Thursday, July 29, 2010

George Davis for Supervisor

George Davis (far right) kicked off his campaign for San Francisco Supervisor of district six on July 28, 2010 by walking the boundary of his district naked.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Sickness

“That’s fucking gross.” I looked at the older man in the grey Mercedes wearing a button down striped dress shirt open at the collar staring back at me with a grimace and smiled. He repeated, louder, “That’s fucking gross,” and drove off.

The lexical data base for English at Princeton University shows gross’s semantic relations as crude, earthy, gross, vulgar (conspicuously and tastelessly indecent), but also as megascopic, gross (visible to the naked eye (especially of rocks and anatomical features)), and also, interestingly enough, gross, porcine (repellently fat).

I thought about what constituted the state of grossness. Obviously, peoples’ perceptions of what is gross vary to some degree. I would also hazard that those perceptions are learned and cultural specific, what we might find repellant other cultures possibly find acceptable. Here was a man, because he was protected by his Mercedes, able to opine on my being and escape due to the power of his internal combustion engine.

Owning an automobile costing anywhere from $34,000 to $110,500 depending on the model in a city where the poverty rate is 10.5 percent and the poverty threshold for a family of three is $18,310 of income a year and the average yearly rental rate per room is $20,400. Yes, that is per room. To my way of thinking, that seems gross. Of course, I don’t fault the man behind the wheel of the Mercedes . . . entirely. One must ask questions, however. Is he aware of his privilege, does he give back to help correct the social wrongs, does his job contribute to the well-being of society or does it profit from the exploitation and creation of problems. These are questions which, of course, have no ready answer but which I feel bear asking considering the ease with which he passes judgement.

But what was it that elicited such a visceral response from this man? Readers who are familiar with me will have likely guessed the answer by now. Yes, I was walking down the street, naked, except for my shoes, hat, and backpack. I find it extraordinary that he, or anyone, can have such a strong reaction to the sight of a naked body. What is it about the exposed human body which elicits not only a negative response in some people, but one which is almost always rabid.

I am reminded of a short story from Howard Fast’s book, Time and the Riddle: 31 Zen Stories entitled “The Sight of Eden” in which seven astronauts discover an earth-like planet on the far side of the universe which is beautiful beyond description. They find planet to be like the garden of their dreams, filled with fragrance, music, and color to delight their every moment. After three days they finally meet a man in a robe able to read their minds named Smith. Smith tells them that this particular planet is a park for the children in this part of the galaxy. Smith’s people have been watching the Earth’s inhabitants for a long time and he has been sent to talk with them about their sickness. The seven Earth astronauts argue with Smith and defend their state of civilization; they are scientists, doctors, teachers. Smith opens his robe, lets it slip off, exposing his naked body to them. They turn their heads in shock and shame. “‘In all the universe,’ Smith said, ‘there is only one race of man that holds its bodies in shame and contempt. All others walk naked in pride and unashamed. Only Earth has made the image of man into a curse and a shame. What else must I say?’”

Indeed, what else must I say?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Who Is Allowed In The Commons?

According to Wikipedia, “A public space is a social space such as a town square that is open and accessible to all, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age or socio-economic level. One of the earliest examples of public spaces are commons.” San Francisco’s streets and public right of ways make up twenty-five percent of the city’s land area, even more space than is found in all of the city’s parks. Pavements to Parks is a collaborative effort between the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Public Works, the Planning Department, and the Municipal Transportation Agency to take underutilized areas of street space and re-imagine them as urban parks and plazas. The Castro Commons at 17th and Castro Streets is a part of this project.

The Castro Commons is located at the terminus of the San Francisco Muni’s Historic Streetcar line which connects the Castro neighborhood with the Embarcadero and Fisherman’s Wharf, bringing hundreds of tourists into the Castro neighborhood every weekend. Obviously, the neighborhood’s business leaders, the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro, or MUMC, have an interest in making the Castro Commons a safe and welcoming space to introduce tourists to the area.

Every weekend morning, long before the first influx of tourists arrive on the historic streetcars, a few men can be found resting at the tables and chairs of the commons. One can tell these men’s economic situation just be looking. Some are there with all of their worldly possessions stashed in a cart. Some just have to look that one soon acquires from living on the streets after awhile. Every weekend morning, like clockwork, a San Francisco bicycle patrol officer appears and engages these men in conversation. This officer never bothers to speak with other, more affluent Commons users, only those whose status is apparent by their dress.

