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.
After I had a fairly amicable break up with Stanley, I moved to 1667 Haight Street in what is called the "upper Haight." I bought my first brand new car in 1977 which was a Toyota Celica. I loved that car and took some great trips in it. Mary Jo and I drove down to San Diego along the coast through Big Sur. We saw Darlene and her kids in San Diego and spent some time at the beach and then drove back up Highway One again and stopped off to see Hearst Castle.
Darlene had been living in San Diego with Misty and Chris and I think she was receiving some government assistance at the time.
It was also during this time that I first discovered Russian River and Guerneville which was becoming a gay destination on weekends. I beleive there were even chartered buses that would take gay people up there but I usually went with my friend Jerry Hoy, who was another psych. tech. that worked with me at Saint Francis. Russian River had nude beaches where we would spend the day. This was really a nude beach phase of my life. Other nude beaches popular with gay people at the time included San Gregorio, Devils Slide, and Lands End.
Although I had come out of the closet to almost everyone by this time, I had not yet resolved all my own issues about being gay by this time. I came across a book that was immensely helpful called "Loving Someone Gay," by Don Clark. It was a revelation for me and helped me immensely. I even made an appointment with the author and talked to him about some of my lingering issues. I think those issues also had everything to do with being in my twenties as well and just trying to figure out where my life was heading. Don Clark was too expensive for me to continue to see and I went to Operation Concern, where they had a sliding scale and met Jim Weber, who would be my therapist for several years.
1667 Haight was a tiny studio apartment with a small galley kitchen and a bathroom. It was about a block from the I-Beam dance club which was the best dance club in the city at that time. Everybody went there for the tea dance on Sunday evenings and if I wanted to meet someone, I just had to go stand outside my doorway and pick one out from the passing parade.
One of the problems with promiscuity is keeping all the men straight in your head. When you are out somewhere and you see someone that looks familiar, it is always a little awkward if you can't remember their name. To solve this problem, I bought a Polaroid camera that took instant pictures and when I brought someone home, which were called "tricks" in those days, I would take a picture of them and write their name on the picture to try to remember who was who. Ultimately, I ran out of film before I ran out of men.
Ever a believer in marketing, I had "trick" cards made that I could hand out to attractive prospects that I might see during the course of my day. They were business card size and had my contact information such as name and phone number and then at the bottom, there was the tag line "Availability subject to change without notice," as I didn't want anyone to think that I had any commitment to actually getting together with them if I didn't remember who they were or lost interest by the time they called.
One night I was trolling outside my front door on Haight street for the man of the moment, and across the street, I saw three attractive black men on their way to the I-Beam. I ran across the street and gave one of them my trick card. His name turned out to be John Perry. I would have a tumultuous relationship with him for the next three years.
One of my most favorite gifts of all time was when my mom gave me a Royal typewriter for my birthday when I was about eighteen years old. I had started using hers when I was about thirteen. I became a pretty good typist because I enjoyed writing. While living with Mary Jo in Seattle, I wrote a lot of dialogue and scenes for plays. I loved Warhol's Chelsea Girls and was influenced by that. I dreamed of having a beatnik type coffeehouse where poetry could be read and plays could be performed.
A few years later, I had bought a sound Super-8 camera. I took a lot of the old dialogue I had written previously and put it together and filmed it with my new camera. Mary essentially played the character, Mary, and I played the character, Sylvan. The characters were based on us and our living together to some extent but not entirely accurate. I guess I could have named the characters differently but, for some reason, that just seemed like too much of a bother. The play begins with the words, "I think I'll slit my wrists."
Many years later, I posted "Ennui" on youtube. The owner of the "Catherine Slip" gallery contacted me in 2009 and asked if Ennui could be a part of a show he was putting together called "Sick Love." He said:
"Your piece was actually the thing that inspired me for the whole show - it's somewhat of the centerpiece of the exhibition. I love the naive quality of the film making, the poetic nature of dialogue, and the content that really pushes boundaries. I think it's brilliant, really!"
Catherine Slip gallery showing of "Ennui" 2009.
By this time, I had a little money coming in as I was back at Saint Francis, working as a Licensed Psychiatric Technician.and I had enough for a deposit on a place which was equal to a months rent. Actually, I may have had to have first and last months rent and a deposit. I found a studio apartment on the 13th floor of a small highrise about a block from work. Polk Street was still a gay neighborhood and it was an ideal place to live at the time.
Once I got settled in at the new apartment, David eventually came back down and continued to live with me there. It was a little tight in a studio but we made do. Mary Jo continued to be my best friend at the time and came over to visit regularly.
Mary Jo was taking photography classes at the San Francisco Art Institute and I would visit her there from time to time. I eventually enrolled there in a film making class. I was paying for the class out of my own pocket of course and it seemed like most of the people going there were a few years younger than myself and had rich parents that were paying their way. It was a great school in that they had great resources but for me it was too espensive to continue there. I also had problems with my own self esteem and my film making ability that precluded me from enjoying my experience there.
During the time I was attending at the Art Institute, I was working on a project I called "Ennui." It was dialog I had written some years earlier when I lived with Mary in Seattle. I wanted to make a "narrative" film and so I rewrote some of that dialog and started making my little film with Mary. Essentially we would make que cards and pretty much read our dialog from the cards. We would set the camera up on a tripod and then film a scene. Most of it was filmed in consecutive order so there would not be as much editing required.
My instructor at the Art Institute was totally into non-narrative film. We spent a lot of time blowing out eggs and filling them with paint and then droping them and filming the paint splatter. In these "art" films, there was no story line or beginning, middle or end. They were stoney psychedelica for the most part. This was not the kind of film that I had much itnerest in at all and at the time, I felt inhibited and self consious about the kind of film that I wanted to do. My peers at the Art Institute seemed pretentious and disengenuous to me and so I did not continue there.
I did eventually continue with film making at City College in San Francisco. It was also around this time that I believe I connected with some of the people that would later form Frameline which would be an organization that would do the annual L.G.B.T. film festival. At that time, it was just a few guys getting together to look at each other's super-8 film. I believe Marc Huestas might have been one of those people. I remember meeting in a flat on Guerrero around this time. I remember a couple of years later I would run into one of those original film makers and he had some mysterious disease. Every time I would see him, his health was deteriorating further.
By this time I had made some new friends on the psychiatric unit where I was working. I don't think any of the gay staff remained in the closet by this time. It was a time of gay pride. The staff was also ethnically diverse. I don't think I had ever known anyone from the Phillipines before working there. We had a staff member from Yugoslovia as well Sweden. There were Hispanics and African American's. There were also people that identified themselves as "witches" and "warlocks" and believed in the occult. It became apparent that people that work in the psychiatric field tend to be diverse and interesting.
My mom, Darlene, Chris and Misty came to visit during this period and I borrowed a fold-away bed from Jim over in Hayward and we had people sleeping wall to wall in the little studio. By this time, I had acquired a sound camera and was taking a lot of super-8 sound film and got film of the visit. I got some definitive film of my mom singing, telling a fortune, telling and telling an original story.
She sang some of the lullaby's and songs that she sang to us in our childhood and now sang to Chris and Misty in theirs. She had a beautiful voice.
Mom had been telling fotunes ever since I could remember and people always loved it. She never attributed it to any supernatural but it always seemed supernatural anyway.
While mom was visiting, we spent an evening with my step-brother, Jim, in Hayward.