There's been a small controversy regarding public nudity in San Francisco's Castro district for a while now. I had heard rumblings about it, but until last June hadn't seen first hand what it was all about. Basically, at Jane Warner Memorial Plaza, which is located at Market and Castro, the epicenter of that world famous neighborhood, some nudists like to, well, hang out naked.
It's mostly men, and about a year ago the supervisor for that part of the city, Scott Wiener, got legislation passed to require the nudists to place something under themselves on public transit, and banning them from restaurants.
I hadn't realized it was legal to be naked anywhere, but apparently it is legal in San Francisco, as long as no one acts lewdly. Some residents and merchants of that area don't like the nudity, and Wiener has now introduced legislation to ban public nudity.
A demonstration was planned this past Saturday at that plaza to protest the bill. I had found a facebook page, and over 120 people had committed to going. This gave me visions of a fun spectacle of a decent sized nude in, and I couldn't resist dragging my friends Linda and Steve to check it out.
We got there a little early and found only a handful of naked people. One man was doing a fine job of displaying himself and his member, which I and Linda both agreed looked like it had been “pumped up” in order to appear larger than it was. So much for naturalness and nudity. This man did a good job of remaining displayed enough so that it was hard to not notice that over time, the effects of his pump were wearing off.
According to the Bay Area Reporter, this is one of the issues some find objectionable. Some men walk around with cock rings on, claiming they are jewelry, and really, the only reason for that is to give their genitals more prominence. Or something like that. Some men have been seen waving their stuff at cars passing by. Sounds dumb to me.
However, as people arrived in various states of undress, I can't say I saw anyone else behave in a disrespectful way. I've learned with radical movements that it only takes the actions of a few to invalidate the actions of everyone else. So though my initial impression for the day was of someone who was obviously trying to get attention for his penis, I don't think that was anyone elses intention.
When I came out at the age of 40, I had my wilder experimental period, and I tried nude beaches a couple of times. I'm sure I have nothing new to say about it, it was very freeing. I've never had an awesome body. So taking my clothes off in public, and finding that everyone didn't run away was nice. And one notices that most everyone elses bodies aren't perfect either. Then you can settle down and just enjoy the sea breeze wandering through places it's never been, and it's all relaxing and pleasant. For about an hour, then I got bored. But I can understand how people could get hooked on that feeling.
Eventually, about 100 people showed up. About 25 of them were striped down to either jock straps or were completely nude. At one point, some of the awesome Sisters Of Perpetual Indulgence had people get into a prayer circle and did a blessing for the crowd.
I spoke with some people. Rusty Mills, who was handing out information, and was wearing shorts, told me: “I think it's important for SF to keep it's reputation as a place where interesting things happen. We've got the Bay to Breakers and Folsom Street fair, part of the charm of the events is people are free to be provocative and naked. SF hasn't had any laws against nudity on the streets, we in the Castro have been taking advantage of this law, the tourists love it, and it's fun, it's just basically fun. You're free of this irrational taboo against being naked, SF is the only place in the country where this is happening and we don't want to lose it.”
Oliver, a protestor wearing clothes, who had spoken to the crowd with a megaphone, who lives in that district said “I believe nudity is a fundamental issue of personal freedom. This is a civil rights issue, it's a basic issue of liberty. People forget that the whole reason that we have civil rights, that we have those liberties is because the majority is going to be opposed, because the legislatures are going to try and pass laws against these things. There has to be some limit to what the majority can decide. Otherwise you have the tyranny of the majority, and you have the situation where they can throw any minority under the bus. And that doesn't seem like a country that we want to live in.”
And the youngest nude member of the crowd, Monsanto, who is a proud republican, said “I feel like the laws against nudity are kind of infringing. It's an overreach from the government. Nudity is important in SF for what it represents here. I mean, not everyone needs to legalize nudity. New York, maybe Chicago, whoever wants to. People can almost be naked anyway, so why have laws against nudity, it doesn't make sense. These people aren't hurting anyone, let them live free lives.”
I can't say this is an issue that really resonates with me. Yes, the human body is a beautiful thing, and no, I don't need to see everyone's body. I like that moment when someone I have found a mutual attraction for reveals their whole body to me. It feels special, and it's an honor to reach that level of trust and openness with someone. If we all walked around naked, so much for that moment. And believe me, I am not a prude. I believe in seeing naked bodies regularly.
But I think I should be able to make a choice about who I see naked. I wouldn't want to sit next to a stranger who's wearing nothing on public transit. Genitalia and the human body are a charged subject, and carry meaning, whether we want that or not.
All that said, I understand the quest for personal freedom, and I respect these people's right to fight for what they believe in. I'd rather see people fighting for things such as world peace, or the economy, but that's just me. Different things are important to different people. All the people I interviewed had good points. It comes down to different opinions, and sometimes both opinions can be both a little right and a little wrong. Maybe pushing the boundaries is a good thing. I really don't know.
I appreciate the people who spoke to me, and for everyone in attendance making the event very safe and fun. I like my thinking challenged like this, and the chance to understand other people's issues. I thank everyone who was there.
I had a great time with my friends Linda and Steve, and you can check out Linda Seccaspina's perspective here.
All content by me, except the quotes are the words of the quoted people. No copyright intended.