I had the pleasure to continue my expeditions into the world most recently. Found myself in the Bay Area for the first time. Immediately off the plane in a terminal plastered with Gay icon Harvey Milk, you get the sense that the town bleeds a liberalism that is tantamount to its’ existence. On the ride from the airport, I was eye fucked with the wide expanses of pretty houses and mountains that capped the houses like a fortress. The houses had a pastel color generally adding to the kaleidoscope of nearby bodies of water and the vast expanse of trees. This was beautiful country, I thought and I stand by. Reaching the city limits proper showed me the grittiness that didn’t accompany the Full House snippets or Rice A Roni commercials. Of course I was used to this having visited LA three years ago. California’s poverty and homelessness while not unique has a flavor, a look and a smell that differs from what I am used to in the NY area. It’s a stark indifference about it, its pervasive enough to be noticeable and yet the city gleams at every corner with vestiges of wealth and power and influence. I can definitely say San Francisco is a sister of NYC for real. Both places have made it clear that they are bastions of capital and elitism and liberalism on an international scale. And concurrently with this powerhouse image and in practices, it sends a big fuck you to all who are not comfortably aligned with the White and Asian elites. San Francisco like NYC has the grand patent for gentrification ,redlining, racism and a blood savage marginalization that perpetrates real harm to people. I pre-researched like I always do about the Black and LGBT populations in a particular place. With a special emphasis on Blackness because the Castro and the LGBT flava is well known, I focused on finding and supporting the people who looked like me. This led me to the Bayview area in the southeastern part of the city and some delicious soul food from Frisco Fried. I knew that the area has a reputation but I’ve come to take those reps with a grain of salt cause I know they are always laced with bases of white supremacy. I found in Bayview the same beautiful mountainous backdrops and hills endemic to the city and the vast stretches of water. It was a beautiful neighborhood to me. I imagined it back in the days when more Blacks lived there, before the scourges of drugs and incarceration, back when Black men and women from the South brought all their down home good ness to them mountains and hills and near the water . Clustering for protection, necessity and by decree of larger forces always pushing us to the margins. My last day would find me inadvertently ending up in the Fillmore which was once known as the Harlem of the West. I was skeptical of course of finding a Black presence there because I knew that there has been ongoing pushes of Blacks from areas in San Francisco. But it filled me with pride when I walked down Fillmore and I saw Black men and Black women and Baptist churches and murals with our faces on it. When I saw dudes hanging out listening to hip hop in front of the hair braiding shop, when I stopped by the Soul food spot ,all of it made me grin like a fool. Because I knew that we were holding on. I knew that in the super elite, expensive ass hell, Vegan /non Gluten ,pronouns first mindfuck that is San Francisco, Black folks had lived and survived and keep surviving in spite of the attempts to remove us. Much like the ongoing displacement and stagnation we face in the NY metro area, we hold on. And we keep being Black.
I went to the Castro district on my second night and it was one of the hilliest areas I visited. I was not aware that Castro street itself was this dark, quiet street with houses that the real life of the area was centered on Market street, itself kinda a lifeline of San Fran. It reminded me of the neighborhood from Queer As Folk just in California. It had the same Sam, Paul and James vibe and Black trans me did not really expect to run into kin folk. But I did have a playful exchange with a Black bartender who teased me about my accent. Rainbow flags everywhere aside and its historical significance, I hate to say it reminds me of how I look at the West Village now. At one point in history ,it probably really served dominance in the psyche and culture for LGBT people. But now the dominance of wealth and elitism and displacement has all but vanquished the spirit of the place. It is just another neighborhood. One where any flag waving ally and her progressive husband and two kids and a dog can call home just as soon as they would any Victorian in Anysuburb, USA. So mentally I tried to imagine what it must’ve once been those hills of San Fran where gays and lesbians and trans people came out to play, where they lived , where they sought spirit of community. I tried to imagine seedier aspects of it, the whores, the drug addicts, the sex culture in general. Wondered how boys , girls and neithers from Bayview or Fillmore interacted if at all with the Castro. How did they consolidate their identity ? Were there opportunities for both sides to shine? Or was it all or nothing?
America is a vast land with immeasurable natural beauty. I always think about that when I travel in the country. All the different landscapes, all the waterways , trees, animals, phenomenon , architecture. I always think of how it once belonged to Native people and how they lost it. How it was stolen from them. How you can feel the crimes if you just imagine what was and what is. I cannot begin to imagine the amount of curses on a land borne of so much blood and so much pain, and to be so beautiful physically at least. San Francisco like NY , like LA, like Chicago, like Miami and every other municipality in this land are daughters of this system, this bloodlust culture. It’s a beautiful ,ugly thing applicable since at least 1619.
Coming soon a review of my day in Oakland, San Fran’s bout it sista with all the soul and the gold.