Eighteen years ago this month, I moved to San Francisco. This renders my tenure in this city an adult and, thus, this photo appropriate to share.
I posed for this shot two months after my San Francisco arrival, at the 1999 Castro Halloween celebration. I use photos from that evening to mark all my San Francisco milestones, not because drag, nudity, and costumes signify San Francisco, but because when I was new here from Phoenix, I was grateful to live someplace where such elements were a part of daily public life and not worthy of special attention—unless you had recently moved here and wanted to make a point of this city’s freedoms, as I did with this picture. (Photo credit: Dulci Grantham.)
Most reading this post will pick up what I’m putting down, about why this Phoenix native found this photo wonderfully outrageous when taken. At the risk of stating the obvious, I’ll fill in that blank for everyone else: In the fall of 1999, no one in Arizona was wearing tube socks with their jellies.
More to the point, this photo mattered to me because, while I looked like I belonged in the catalogue pages of Banana Republic, J.Crew, Gap, or similar, I was and always have been this man on the inside: marching to my own drumbeat, in my bronze helmet with chin strap and shiny gold loincloth. I was so happy to have discovered him, and the only thing preventing me from locking him in a bear hug was the oil slathered all over his body, which I preferred to keep on his person, hence the mid-air hovering of my hand over his shoulder.
Eighteen years in, I know that drag, nudity, and costumes are not the defining features of this city, but a mere fact of life here, despite increasing municipal nudity controls. These legislative measures serve as no deterrent on Pride Weekend or at the Folsom Street Fair, though perhaps they prevail on Halloween, without naked masses to rebel, due to the Castro party shut-down years ago over gun violence.
Many lament the changes to San Francisco’s culture over the past eighteen years, and in particular the last five. I count myself in that number, but I don’t agree with some that our collective soul is irretrievably lost. Yes, we are whiter and wealthier than we were when I got here, except for the homeless people, who are multiracial and seemingly more desperate than back then, their numbers apparently multiplying by the day and our aid insufficient to keep up.
These are problems, and they are the responsibility of those who live in or otherwise love this city, just as other cities have their own serious issues to resolve, as my last five years of entirely domestic travel have taught me.
I love it here still and, barring unforeseen circumstances, always. Through my losses of family, friends, romantic partners, and jobs, San Francisco has been my constant, my one true thing. It is mine and I am its, and I delight this month in celebrating our eighteen years together.
San Francisco, thanks for all the laughs, tears, parades, protests, and nudity we’ve shared over these eighteen years. I can’t wait to find out what you will bring me in the next eighteen!