I had been involved with John Perry for a year or two when he told me that he was going to take a trip to New York to see friends of his that he had met in Paris and Brussels. I had always wanted to visit New York and when John told me about his impending trip, I saw it as my opportunity! As I remember it, he didn't really invite me to go but did not put up any real resistance to my coming either. As it turned out, the flight I could get at that point was the day previous to when he was flying. I would arrive a day ahead of him and stay with his friends that I had never met before. It was an interesting experience. His friends were kind to me, although I quickly learned that I must be up early each morning and spend my day outside the apartment. The following are scans of a letter that i wrote my Mother after the trip.
John's friends were middle class or upper middle class, living in a high-rise apartment a block from Central Park. John and I slept on their floor. Dean was African-American and his partner, George, was a white French man that was apparently very shy. John had lived in Paris and Brussels in his college years. Dean was a music professor in Brooklyn and George was a collage artist. Often, the three of them, John, Dean and George, would speak French, leaving me out of the conversation entirely but I didn't really care as I was in Manhattan!
During our visit, we also visited another friend of John's that was a concert pianist. They lived in a huge apartment with two grand pianos in his living room. It was quite impressive but I made no attempt at learning his name.
John and I visited many of the tourist sites such as The Empire State Building and The World Trade Center Twin Towers that would be destroyed years later when President George Bush and his administration ignored repeated warnings that there would be an imminent attack. We visited The Statue of Liberty and I went up the spiral staircase up into her crown and looked out the windows there.
John and I got half off tickets in Time Square to see "Coming Uptown," an all black musical version of Dicken's "A Christmas Carol," starring Gregory Hines.
We visited another friend of John's in Brooklyn and spent a couple of evenings in Greenwich Village. John and I got half off tickets to the play "Bent," starring Richard Gere. Richard Gere was naked in one scene and after this, I would often kid people that I had been in the same room with a naked Richard Gere!
We visited the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art.
The trip to the airport was a terrifying cab ride. Once at the airport, we discovered that there were no planes flying to San Francisco due to fog in The City. John opted to sleep in the airport, while I chose to check in to the airport Hilton.
All these years later, as I am writing these "stories" of my life, it is hard to remember exact dates and sequences. I came across this letter from my Mom that must be from 1975 or so since she tells me at the end to say "Hi" to my brother David. David only lived with me on Larkin Street in 1974 and then again, briefly, on Bush Street in about 1975 or 1976.
My Mother and her husband, George, had bought seven acres from my uncle, my Mother's brother, Delbert Walling, (everyone called him Deb). This piece of land was in Hunters, Washington on Lake Roosevelt which was a lake that was formed when Coulee Dam was built. There was nothing on the land when they bought it and they liven in an Airstream trailer for a year or two as the started work on the log house George would eventually build.
At first, they had no electricity, no running water, and no sewer. They had kerosene lamps for light and hauled water in jugs from Spokane. When I visited them there, they didn't even have an outhouse at that time!! You had to just go out with a shovel, dig a little hole, do your business and cover it up with the shovel. My visit, to say the least, was very short at that time!
At some point, Darlene was having problems and so Mom took in her kids, Chris and Misty. At the time this letter was written, they are living with Mom in Hunters so this must have been after they had been there for a while and had obtained electricity and running water and had moved into the basement of what would become the log house.
My Mother mentions wanting to take in some "Mexicans." Some of what she says about that in the letter may sound racist by today's standards but Mom was a product of her generation and family. All these years later, I realize that Mom was a bit of a racist but appreciate that she raised her kids not to be. She was, after all, a Republican and most of her family were Republicans. Many of them saw her as liberal because she really taught us kids more "liberal" values.
I will probably be coming back to this story and adding to it but here is the letter of that time:
This story is not finished.
After I broke up with Stanley and moved to 1667 Haight Street, I bought my first brand new car. Mom and George had helped me buy a VW station wagon when I lived in Ontario and going to Valley Vocational in La Puente. No one had ever told me that I needed to change the oil, though, and I froze up the engine eventually because I neglected to do so. After taking the engine apart myself, I had to finally pay someone to put it back together. When I finished the program to become a Licensed Psychiatric Technician, I returned to San Francisco with my little red VW. I really didn't need a car in San Francisco, though, and it was a hassle to park it and to move it for street cleaning and it was so easy to get parking tickets, I eventually sold the VW and bought a stereo with the proceeds.
