Somebody did a lot of fund raising, and organized an all-expense-paid trip for Wholeness to California. In late spring, we loaded up the station wagon and drove down to the Bay Area. From the cool green Oregon forests, we sped south into the warm golden hills that were already drying towards summer.
There were many stories. The fancy motel in Tiburon. The spaghetti feed in Corte Madera. The boat rides and tours. But I split off on my own some of the time. I had my own agenda.
Of course I had learned that San Francisco was the gay Mecca. It was where everything was happening. Or supposed to be.
I took the Muni train underground, and popped up in the Castro. Here it all was! Or was it? I walked up and down the street. I shyly peeked into the leather bars. I went by normal businesses like banks. The most amusing thing I saw was a small plaque at the base of one of the houses. It announced dryly, “On this spot, 1897”. New line. “Nothing Happened”.
My mind reeled at the thought that probably every single man I saw was gay. Some you could tell. There was the young hippy-type faery chatting casually with the little old lady at the vegetable stand. She was talking back to him, just like he was a normal person.
I saw one guy I recognized from the Brietenbush gathering. I hadn’t talked to him there, and didn’t know how to introduce myself now. He was very handsome, but it had spoiled it for me that he looked too much like my brother. I just can’t get into the idea of having sex with one of my brothers.
Most of the guys, you would never know they were gay; dressed in business suits and ties, or whatever. I think it was the height of the “clone look”; short hair, pumped muscles, polo shirt, little moustache. Already this had diffused enough into the general culture it looked pretty normal.
It is arguable that every male fashion started as a gay men’s signaling device. Wearing white painter’s pants. Having a little gold circlet earring in your left ear. When straight men started picking up on it and doing it too, it would lose its usefulness for gay men to spot each other. Then they’d hve to come up with something new.
So here I was at the nexus of the gay world, and what was I to do with it? I was clueless. Fortunately, I had brought my laundry. I found a Laundromat on 18th Street. Then, I had an excuse to hang out there, be part of the scene, at least for the duration of the wash and dry cycles.
For years, I was still pretty much clueless what to do with the Castro. Every time I would be in the Bay Area, I would come back to that same Laundromat and do my laundry. It was pretty pathetic, but it was my tradition.
Finally, thirteen years later, 1997, I lived out my lifelong fantasy in the Castro. Oh, I know you want to hear about it. I was there with my boyfriend of the time. We were both out-of-towners from the Northwest, me from Grayson Harbor, him from Seattle.
We were in a little open-air hole-in-the-wall eatery, having wraps. We sat on stools at the counter, facing out the windows that were open to the warm autumn night. Then, about six guys I knew came along the street, all in a group. We said hey all around. They came in and talked.
They were all going to a movie together. Boyfriend and I joined them. In the theater it was dark. The movie started.
Now, I don’t know quite how to explain how this was my lifelong fantasy. We watched the movie, and then went on our separate ways. It was my lifelong fantasy, because I had finally had a nice evening. I had actually gone to the Castro and had a good time!
But this first time, trying to plug into gay life in the Bay Area, I felt alienated. I didn’t know how to do it. I’d had sex with a handful of guys by now, but nothing continued. Nothing sustained. I wanted to have at least one gay man for a friend.
Somehow, I found out about a coming-out drop-in group. It was in the East Bay, near where we were staying. I found the spot on the scheduled evening, a big old house with expanses of glass windows. With the lights on inside, it looked like a jewel box.
I still don’t know how I steeled myself to go in. Probably, I held my breath and closed my eyes. But I’m glad I did. I do not remember a single thing about the meeting, except that’s where I met Dan.
Dan and I got talking as the meeting broke up. We talked on and on. He took me to his dingy little apartment near the Berkeley campus, and we had unremarkable intimacy. But it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter to him because he got lots of sex with men he met all the time. It didn’t matter to me because he was such an interesting guy to talk to.
Dan worked for a lecture notes business at the university. He would sit in on classes and take dictation. Then, the company would publish the notes, for study aids, and to help people who had missed the classes.
The result of this was, Dan was a fount of fascinating information. One of the many, many tidbits was this, from a Human Sexuality class, regarding the different aspects of gender acculturation:
The things that set men’s roles apart from women’s. When it’s all said and done, the primary aspect of masculinity in this culture can be distilled down to the word “competent”. For women, it’s “sensitive”.
I have got a lot of mileage out of things Dan told me. And the best part is, we’ve kept in touch. At the very least, he writes to me once a year, on my birthday. For many years it was letters. Now it’s email.
Since then, I have had lots of gay friends. But that first friendship was the souvenir I brought back from California to Oregon.