It is a mystery what the officer says to these men, but the conversation always continues until, one by one, the men finally leave, after which the officer leaves. Perhaps the officer is directing these men to city services where they may receive food or housing. I don’t know. What is clear is that every weekend morning, after the officer comes through the Castro Commons, the area is clear of these homeless men.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Positive Police Response

It is so easy for one to be become caught up in negativity. The news is filled with terrible stories; rarely do good deeds or happy events bare reporting. Those people who complain and try to impose their own moral and behavioral agenda on others can seem so overwhelming that analyzing and writing about them can become a daily burden and can cause one to loose perspective. I am happy to be able to relay some fantastic news to those of you who follow my writings. Sanity does seem to exist in some quarters.

Today being Saturday, I was of course at work at my job in the Castro. My nudist friend CJ showed up about ten minutes before I was due to be finished. I finished my shift, did my end of shift duties, walked out the front door of the restaurant, removed my clothing, and joined him at a table on the Castro Commons. While we sat there enjoying the sun and the air folks would occasionally come over to us to ask what we were doing, why we were doing it, or just to take pictures. We happily obliged them all, CJ is quite a spokesperson for the civic nudist cause. After about an hour two police officers approached us. By now there were perhaps four or five people with cameras talking to us and three of our other nudists friends had joined us.

“Good afternoon gentleman,” the one officer said. “How are you guys today?” We responded that we were fine. He proceeded to explain that they were there because they had received several complaints that nude men were in the Commons and there were lots of families around the area. The officer than said that he could see we were not breaking any laws, that indeed there was no law against just being nude in San Francisco and he observed that we were just out getting some sun. He then asked us if we were having any problems, if anyone was harassing us. We replied that everything was fine, to which he replied that they were only responding to the complaints and that they observed that we were in fact, not breaking the law. He then told us to enjoy ourselves and left.

I cannot begin to express to you how wonderful and empowering this felt to me. In fact, my friend CJ was preparing to leave to get some food and I was planing to head off home. CJ put his clothing on to go into the restaurant where I work. We said our goodbyes, and I walked down Castro Street and up Eighteenth Street, naked, my head held high in the knowledge that I had the backing of at least two of San Francisco’s police officers.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Selling Out for Acceptance.

Yesterday was a lovely day in San Francisco, unseasonably warm weather for San Francisco summers which have the reputation of being, for the uninitiated tourist, colder than most winters. I met up with my friend Randal after work and we walked over tho the Noe Street Farmer’s Market. After some purchasing and grazing, I removed my clothing and we proceeded to walk down Market Street to Castro Street, down Castro to Eighteenth Street, and then up Eighteenth the five blocks to my house without incident. Once there, Randal entertained me on our saw which he spied on our back porch work area. He was impressed; as, according to him, musical saws are becoming difficult to find! I was impressed by his ability to produce music from our tools!

After a quick dinner we, Randal, my partner John, and I, made our way back to the Castro to see a double feature at the Castro Theatre, Mildred Pierce followed by Leave Her to Heaven. While we were driving down Eighteenth Street at Castro, we noticed a spectacle taking place in the bus stop. A homeless man was down on his hands and knees picking up what appeared to be little pieces of blue paper scattered all over the gutter. Standing in front of their patrol car, side by side some seven feet away from him with their legs slightly spread and their arms crossed, were two patrol officers. Presciently, Randall mocking said, “Now you pick everyone of those up,” as that is what we soon heard one of the officers exclaim. The pathetic man replied, “I just don’t want to be run over by he bus,” as he crawled around in the gutter picking up the trash.

After finding rock star parking directly in front of the theatre, I spied my friend Eric walking up the street, naked. He stopped to say hello and tell how one of the Castro Street Patrol officers had just been harassing him, telling Eric that every time we nudists were out he gets tons of complaints. Eric inquired as to whether he had gotten any complaints specifically addressed to him that evening. On replying no, Eric moved on, naked. While we were chatting a man a half block away started yelling very loudly, “Put some clothes on.” As he approached us he continued to yell, “How do you expect to gain acceptance if you insist on acting like that?” He then played the children card, telling how there are children around, especially on weekends when “you nudists seem to want to come out in force.”

There seems to be an intensified effort of late to police not only behavior but also the sort of people who are permitted to remain in the Castro since the Castro Commons, as the new plaza space at the Seventeenth Street, Castro Street, and Market Street intersection is ironically referred to. In the past week I have noticed four such incidents myself, the two described above, and two more which involved the police apparently engaged in persuading persons who appear “homeless” to move along, one was a transexual woman on the sidewalk in front of the Walgreens Pharmacy at Eighteenth and Castro Streets very early Sunday morning whom the police confronted and later that day, a black woman who had spent the past four hours dancing in the Commons to the music only she heard made the mistake of asking on of our upstanding Castro residents if she could purchase a cigarette from him. That request alone was enough to impel this citizen to make a call to the police.

