Yesterday, Jacob and I drove through our old neighborhood in San Francisco after my UCSF appointment before we started our drive back to Montana to quarantine for 2 weeks. While we couldn’t see anyone in person, I wanted to see the city that stole a part of me. What we saw? My heart breaks for the communities I love.
The Castro We Knew
Rainbow crosswalks sleep Beneath COVID covered streets. Storefronts beg we stand together While standing six feet apart
What happened to our promised land? These parklets – empty squatters Where free STD clinic vans once sat The city lost interest – no tourists; no hands
Our silent ghost town of glitter — Toxic smoke settling Into a matte finish over All we once thought was gold
You can help support The Castro of San Francisco and help it survive by shopping Castro Merchants, supporting the San Francisco LGBT Center, and donating money to keep the GLBT Historical Society (operating the Harvey Milk Memorial) operating during the COVID-19 shutdowns.If you can’t donate, you can start conversations about this special place needing assistance and share these websites with friends and family.Every little bit helps.
I wrote the following essay in 2016 while living in San Francisco. At the time I did not own a car and used SFMTA as my primary mode of transportation. As a result, I saw a lot of advertisements. The following was an actual advertisement appearing on MUNI during the 2016 Super Bowl. Some names have been changed to protect anonymity.
Advertising And Elephant Pants
On my way home I stare at an advertisement on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s L train. A man with crooked eye teeth smiles and poses with hands relaxing on his hips. “Sasha” declares in the poster’s bold white block lettering that he is at peace with who he is and his HIV status. Everything about the ad is well done. I applaud the San Francisco AIDS Foundation for exemplifying Sasha C. both as a non-white HIV positive man and a passionate activist without overplayed stereotypes that may distract the oblivious straight person. Even the maroon henley shirt is buttoned at the perfectly ambiguous level between those stereotypes so often played up in the Castro where the train stops. Yet, his pants’ pockets catch me off guard.
I fixate on this baffling criticism: his pants pockets. I admit a relationship between this and his crotch’s positioning at my exact eye level. These khaki pants have flaps over the front pockets – already unusual. In Sasha’s picture, he has snapped the pockets’ flaps for open-pocket accessibility. This seems logical because why would anyone snap and close the front pocket flaps of cargo-style khaki pants in the first place? Oh sure, it might deter the novice sleight-of-hand thief, but front pockets rarely experience the joys of anything beyond pocket change or keys. But the flaps could also snap to close these front pockets giving his crotch its very own pair of dumbo ears. How appropriate for an awkward glance in an exceptionally reflective urinal when one needs to take a leak. I’m sure the unused snaps to hold the flaps open make delightful eyes! But, with the flaps snapped open the fabric pulls taut across his lap, giving him anatomy that competes with Ken dolls. Sasha is now an innovator in using khakis to demasculinize himself in one fell, two-snap swoop.
Perhaps the photographer figured lacking anatomy aided in the goal to subvert stereotypes. These missing stereotypes are the ones that when present seem to inspire the “straight” community’s assault, murder, and abuse of the LGBTQA+ community across the United States. Even in San Francisco, we must try not to play up the stereotypes attached to us if we are to be seen outside of our designated neighborhoods, such as Bernal Heights or the Castro. Within the safety of the Castro, a few men walk around in nothing but fully sequined socks of silver and gold tying it all together as a prominent display that draws the eye. This behavior emerged after San Francisco outlawed full nudity except during events such as San Francisco Pride and the Castro Street Fair. I prefer full nudity – at least then the neighborly nudists do not draw eyes away from the charismatic faces I adore so much.
This caters to tourists, and subversive efforts are necessary since the city keeps asking the Castro to “gay the place up” in its capitalist efforts. With a confusing mix of pride and profit, our neighborhoods comply. Now, the Castro has rainbow crosswalks, flashing rainbow signs, and even a string of rainbow lights on the light rail station’s escalators, yet fewer than 55% of newcomers to the neighborhood identify as members of the LGBTQA+ community as of 2015 according to Castro & Upper Market Retail Strategy. Even during the 2016 Super Bowl signs in the light rail stations lure unsuspecting tourists away from Fisherman’s Wharf to the melodic, dancing tones of the Midnight Sun where Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. These signs ask why they could possibly want to stare at sea lions when they could pet real bears? But the tourists don’t see what I see. Every morning I wake up to go running, dodging the used needles littering the side streets until needle exchange volunteers pick them up and help the homeless find somewhere else to spend their days before the police arrive to do the same. Why is it that it’s on our shrinking neighborhood community to do anything to help each other with compassion while the city and landlords profit?
Now, besides having differing unsympathetic fashion taste to Sasha’s utilitarian khaki needs, the pockets of these pants distract me from the beautiful purpose of this advertisement. Instead, I spend a twenty-minute train ride mesmerized by the horrific potential of the pants for impromptu inappropriate puppeteering. These pockets of penile peek-a-boo are at eye level to an SFMTA patron seated on the train. When Sasha says “at peace with who he is”, does this mean he is at peace with his love of odd fashion statements? His love of elephants? Maybe he loves snap closure pockets. All I can do is smile at the advertisement – one of the few representing a member of my community without trying to sell a thing.
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