I had not had a car for several years but in 1977, I started longing to have a car again. I went and looked but even back then, I was reading Consumer Reports. I almost bought and American car but stopped just prior to picking it up. My research showed that a Toyota would be much more reliable. I looked at the Toyota Celica and fell in love.
I found this black and white picture that shows a trailer set up which I think must have been the trailer that Mom and George lived in for several years at their property in Hunters, Washington. It has the date, Dec 1970 on it. If that is correct, I believe that must be about the time that Mom and George bought a few acres from Deb and Annie. Delbert (Deb) was my Mother's brother. Annie was his wife. It was a beautiful piece of land overlooking Lake Roosevelt which had been created when the Coulee Dam went in on the Columbia River many years previously.
This is not an exhaustive list of gay bars in San Francisco in the 70's. You can find that information elsewhere. There were just too many gay bars for me to visit all of them. Here, I will only talk about bars and clubs that were significant to me. Most are dance bars or clubs because I have never been one to just want to sit around in a bar to drink.
The Stud, originally at 1535 Folsom, was the first gay bar, or first bar for that matter, that I started going to. I came there with Jim Archiquette and was only 18 at the time. I remembered what Darlene had said when she and Chuck had brought me to a the military base bar- she had told me to walk in like I owned the place and just ignore the door man who might be check ID.'s. This worked beautifully well at The Stud. It probably didn't hurt that I was young and cute. In those days, none of the gay bars seemed to obsessed with checking ID's.
When you entered The Stud, there was a long bar on your left with burning candles behind the bar. It was very rustic with rough wood decor. On the right, boxes of beer were stored up against the wall and I think there may have been a wood bench over these, where you could sit. Many of those sitting along the wall or at the bar in that room would turn their heads each time someone new walked in as everybody was looking for the next Mr. Right or at least the next Mr. Right Now. When you walked to the end of the bar in that room, there was a connection to another room with essentially the same dimensions and another bar. The dance floor and performance area was at the back of the bar where the two rooms connected but primarily on the left side of the building in the second room. At the very end of the first room, in a small alcove, were the bathrooms.
The clientele of the original Stud were hippies. It turned out that a lot the male hippies I had known earlier had, by this time, come out of the closet as being gay. It was always a pleasant surprise when someone you had known previously, turned out to be gay too. Some of the people I had known in San Diego were now also living in San Francisco.
We all wore Levi 501 button fly jeans as tight as possible to show as much as possible. I remember smoking pot in The Stud and nobody seemed to mind. The crowd was always friendly and welcoming. Dropping acid and going to the Stud was not unusual.
Sylvester often played at The Stud. Sylvester had been one
of The Cockettes in 1969-1970 but had now gone solo. The first time I saw him was at The Palace Theater where the Cockettes usually performed. His premier performance with his "Hot Band" and The Pointer Sisters singing backup only lasted about thirty minutes. He was amazing, though. He was becoming increasingly popular in San Francisco but this was way before he would reach the pinnacle of his career as a disco diva later in the 70's. At this point, he was still more of a gender bending hippie. He played rock songs and some torch song classics.
Febes was located at 1501 Folsom Street which was on the same block as The Stud. It was on the corner of Folsom and 11th. It always seemed a little mysterious to me at that time.
Jim Archiquette and I went to check out Febes once. It was a much smaller bar downstairs than The Stud
and a much older crowd. There was a much more macho kind of atmosphere with some customers wearing leather. The customers were a little intimidating to me at the time but it wasn't long before I realized that leather was just another type of drag and affectation. There was a small room upstairs at Febes that sold sex toys and leather goods. There was an iconic statue by Mike Caffee. called Leather David, that looked like a Tom of Finland model with a leather jacket open in the front and jeans with a distinctive bulge.
“Mike Caffee worked in and did graphic design for many leather businesses. In 1966, he designed the logo for Febe’s and created a statue that came to symbolize the bar.