When the police arrived, the Castro citizen who lodged his complaint insisted the officer press charges. After talking with the woman and running a check on her identification, the officer concluded that, even though the woman had been drinking, since she agreed to move along after finding something to eat it would be much more disruptive to arrest her than not. Not being appeased, the complaining Castro resident stood his ground, approaching the officer three more times to demand the satisfaction of an arrest. In the end the officer prevailed, the woman moved on, and the resident had fodder for the ongoing narrative of negativity which stigmatizes certain persons and the behaviors of persons who frequent our neighborhood.

Are we as a community that desperate for acceptance by the larger society that we are so easily willing to sell out and marginalize our own diversity to accomplish that narrow agenda? Are we really willing to become as intolerant and restrictive as our oppressors against whom we fought back at Stonewall forty-one years ago? As we live in a world were it is plain that the status quo will no longer work for the future, a world that will not be sustained by the never ending growth, extraction of resources, and dumping of pollution unbridled capitalism requires, a world were we will need to look and work locally to sustain ourselves, we in the Queer community have an opportunity to use our collective creativity and imagination that our very diversity can manifest to help achieve the change required. Sadly, we seem to be failing miserably.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Radical Nudist

There has been a new nudist face brightening the Castro neighborhood the past few weeks. I finally got an opportunity to met this handsome gentleman on Saturday, June 26, which was also Pink Saturday. I left work that day, removed my clothing, and started walking down Market Street when this fellow naked man approached me commenting on the fact of our similar dress, or lack thereof. We introduced ourselves and I had the pleasure of meeting the delightful CJ Russell, not only handsome but incredibly generous and sweet.

CJ is a real nudist activist. I have seen him since out and about naked in the Castro and on his bike, usually alone, a brave think indeed. I have added a link to CJ's blog, which I urge everyone to check out.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Naked on Market

Naked on Market
Originally uploaded by Earthworm
I am on my way to the Faerie Village at SF Pride.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

My pride celebrations began with a viewing of the film Stonewall Uprising at Frameline’s thirty-fourth LGBT International Film Festival. The film’s exposition was quite detailed and explicit and many in the theatre were in tears before the long list of legally sanctioned violent acts and crimes perpetrated on homosexuals during the 1950s and 1960s climaxed with the Stonewall Inn raid and resistance of that famous June night in 1969. Homosexuality was illegal during the 1950s and 1960s. Homosexuals could only gather in private. To reveal ones sexuality meant not only arrest, but social ostracization, loss of ones job, and in some cases commitment to an institution where treatment methods ran the gamut from electric shock aversion therapy to lobotomies. Plainclothes police would entrap homosexuals in public restrooms by soliciting them for sex. It was illegal for bars to serve alcohol to homosexuals and homosexuality was considered a mental disorder.

In spite of these risks a few homosexuals banned together to protest for equal rights prior to 1969. The Mattachine Society was one such homophile organization which was involved with picketing Independence Hall in Philadelphia on July 4, 1965. The pickets were required to wear dresses or suits and ties in order to look just like ordinary Americans. A participant told how she felt as though they were all in a fishbowl, entertainment for all of the ice-cream eating tourists, and she would not do it again.
By 1969 the mafia was in control of any gay bars which existed; being the only ones possessing the network necessary to pay the police off and keep the bars open. A gay community had formed in New York City’s West Village made up of those who already had little to loose: people of color, drag queens and transsexuals, and homeless and run-away youth. These were the clientele of the Stonewall Inn and these were the people who resisted the police raid on the first night of rioting, June 28, 1969. Although the police faced a crowd outside the Inn of between one hundred and one hundred and fifty who were attracted by the sounds of the police cars, the noise and commotion; a crowd which soon would grow to between five and six hundred, it was the crowd of lesbians, drag queens, transvestites, and effeminate queer youth inside the bar who first resisted arrest by refusing to be searched for gender conformity or to produce identification when so ordered by the police.

The rioting would continue the following night, drawing even larger crowds. Not everyone was happy about the turn of events. The Mattachine Society posted a sign on the boarded up window of the Stonewall Inn which read:

We homosexuals plead with our people to please help maintain peaceful and quiet conduct on the streets of the Village—Mattachine

When this image appeared in the film, many in the audience showed their disapproval vocally with boos and hissing. Following the uprising, the Mattachine held its now annual Philadelphia Independence Day protests. This time, however, two women decided to hold hands. The organizer of the event quickly broke them apart, saying, “None of that.” One of the lesbians who had been at Stonewall convinced about ten couples to hold hands which made the organizer from Mattachine furious, but earned more press attention than all of the previous marches combined.

