In the late 1970′s just prior to the gay community getting slammed with the AIDS virus, I happened to fall in like with the funniest, most charming fella who would take me to coffee and say things like (ok see that waiter over there? Hands off girl that one’s mine!).
Like many, many gay people across the US he’d migrated to San Francisco California in the hope he could live his real life out in the open and stop having to hide behind phoney girlfriends and false machismo. San Francisco was the geographical version of The Great White Hope for gays back then as for some unknown reason the city was if not fully supportive, at least quietly tolerant of alternative lifestyles.
Until meeting this young man I pretty much thought of gay people like any other neighbour on my block:
There was a decorated WWII hero next door who happened to be Japanese, a modest-sized Catholic Monsignor’s family across the street, a black man with a freckle-faced Irish wife and their two gorgeous daughters next to them , followed by a young Jewish couple, a fireman and his family of five originally from New York, a little old lady from Hawaii, a square-dancing family of four from Hot Springs Arkansas and the Oxford educated scholarly owners of two Great Danes at the business end of the block.
San Francisco, at mid-century, was the epitome of America’s image as a melting pot of cultures. Plus we had Noe Valley – home of Castro St – a section of the city filled with older Victorian buildings still standing (though damaged in the 1906 earthquake), that had been taken over by a small community of gays determined to restore their old-world charm.
I’m pretty sure these buildings are the roots of the LGBT rainbow theme as I quite remember, growing up and busing it to Noe Valley for dental appointments, that you could stand in one spot and see every colour of the rainbow on these brightly painted houses – trademark of the gay architects who took the time and spent the money to save these beautiful homes from demolition.
From churches to storefronts to the famous Victorian three-story family dwelling, the community was both laughed at and heralded. Every tourist wanted to see Castro St. Every gay wanted to live there. And so they came.
But sadly, even though the San Francisco attitude was tolerant, the laws remained. Gays would still be maligned and bashed and the AIDS epidemic only gave bigots an excuse to be even bigger bigots.
My friend thought that by coming to San Francisco he was leaving all that behind him. The beatings from his father meant to exorcise the gay away, the tears his mother shed when she turned her back on him for last time yet still haunted him… the school bullies and bosses who suddenly aren’t hiring – it all eventually came to San Francisco to. Or maybe it was always already there and I just hadn’t noticed.
Whatever the reality, I never saw my friend living his dream of sexual freedom. I only saw him struggle. Then one day his phone was disconnected, his flat empty and he just stopped showing up at my door.
Through my friend I learned the sadness that comes from being a little bit different. Especially in the gay community. That’s the part I’d not seen before. Tom painted his disappointments onto my city’s rainbow canvas and made it personal for me.
Every nationality, every race, every species has its share of heroes, inventors, nurturers, architects, worker-bees and assholes. In that we’re all the same.The things that make us different are every bit as important to the human race as a whole as those things which are the same.
We should stop insisting that one person’s opinion is better than another and concentrate on cleaning up our planet. You know, like maybe before it blows up from lack of oxygen.