He modified a small plaster reproduction of Michelangelo’s David, making him into a classic 1960s gay biker: “I broke off the raised left arm and lowered it so his thumb could go in his pants pocket, giving him cruiser body language. The biker uniform was constructed of layers of wet plaster. . . . The folds and details of the clothing were carved, undercutting deeply so that the jacket would hang away from his body, exposing his well-developed chest. The pants were button Levis, worn over the boots, and he sported a bulging crotch you couldn’t miss. . . Finally I carved a chain and bike run buttons on his [Harley] cap.” (Caffee 1997)
This leather David became one of the best-known symbols of San Francisco leather. The image of the Febe’s David appeared on pins, posters, calendars, and matchbooks. It was known and disseminated around the world. The statue itself was reproduced in several formats. Two-foot-tall plaster casts were made and sold by the hundreds. One of the plaster statues currently resides in a leather bar in Boston, having been transported across the country on the back of a motorcycle. Another leather David graces a leather bar in Melbourne, Australia. One is in a case on the wall of the Paradise Lounge, a rock-and-roll bar that opened on the site once occupied by Febe’s.”
–Gayle Rubin, excerpted from “The Miracle Mile: South of Market and Gay Male Leather, 1962-1997″ in Reclaiming San Francisco: History, Politics, Culture (City Lights: 1998)
Here is a pic inside a leather bar I found on the internet.
Up until this time, The Castro had not become the gay neighborhood that it would become. I had even lived on Castro Street between 18th and 19th with Louise around 1969. The first gay bar I remember visiting in The Castro was Toad Hall at 482 Castro. Toad Hall first opened May 28th, 1971 which was on Memorial Day weekend that year. It was the first dance bar in The Castro and had the distinction of being one of the first bars anywhere to use taped music rather than a jukebox. The songs were "mixed" into each other with the end of one song blending into the beginning of another. Eventually, they would have d.j.'s playing records from a D.J. booth that had been installed. Like The Stud on Folsom, there were always live candles burning behind the bar and more of a hippie atmosphere with most of the men still wearing long hair. There were several fires over the years while the bar was named Toad Hall. This bar would be replaced by The Phoenix in the same location. In these pictures I found at "Uncle Donald's Castro Street" website. You can see the crowds of gay men gathered outside on the sidewalk. The biggest crowds would gather at 2:00 am as the bars closed and men "cruised" for their next sexual partner.
The location of Toad Hall will have several gay bars over the years. Eventually it would become a part of Walgrens drug store which was located at the corner of 18th and Castro but extended into the space in which these bars of the 70's and 80's were located.
The Nothing Special bar at 469 Castro 1971 really was "nothing special." It was just a sit down bar, neighborhood gay bar where you could get a beer or cocktail and socialize with friends. I think it was a bit of an older crowd, too. I remember going there with Jim Archiquette and getting into an argument with him and creating a bit of drama there. If I remember correctly, the bar tender asked us to leave. In those days, Jim liked to drink gin and pernod which had a licorice taste. As I had never been
much of an alcohol drinker, I would just drink whatever he drank. As is often the case with young people, neither of us really knew our limits and would often overdue it and become inebriated and probably a little obnoxious at times.
On 18th Street, a block up from Castro Street, The Pendulum had opened in 1970. I don't think I went there until a few years later, though. It was a racially mixed bar which was unusual at the time. There was a lot of racism among the white gays in the early 70's.
The Lion Pub was another bar that had opened in 1971, located at 2062 Divisadero. Castro Street becomes Divisadero north of Market Street. The Lion Pub was kind of off the beaten track for me but was an easy hitchhike ride away. The guys there tended to be a little more upscale. I suppose these could be considered early "A-Gays." The bar was in an upscale area of San Francisco called Pacific Heights and a lot to the guys that went there tended to have shorter hair and wore more preppy outfits. There were a few hippies that mingled in the crowd but it was primarily white and coiffed. I believe they had a dance floor but they also had a fireplace, if I remember correctly, which often made it too warm to dance. Although the Lion Pub is considered the oldest continuously operating gay bar in The City, my visits there were short-lived. It was one of those places where everybody went for a minute. Otherwise, just a neighborhood gay bar.
The Midnight Sun opened at 506 Castro Street in 1971. Ten years later, in 1981, it would move to 4067 18th but the original bar was on Castro. It was a long, narrow room and a "stand-up" bar as opposed to being a "dance" bar. It was probably the first bar that I had ever seen that had monitors with video playing along with the music. This was really before actual "music videos" that became popular later in the 80's with MTV.
The Twin Peaks Tavern opened at 401 Castro which was on the corner of Castro and Market in 1972. It's claim to fame is
that it was the first gay bar to have plate glass windows looking out onto a busy sidewalk. This was not a place to be in the closet because anyone walking by could look in and see you sitting there. It was never a place that I frequented, though, because it tended to have an older, more conservative looking clientele and was another sit down bar which was never my thing.
