don’t miss. But I certainly don’t miss the Angelus! I hadn’t heard it for years, until recently on a trip back home from an afterparty, and the Angelus came on in the taxi. I nearly fell out of the cab in shock.

What do you love about where you live now, Paul?

I love the people. I love their sass and their honesty, their love of life. Their practical no-nonsense get-on-with-it attitude. The way they are so super supportive of you when you’re trying to get a project off the ground. I love the diversity of this giant international city. I love that I hear five or ten languages at the same time in a subway car. And I love its queerness. It’s a giant big gay city with so much important queer history, and I love that I am now surrounded by that.

Paul Rowley in a black and white photo smiling

And finally, Paul, rate your queer scene. Anything different/similar?

New York is such a huge city so there are many different thriving queer scenes. From Hell’s Kitchen and the theatre scene to the Latinx parties in Queens, to the hipster homo discos in Bushwick. There’s a lot going on. And I like to have my toe in lots of it of course. It’s the diversity of the city that makes it so exciting. These days I’m very involved with grassroots queer activism, so a lot of my gay family here are involved with doing political work. I’m especially currently connected to Gays Against Guns – a group set up right after the Pulse massacre. They are an extraordinarily creative and determined gaggle of people. I do a radio show with them weekly now and am making a feature documentary with them about queer activism.

Socially I love going dancing – there are some fab mixed queer clubs in Brooklyn that play great music like JD Samson’s party, PAT – which I love. And I DJ at a club called King Size Queen which is pretty well explained by the name – mega camp disco music and painted ladies of all stripes. The queer scene here really is as diverse as the city itself – constantly changing and never enough time to do everything – but that keeps it exciting too. Nearly 25 years later I’m still not bored with New York. She’s a sassy take-no-shit Momma to us all, and even though she might work your nerves sometimes, she’s always gonna be there, pushing you to be the best and gayest version of yourself that you can be.

Love to everyone in Ireland,

Paul.

Look out for more Postcards From Home similar to Paul’s featuring postcards from the Irish LGBT+ community abroad and from new members to our queer family who have made a new home in Ireland inside the current issue of GCN

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