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Surprise!

Room for Squares

When people think of San Francisco, what comes to mind? There are a number of things people are likely to think of like Haight & Ashbury, beat poets, counter culture, the ghettos of early minority settlers, and so on. They might even bring up man made marvels like the Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park. So why is it then that, with a history and demographic as rich and diverse as ours is, more often than not in modern discourse San Francisco is almost always jokingly referred to as the Fag City, the Gay Area, or what have you?

First things first. Most definitely we need to revel in this fame and notoriety. Call it what you want, but to be thought of in popular culture as a safe haven or even breeding ground of homosexual and alternative lifestyles is a thing to be proud of, for sure. Where else could you have a centuriesí old Autumn Moon Festival one week and then follow it up with an annual celebration of leather and bondage? Nowhere else, thatís where.

Lately, however, I feel as if weíve gotten even too radical for our own good. Wait, let me rephrase that. You can never be too radical. What I mean to say is that, recently, everywhere I go, every time I hear the words San Francisco and gay referenced in the same sentence, itís been a case of derision as opposed to praise. Have we, in our efforts to ensure that the only thing we exclude is exclusivity, turned the corner from quirky to downright ridiculous?

Iíll give you an example. I attended a lecture recently wherein the lecturer was speaking about the theme of sexuality in Renaissance literature. He began talking about cross dressing, hermaphroditism and transvestitism and asked his audience whether or not we had found the topic surprising or even hard to swallow. Specifically, he questioned whether or not we would find it weird to see a man walking down the street dressed in womenís clothing. Then, he seemed to catch himself, and muttered, ďOh wait, this is San Francisco. Thatís probably everyday stuff. Nothing surprises you.Ē

Now, while I have to agree with his observation that stuff like cross-dressing isn't surprising (it is the 21st century, after all), I donít agree with his assertion that nothing surprises us. Like I said, itís the 21st century and as such, a lot of things continue to surprise us. For one thing, in the face of the crumbling of our nationís old ways, attempts to quell change and maintain the status quo are surprising. And discrimination -- antiquated, archaic, just-wonít-die discrimination Ė that should never be everyday. Yep, discrimination, thatís still surprising.

Maybe itís just election year jitters that have me second guessing, but you have to wonder whether this reputation we have as being safe harbor for all has led to the assumption that weíve become a den of iniquity. If thatís the case, then a cause like ďNo On Prop 8Ē could potentially be hurt by the association it might have to promoting open lifestyles for those people in the rest of the state who are aligned with the San Francisco agenda...or dare I say it, the gay agenda.
Boon or not, Iím not suggesting we retread in our open arms status. Conversely, itís even more important to remain steadfast in our principles and values. Once an entire cityís modus operandi is aligned subversion and transgression, that city becomes an immoral, amoral threat to tradition. What we have to do is remind everyone we do indeed have values; bigotry just isnít one of them. If that surprises anyone, then I suggest.