In 1972, Hamburger Mary's opened next to Cissy's bar across from the original Stud bar and would eventually take over Cissy's space too at 12th and Folsom. Although not a gay bar, it is where a lot of us went after the bars closed. It was gay friendly and became very popular very quickly.
The other best place to get a burger late at night was The Grub Stake II at 1525 Pine Street. The original Grab Steak was at Turk and Mason in the Tenderloin. Drag queens and speed freaks were more common at the original.
Church Street Station was another place you could get a meal 24 hours a day. It was located at 2100 Market. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the old Pam Pam's downtown. I remember sitting in a booth there with my friend, Booker, having a late meal and a pistol falling out of his coat pocket into the booth seat. He just tucked it back in his pocket and indicated he wasn't going to talk about it. t think Zim's restaurants were open 24 hours a day but I rarely went to those as the lighting was too bright and harsh. Pam Pam's was subdued and comfortable. Church Street Station was cruisy. Hamburger Mary's was funky. Grub Steak II actually had the best burgers.
In 1972, The City at 936 Montgomery was THE place to go. It was the largest dance floor I had seen in a gay bar up until that time. When you walked in, you first entered, "Caberet," which had it's own bar, tables and chairs and a small stage where Sylvester often played during his torch song phase before he was doing disco. Grace Jones and others played there as well. At some point, the club got into trouble for their ID policy, requiring THREE pieces of ID, which apparently only applied to African-Americans and women. Once that policy was put to rest, more women started coming. It is my experience that straight women tend to like gay bars because they can relax and not be hit on by straight men constantly but ultimately, the straight men follow the women and, as is often the case, the club turns from gay to straight very quickly and then straight male testosterone fueled machismo leads to violence and then everybody loses interest and the bar just remains straight or goes out of business. Once a bar or club has gone straight, it stays that way. Especially after the AIDS epidemic. We lost much of the gay culture and businesses, along with the thousands of men we lost.
The City had been extremely successful but was in Northbeach which was not near any of the gay neighborhoods: Polk Street, Folsom Street or Castro Street. It also quickly changed from gay to a mixed crowd to primarily straight which ruined the early vide of the place and what had made it so special. Another bar opened briefly that was supposed to be "bisexual" from the beginning. It was very short lived. Once straight women brought straight men of that era, the whole vibe changed as it always does. I can't remember the name of that bar as I am writing this. I think it may have been located where Bimbos 365 Club is now located but I wouldn't swear to it.
Maybe to compete with The City, The Shed opened at 1973 Market Street in 1972 and would be THE place to go dance for a couple of years. I think it followed the path of The City, though and eventually, straight women that wanted to dance in a gay club, brought their straight boyfriends and the club lost it's luster as well. It would end up closing in 1977.
When the club first opened, you would actually enter at 3520 16th Street. There was a huge dance floor which was actually in the basement of the building.
You could walk upstairs and at some point, i know you could exit directly onto Market Street. On one occasion, I remember going there with Mary Jo and a pint of Southern Comfort hidden discreetly in my back pocket. Southern Comfort was a common drink for young people of the time. Maybe related to articles that said Janis Joplin had drank Southern Comfort. After the first sip, it is pretty a very sugary sweet drink. I don't remember any gay bar every patting anyone down or checking bags in those days.
The following year, in 1973- Alfies opened up the street toward Church Street at 2140 Market Street. I probably didn't go to the bar so much when it was called Alfies because I was out of The City for a while. I am not sure if it was still Alfies or the Mind Shaft when I was going but remember they had a raised dance floor that you had to step up to and if you were a little inebriated, it was easy to fall off the dance floor. Alfies would become The Mind Shaft in 1974. Live from the Mind Shaft: (https://hearthis.at/sfdps/dj-michael-lee-live-at-the-mind-shaft-sf-feb-1976/)
I had left San Francisco in 1973 and had lived in Toppenish briefly before moving to the Upland/Ontario area in Southern California to attend vocational school to become a Licensed Psychiatric Tech
had returned to San Francisco in 1974 and had got my first Licensed Psychiatric Technician job where I would remain for the next twenty or so years- first as a Psych Tech and then an registered nurse after 1985.
