Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Last weekend I was in San Francisco. As part of my planned “entertainment,” instead of going to the symphony or the opera or even to MOMA (Museum of Modern Art), my sexually unaligned friends insisted that I go with them to the most hard-core, open-to-the-public gay event of the year: Dore Alley gay leather fetish fair. Pretend you are an anthropologist, one said, when he saw the expression on my face. So I followed him, passed the orange street barrier, and entered the dense crowd of men.
The Dore Alley event is not designed for the squeamish among the hetero population. It is the most in-your-face-I’m-gay extravaganza San Francisco has to offer. And while gawkers are certainly welcome, as many participants are by definition unrepentant exhibitionists, one should try to blend in, if only out of respect for the blatant counter-culture expressionism.
I tried to act nonchalant and inconspicuous as partially naked men dressed in what looked like Nazi paraphernalia walked by me, but that was almost impossible, since I am obviously a woman who does not wear black leather straps and stilettos too well. To the credit of the naked Nazi look alikes, I must say, they had absolutely no interest in me. I stood on the sidewalk and took pictures, and no one bothered to give me a second look. (see above)
There is something to be said about middle aged men who don’t possess the statuesque silhouette of a Michelangelo’s David or Bacchus and still have the audacity to walk completely naked on the street, with their anatomy hanging out for all to see. I am not sure what this type of nudity is supposed to mean, but it certainly made me extremely uncomfortable. This is not the innocent nude beach, family-friendly nudity. It is provocative nudity intended to unnerve the softhearted.
And so I was unnerved. But at the same time, I must say that it was quite an amazing experience to be in the middle of this display of what some people might consider as perverted sexuality, and feel completely safe. Because that day, on Folsom street, I was the strange Other; yet not one person cared to question my presence or look at me unfavorably.
A lot of the guys who come to Dore Alley are just guys. Many are beyond the stage of making a statement about their gayness. They accept it, their family accepts it, their friends accept it, they’ve been out of the closet for years, without apology, without having to explain or prove a point. Many are just gays in a hard-core gay festival, like the Greeks in the Greek festival, the Italians in the Santa Rosalia festival, and the Japanese in the Obon festival.
I guess sometimes what looks like the most unusual place to be in, is actually a very ordinary one. There must be a lesson here.