Cris Gutierrez, 61, a San Francisco writer and activist, died August 4, 2013 from complications of pancreatic cancer.
A native of the city, Cris graduated from and taught in its public schools, helped countless people through her volunteer work, and entertained and inspired many with her writing.
Marie Christine "Cris" Gutierrez, the eldest daughter of Jorge Edmundo Gutierrez, a native of Nicaragua, and Eva Leiva, a native of El Salvador, was born Nov. 4, 1951 in San Francisco. She grew up in San Francisco and in Colma. A member of Lowell High School's class of 1970, she was expelled in 1969 for, as she put it, "enjoying the Sixties too much." She went on to San Francisco City College and transferred to UC Berkeley, where she majored in Linguistics and graduated with honors in 1978.
During her twenties and early thirties, Cris was an aerobics instructor and athlete, competing in regional women's powerlifting competitions. She volunteered at San Francisco Sex Information and was a member of the Bi Center. She also volunteered as an intake person and translator for Central American immigrants seeking asylum for the Lawyers Committee for Urban Affairs (now Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights). Cris worked as a secretary at San Francisco's Grey Advertising, as an assistant manager at a Firestone Tire dealer, as a bartender at the Navy's non-commissioned officer's club on Treasure Island, and in landscape architecture in Prescott, Ariz, where she lived for two years.
Returning to San Francisco, she obtained a teaching credential at San Francisco State University in 1985 and taught at several high schools in San Francisco, including Philip Burton High School and Mission High School, where she met a fellow teacher who became her partner and eventual husband, Mark Pritchard. They became registered domestic partners in 1992 and were married in 2003.
With Pritchard she taught English in Niigata, Japan in 1987 and 1988, then returned to San Francisco to care for her mother, who died of Alzheimer's disease in 2002. During the years of her mother's illness, Cris appeared in performance art events, co-edited and published a magazine, Frighten the Horses, and was a member of samba group Scola Nova de Samba, dancing in Carnaval and Cinco de Mayo parades. She worked as a technical writer at Sybase for 13 years.
After her mother's death, Cris pursued her dream of studying the law, obtaining a JD from New College of California School of Law in 2007. Following graduation, health problems prevented her from taking the bar exam, but she worked for several years as a volunteer tenant counselor for Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco. In this role she answered questions on evictions, leases, and the rights of tenants inside and outside of the city, advocating for renters in the city's cutthroat housing environment.
During her last decade, she began writing prolifically, first on the Catster website under the guise of her pet Milagrito, and from 2009 until her death on the Open Salon website under the pen name Sirenita Lake. Often featured among the site's most popular posts, her essays tended toward comic anecdotes which revealed her fundamentally nonconformist character. Her most popular post was titled "Why I Hate Monogamy."
When Cris was diagnosed with the same illness that claimed the life of her father over fifty years before, she reacted with characteristic courage and stoicism. Writing on Open Salon, she said:
I'm satisfied with my life ... I was the person I was meant to be, I chose the right values (for me), I was far from perfect but I was never intentionally cruel or mercenary, and miraculously, admirable folks found something to like in my choices. The approval or admiration of those I respect has come to mean much more to me than how close I fit any of the templates by which our culture judges a successful life. I never expected what you gave me, I guess because I never thought to be noticed by anyone. It's a miracle and a gift.
Long windedness has always been one of my flaws, but then, I'm gonna be quiet for a very long time, so I'll mention something else. I'm Latina. We don't, in the traditional culture, write about ourselves. That's for exhibitionistic Americans. But it occurred to me that telling the truth is a worthwhile goal, and that I was fed up with living a double life, pretending to be just like the other girls at the office while being drawn by my own dark and unsanctioned currents away from the mainstream. So I took a risk that proved worth it. If you like me, it's for things that are true. Lose pretense, and dying holds no terrors.
Cris is survived by her spouse Mark Pritchard, her partners Lee Smith and Jeff Barber, her sisters Sonia Maya of Oakland, Vicki Beland of Oakland, and Shirley Gutierrez of Walnut Creek, her aunt Dora Gomez of San Francisco, and many relatives in the United States and El Salvador.