Saint Francis Hospital was located on Hyde Street, between Bush and Pine on Nob Hill, about two blocks off of Polk Street. When I first started working at Saint Francis, I lived over the Rainbow Cattle Company, another gay bar at Valencia and Duboce. Then, when my 16 year old brother, David, came to live with me, we had moved to Larkin Street, just a few blocks from the Hospital. In those days, Polk Street was considered a gay neighborhood and Buzzby's at 974 Polk Street was THE club to go dance on Polk Street. There were other bars in what was called "Polk Gulch," but Buzzby's was the neighborhood disco. Some of us would go after we got off work at the psychiatric unit called 4-East at Saint Francis and walk down the hill to dance. Live from Buzzby's: DJ Michael Lee - Live At Buzzby's (SF) 8-29-78hearthis.at
Badlands opened in The Castro in 1974 at 4121 18th Street. It was rustic with some pool tables in the back and had license plates from all over the country on it's walls. It was a sit down bar at that time with pool tables in the back. I was just never very interested in sit down bars. If I was going to go to a bar, I wanted to dance. I have never understood just sitting around in a bar drinking.
The Elephant Walk also opened in 1974 at the corner of Castro and 18th. It was another sit down bar but they did have live entertainment there and of course, Sylvester. Sylvester regularly played at Elephant Walk and the music would float out over the intersection of 18th and Castro. The Elephant Walk would eventually be renamed, Harvey's, in tribute to Harvey Milk, the first openly gay City Supervisor that was shot by Dan White.
On May 21, 1979, after Dan White had been convicted of voluntary manslaughter, a much lighter sentence than what had been expected for the double murders of Mayor Moscone and City Council member Harvey Milk, riots broke out in the Civic Center area. Once those riots were dispersed, the police made a retaliatory raid at Elephant Walk and clubbed many of the patrons. Two dozen arrests were made and several people would later sue the San Francisco Police Department.
The End Up was another dance club that opened in 1974. It was also an "after hours" club and would go all night and into the morning.
They had a jock strap contest that would square off several hot dudes in their jock straps dancing for dollars to be stuffed into the straps. This is one of the few gay bars that survived the plague of the 1980's but, like many other gay bars, has become primarily straight.
Live at the Endup: (https://hearthis.at/sfdps/dj-peter-struve-3-25-79-side-a/)
The Oasis opened some time in the 70's. It was across from Febes and the old Stud on Folsom at the corner of 11th Street. They had a swimming pool and nude sunbathing in the afternoon. There were no signs that said anything about the depth of the pool and it never occurred to me that it was not deeper. We were sitting around the pool naked, smoking pot and drinking beer, and unaware of the depth, I dived into the pool and hit the bridge of my nose on the bottom. I came up gushing blood and have had a small scar there the rest of my life. I am lucky as it very well could have caused a serious head injury or knocked me out so that I could have drowned!! I think the bartender was just irritated but gave me something to stop the blood.
Around 1975, a club opened at 900 Columbus Avenue called, "Dance Your
Ass Off." The location in the North Beach area was again off the beaten path. In my memory, the club didn't last very long- maybe a couple of years. It was only considered a gay club for less time than that. It seems to me that they started out with the idea of being a "mixed" club from the beginning. When I first went, it was probably about 75% gay but within months, that would change dramatically. As is often the case, straight women that liked dancing at gay clubs, started bringing their straight, homophobic boyfriends. Most gay men quit coming at that point and moved on to other, more gay clubs in San Francisco. There were plenty to choose from.
Oil Can Harry's at Larkin and Ellis opened in 1976. It seems like it came and went pretty quickly. You would walk in and there would be a long bar to the right and then to the left was a large dance floor. If I remember correctly, the ceiling was on the low side for a dance club with disco balls and disco lights. I think that part of why it didn't last very long was that in 1977, the I-Beam and Trocadero Transfer opened and were just too much competition.
In 1977, the I-Beam opened at 1748 Haight Street. It would be the second largest gay dance club in San Francisco at that time next to The City in Northbeach. But by this time, The City was becoming increasingly straight and it was located in an inconvenient location, away from the gay neighborhoods. The Haight was not exactly a gay neighborhood either but it was fairly close proximity to The Castro. I lived about a block away from the I-Beam and was thrilled when it opened so close to where I was living and I would go frequently. The Sunday Tea-dance was incredible.