The theater showing Stonewall Uprising was packed with gays, lesbians, and trans people. They all seemed to love the film, as did I. Even though I live in San Francisco, it was really quite nice to be in a venue surrounded entirely by other queer folk; to be in Queer space. It seems that lately Queer space has become so compromised through gentrification, assimilation, and acceptance. Most times it seems as though one can not truly be ones true queer self anymore but must always police ones actions.

I worked in the middle of the Castro neighborhood all Pride weekend, which was beautifully warm; warm enough that both days after work I was able to exercise my rights and walk around the neighborhood naked, enjoying the sun and the warmth and the crowds. Sunday, the day of Pride, following work I again went naked and made my way to the Civic Center. Each year I miss the parade but make the Civic Center after work were I like to relax in the Faerie Freedom Village, a commercial free Faerie space which is, like the theater, Queer space, but even more so, as everyone is in a celebratory mood and the costumes, glitter, dancing, and nudity overflow!

Monday morning, early, as I was walking home from my boyfriends house I noticed for the first time the signs which had been taped to many of the utility poles in the Castro.

Welcome to the World - Famous Castro Neighborhood!
We sincerely hope you have an enjoyable, memorable time during your visit here.
However, please note that, contrary to what you may have heard from the hordes of homeless people around here claiming to be victims of racism/sexism/homophobia/capitalism (y’know: bums), the sidewalks and streets of the Castro are NOT:
  • A trash can
  • A garbage dump
  • An ashtray
  • A vomit basin
  • A toilet/urinal/latrine
  • A bed, chair, sofa, or yoga mat
  • A whorehouse/crystal meth distribution center
  • An off-leash dog-run
  • A used chewing gum repository
So please enjoy yourself during your stay here, but please also remember to be considerate of others and to refrain from treating the neighborhood’s streets like they are your personal, private garbage can/toilet/ashtray. Thanks!
-The Management

It was rather difficult to miss these signs, not only by their number but also because they were the only signs still posted. For the past decade or so, there has been a concerted effort by self-appointed guardians of the Castro to take down any posters as soon as they appear on poles. Posting of poles has been a traditional way of communicating community events since the late 1970s. Which raises the question, who IS “the management”? The same self-appointed keepers of the utility poles? And what of the “hordes of homeless”? Having lived in the neighborhood for almost thirty years, I have witnessed the homeless situation escalate and decline on and off over the years and it certainly is much better now then it has been in the past.

The Castro has had an uneasy history with homeless people, instigating several concerted efforts to rid the neighborhood of panhandlers by sponsoring “Create Change” programs in which businesses urge customers to help the homeless by not giving them spare change, but rather contributing to charitable organizations or donating their time. One among the many problems with such campaigns is that the “community leaders” sponsoring such campaign s simultaneously fight against the establishment of outreach centers for homeless LGBTQ youth in their neighborhood.

Many of these youth are homeless for the very same reasons the youth who fought back at the Stonewall Inn were homeless and marginalized that June night in 1969, they are the victims of homophobia and transphobia within their families and hometown communities. They come to neighborhoods such as the West Village in the 1960s and the Castro now, seeking a space where they can safely express their gender and sexual identities only to find themselves devalued due of their positioning in social categories: young, urban, racial-ethnic minority, and poor, which leads the dominant white male capitalist gay culture to reject them.

One youth tells of finally realizing the Castro community, which they had considered themselves to be a part of, did not want them when they witnessed Officer Jane Warner, notorious among homeless youth in the Castro for constantly telling them to “move along,” engaging in a conversation with a gay man while standing in front of the youth. When asked how work was going and Officer Jane replied very well, the man said, “yes, it’s nice - hardly any homeless at all.” Turning to the youth he said, “except for that one right there.” It is obvious that this man and Officer Jane were treating the homeless youth as an object, as something they could feel free to discuss within earshot without worry about this homeless youth’s feelings or needs.

It is parodical to see these signs posted on the poles in the shiny, well tended Castro neighborhood lined with chain stores such as Levi’s, Diesel, and Pottery Barn selling high end merchandize to folks who are paying exorbitant rents and mortgages to live here, and remember the jeering, booing, and hissing which greeted the image of the Mattachine sign on the Stonewall Inn which pleaded with “our people to please help maintain peaceful and quiet conduct on the streets of the Village.” Today we do not have to wear suits and ties and dresses and not hold hands to be acceptable. All we need be are consumers with disposable income, a place to live, and an interest in marriage and the military. However you read it, it is still assimilation, it is still settling for acceptance on heteronormative terms, not queer terms. Today it seems the careful, closeted, assimilationist Mattachine project has won out over the more revolutionary uprising that was Stonewall.