Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Castro, San Francisco

Every time I come to the Castro, I feel like I've come home. Sometimes we just feel an affinity for a place, a vibration, a force that we melt into and tells us we've finally found someplace where we belong. The Castro is one of those places for me. I feel comfortable here. It's always new, and yet it is old and familiar in some special, magical way.

I arrived here yesterday for a week of business. I'll soon move down to the Fairmont Hotel in a different part of San Francisco, but I came out early to visit an old friend and one of my mentors. My friend lives on 20th street, high on a hill looking directly down on the Castro, which sparkles at night like a sea of jewels. He moved here during the Summer of Love when the Castro was little more than a ghetto. Of course, all the homes have soared in value. My friend was active in the pre-stonewall Chicago gay scene and is a respected spokesman still in the San Francisco gay community. He knew Harvey Milk well, and appears in the movie, MILK. He's about as close to a father as I've had, and I love him more than he even knows.

He published or wrote for a number of the early gay underground newspapers when the movement was known simply as "Gay Liberation." This morning, after a breakfast of waffles and bacon, orange juice and coffee, he pulled some of those ancient yellowed newspapers out of his files and showed them to me. They were full of history and treasure. I urged him to scan them and get them up on the internet. I hope he'll consider that or get someone to do it for him. History should not be lost.

Now I've left him alone to work and write for a while. I've carried my computer down here into the Castro to browse the shops and drink in the atmosphere. And to find a cyber cafe to do my own work. I'm sitting in a little place called the "H Cafe" on 17th and Sanchez. It's a bare-bones environment, but the coffee is great, the wireless connection is strong, and the men are beautiful each in beautiful ways. Not model pretty. That's not what I mean. Each unique and attractive, because they smile at each other - not sexual smiles, not come-ons, but smiles the way men who are comfortable with themselves should smile.

And that's what I love about the Castro. By day, at least, I can be who I am comfortably and openly. No need to watch over my shoulder, no qualm about making eye contact. Not every single human being here is gay, of course. But enough of us are. Here, we can hold hands, put our arms around each other, make all the personal expressions of friendship and closeness that straight people take for granted. Coming to the Castro is like emerging into oxygen after the world's been holding my head underwater.

I love Kansas City, and I make my life there comfortable. I don't really fear ever being attacked, and yet I'm ready for it if it happens. I'm alert. Constantly. There's a realization that every time I hold my lover's hand that I'm doing more than just holding his hand - I'm making a political statement. I'm telling the rest of the midwest that I'm okay with that, and they'd better by goddamn get okay with it, too. The simple act is revolutionary.

But here? That tension isn't present. I don't know of any other place quite like this. The San Francisco gay community has built something very special here. I love them for it, and I hope they appreciate it. This shouldn't be taken for granted.


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