Later in 1977, the Trocadero Transfer opened. Initially, I think it was going to be a member's only club but by the time I started going, you didn't have to pay extra for the membership. I think it was the largest dance floor of any of the clubs up until that point. It also had a balcony that went around the periphery of the club on two sides. I remember they would put out fresh fruit and snacks on a long table upstairs, but maybe that was for a special event but it seems like it was not unusual to find snacks there. It was an another after hours club that would go all night. Ritch Street baths were just a couple of blocks away so you could go dance until the wee hours of the morning and then head over to Rich Street.
(Graphics from DiscoMusic.com and Uncle Donald's Castro Street site.)
In 1976, Paul McCartney and Wings performed at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. I brought my super-8 film camera to the concert. Security guards stopped me and considered confiscating my camera but ultimately decided to let me in with it. I took film of the concert. Super-8 film came in three minute cartridges which were relatively expensive for me at the time. I brought several but with film, I felt pressure to keep shots short. There is no way that I could afford more than a few cartridges. That is why these videos that originated on film are so choppy.
I think I attended the concert with Mary Jo and possibly Junko. I think we had seats but we got pretty close. Concerts were so much more affordable back then!
John was from South Carolina. He called me about a week after I gave him my card and invited me over. We hit it off pretty well physically and continued to see each other for several years. At first he lived just a few blocks away in the upper Haight but eventually moved to another flat off of the Panhandle park. Our relationship was tumultuous to say the least. He did not want a live-in lover and I thought I was okay with that. I ended up spending most of my time at his house anyway but without any of my stuff. In some ways, I felt like I lost my identity during that period. I would only go home for a change of clothes but rarely spent any time there. My relationship with John was unhealthy and in many ways more like an addiction than a healthy relationship.
John was from a generation of Southern Black men that always carried around a little paranoia from their youth in the South. He had participated in the civil rights struggles and would sometimes see racism where there really wasn't any. If I were asked for two pieces of identification at the bank, I just assumed the bank was protecting my assets. If John were asked for two pieces of identification, he saw it as racism. He could be very sweet but he also carried around a lot of anger.
The first time I went to Manhatten was with John. He was going to go visit friends of his and had made his arrangements and I saw it as an opportunity and pushed my way into his plans. We stayed with his friends and slept on their living room floor and had to be out of the apartment every morning by eight so that his friend, who was an artist of sorts, could work during the day. That was fine with me, as I was more interested in seeing New York than spending time with his friends anyway!
As time dragged on and I lost myself in John and his life, I became increasingly insecure and clingy. I think that I ultimately did want a live in lover and I was never going to attain that with John. I continued to be pathologically shy with his friends in much the same way that I had been at an earlier time with Jim Archiquette. My social phobias raised their ugly head. I was jealous of his time wtih others and unable to join in comfortably with his social life because of my own issues. I became increasingly desperate and depressed and asked John if he would come to couple's couseling with me to try and work on our relationship. He was bewildered as to why he needed to come to therapy as he was happy with the relationship the way it was and I was the one that had the problem. He had no desire to change himself or accomodate any of my needs. He did come to therapy a couple of times and told the therapist that he wasn't interested in changing and ultimately John was a "take me as I am" kind of guy, or it was :"leave me alone."
John was like an addiction for me, though. It was very hard for me to let him go even though I knew I could never have the kind of relationship I wanted with him.
From my journal 6/7/79: I was watching t.v. when suddently the phone rang. I answered, thinking it was probably Stanley. It was John. We had a long talk during which we exchanged a few verbal blows. He told me I was neurotic, miserable and doomed to insincere lovers who would tell me they loved me would treat me like shit. I told him that he was insensitive,self-centered, negative andthat I demand respect.
From my journal 6/12/79: This evening John stopped by. Conversation was superficial but pleasant. We went out to have a beer. I realize that I do have deep feelings for John but I know better than to trust him. Tonight was one of his "sweet" nights.
From my journal 2/8/80: First of all, I am not writing this to convince you of anything. I am stating my feelings. They are not open for argument. When we first went to Jim Weber, I told you that I was there to learn how to make the relationship less painful for me or else I wanted to learn how to end it. I consider our morments with Jim as being some of th emost intimate moments you and I have ever had. They were some of the ost loving moments when I learned more about you than at any other time. I thoughtwe were making great strides toward equality and justice. I caught a glimpse of how much better we could dealwith each other. I am not asking you to come back to see Jim Weber with me. Don't feel like you need to explain why wou won't. I will continue to hope that you do at some pointin time but if you don't, you don't and I have no controlover your decisions.
I continued in therapy alone, working on my self esteem issues and my "addiction" to John. At some point, he moved to Oakland and it became easier and easier not to see him as often. I had pretty much recovered from the relationship and was moving on when he was diagnosed with a bad heart valve and he reached out to me for support. I went to see him at Stanford Hospital when he had his open heart surgery and was supportive when he came home but did not allow myself to get emotionally wrapped up in him again. We still had some physical relationship now and then but it was more "recreational" than emotional by this point. It was when John was living in Oakland and sometime after his open heart surgery that he found a lesion on his foot and was diagnosed with Kaposi Sarcoma and AIDS.
John and I would continue to be friends with some occasional "benefits" as they say, but I was finally over him emotionally. I was sorry that he was diagnozed with AIDS and it frightened me to some extent as we had always had unprotected sex early in our relationship, although by the time he was diagnosed, when we did have those few "occasions" of abandon, it was always protected. I don't think the HIV test that would come later had been developed at that time. People were still being diagnosed by symtoms. There were no cures or effective treatments. John kept a good attitude though and continued to be pretty healthy for quite a while after this. Eventually he moved back to the City, I think partly because of his diagnosis and more resources being available in the City. He moved in with some room mates and I would visit once in a while and there were less and less "benefits."
I met Milton about this time and John faded into the background of my life although we continued to be in touch. We got together around the time my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer or about the time she passed away and he made an insensitive comment that infuriated me because I was already dealing with her dying and didn't need his insensitivity on top of that. I quit talking to him and would just hear about him from a mutual friend, Junko, who called me one day to say he had died but it was not the AIDS that had killed him. He had suffered chest pain and had gone to see Dr. Isakson, the same doctor I had been seeing on 18th Street since my twenties and died in the waiting room. His heart had given out.
I am currently editing this article.. please return in a week or so..
During the period of living on Shotwell, Jim and I were getting along pretty well but we were young gay men and it was the height of the sexual revolution so we were certainly not going to be left out of that. We often went to The Stud on Folsom street and danced. I wasn't 21 but got in easily by just walking past the doorman without giving them eye contact. The place was consistently packed.
We also would visit other bars along Folsom such as the Ramrod. People openly smoked pot in the bars back then. There was a bar across from the Stud that was not very popular and didn't last long and would later be replaced by a restaurant called Hamburger Mary's and the bartender there was very Cockettish. He had a pierced ear and a pierced nostril with a chain going between the two. Jim and I invited him home for a "three way." As I remember that three way and a couple of other three ways I have had in my life, it was kind of awkward. Who do you focus on? Sex with one person can be complicated enough but two was just not my thing at all. There is too much thinking involved and distraction to stay excited.
I just want to say that the sexual mores of the seventies, (pre-AIDS), should not be be judged by the post-AIDS sexual mores and values. The sexual revolution that started in the sixties, after the birth control pill became widely available, and which continued through the seventies came to somewhat of an end, after people started dying in the eighties of AIDS.
Both heterosexuals and homosexuals were experimenting with sex during the seventies. Since gay men had the extra dose of testosterone to drive them, they did, without a doubt, take sexual activity to new levels. The attitude of the late sixties and seventies was "if it feels good and it isn't hurting anybody, do it!" There was a group of sex workers in San Francisco that summed it up- what young people were saying to the old with their acronym C.O.Y.O.T.E., which stood for "Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics."
Gay men were in just the beginning of creating community and discovering who they were. Many questioned heterosexual roles of the past. One did not necessarily have to play the "male role" while the other played the "female role." It could all be interchangeable and new roles could be created. Monogamy was not essential. Open relationships were common in which one could get their emotional needs of a partnership from one person but not have their sexual activity restricted. Of course there were still the human emotions of jealousy and insecurity that had to be dealt with but many couples navigated throught these emotions- some successfully and others not so successfully.
When I hear young gay men today talk about the promiscuity of the seventies with much judgement in their voices, I know they have no way to comprehend the context of those times. Kids grow up so differently today than the kids of the fifties and sixties. Kids today seem so much more knowledgeable of sex and S.T.D.'s and grow up associating promiscuity with HIV and death. In the seventies, there were no such associations. Sex was fun. It could be recreational. If you got a sexually transmitted disease, you stopped by the V.D. clinic and got a shot or a few pills. Nobody died from sex. In the context of post HIV, gay men of the seventies would appear to have all been sex addicts, but in the context of the the 1970's, that would not be accurate. It is all about the context of the times in which one lives and the community in which one lives and the values of that community. The culmination of the 1970's was like a release of pent up energy and a breaking away from the repression of the fifties. Those of us that grew up in the fifties and sixties where there was very little discussion of sex or information about sex, the sudden immersion in sexual freedom was exciting and fun. For those of us that were gay, it
was a new found liberation.
Jim took me to a bathhouse called Ritch Street for the first time when I wasabout nineteen or twenty. The was a three story building designed for gay men to engage in sex with one another comfortably. In bathhouses, you pay for either a locker where you can stow your clothes or a lockable cubicle of about five feet by eight feet with a mattress covered with a clean sheet. There are hooks on which you can hang your clothes. You are given a towel and you quickly learn there are techniques in wrappying the towel around yourself properly so as to make it look cute rather than sloppy. Some men wander around in underwear or in jickstraps or naked with the towel over their shoulder, but most have the towel wrapped around their waist with nothing on underneath. There is a constant pacing through thehallways looking for "Mr. Right Now," a sexual partner for the moment. Lighting is dim and lightbulbs are often red to be the most flattering. Often there
is no verbal exchange between men as it is easier for Mr. Right Now to fit into one's fantasy if he doesn't start talking. If I guy looks like a hot stud and then talks like a mincing queen, it can shatter the illusion and much of the sex in sex clubs and bathhouses is all about illusion.
The difference between a bathhouse and a sex club in those days was that bathhouses had showers where sex clubs might only have a sink to wash up in. There were no private, lockable cubicles in sex clubs. Sex clubs were usually cheaper and one generally spent less time there. You got in and got off and got out, where you might linger comfortably in a bathhouse all night.
Some bathhouses were beautiful environments and some in places like New York even had live entertainment. Bette Midler and her pianoplayer, Barry Manilow famously got their start in the Continental Baths in New York. Ritch Street didn't have such entertainment but it did have a fabulous whirlpool in the basement with an aquarium that must have been about eight feet by six feet with exotic fish swimming in it as a background the the beautiful naked men. You could sit in the cafe that served salads and sandwiches and snacks and watch the men shower and bathe in the whirling waters of the pool.
If I remember correctly, the first floor of the Ritch Street was made up of lockers and cubicles. I think there were some glory holes and showers in one area and a television viewing area. Glory holes are essentially holes in a wall big enough for a penis. A man wanting oral sex would step up to the wall and put his penis through the hole and a man on the other side wanting to give oral sex would be on the other side. Sometimes each cared about who was on the other side and would try to see who entered on one side of the wall or the other but at other times, it didn't really matter who was on the other side as the fantasy in the mind was more significant than the reality of who was on t
he other side of the wall.
In the basement there was a large whirlpool in which probably fifteen to twenty young men would rest between sexual encounters or find another sexual encounter. Above the pool was a huge salt water aquarium in which exotic, beutiful fish were swimming. There were a row of showers along a wall in which the young men could shower off the chlorinated water
of the pool after exiting the soothing. pulsating waters. All of this could be observed while having a healthful snack such as a salad or a sandwich on multigrain bread. The place was beautiful and filled with beautiful men.
In April 26, 1980, CBS Reports episode, "Gay Power, Gay Politics" anchored by Harry Reassoner focused on the growing political power and influence of the LGBT community in San Francisco. Harry Reasoner began the episode with
"For someone of my generation, it sounds a bit preposterous. Political power for homosexuals? But those predictions are already coming true. In this report, we'll see how the gays of San Francisco are using the political process to further their own special interest, just like every other minority group before them. Gay power, gay politics, that's what this report is about. It's not a story about life-styles or the average gay experience. What we'll see is the birth of a political movement and the troubling questions it raises for the eighties, not only for San Francisco, but for other cities throughout the country."
After the episode aired, I remember my sister calling me and asking if those things shown in the sensationalist episode were true. Much of it was. I knew Buena Vista Park well.
"Cruising" with Al Pacino released was released not long after this with the serial killer, killing gay men in New York.
By October 1984, the cities health director ordered bathhouses to close... almost all of these sex clubs and bathhouses were closed and the majority of gay bars began to close and or became straight venues. at that time 723 men in San Francisco had died since 1981.