I don’t understand this: public nudity in our culture is strange; San Francisco in our culture is strange; surely strange should be able to do strange right. But my town has flagrantly flubbed flaunted flesh (ah, poesy!).
My hometown’s nudity movement (I can’t believe I just wrote that) became a civic issue months before I saw the nudity demonstration in the Civic Center only five days ago. A group of men had taken to sitting au naturel in one of SF’s smallest parks, a roughly fifty foot diameter circle of bushes and a few metal tables at the terminus of the vintage streetcar line that travels up Market Street and ends at yet another one of San Francisco’s five-way intersections (Temple, Divisadero, Market, Castro and 17th Streets). Incidentally, when I wrote of this curious affair to my other online buddies, one of my fave correspondents, a sweet-tempered grandmother and Red Sox fanatic from Boston, Massachusetts wrote back asking if the men were young, handsome, suntanned, hetero and single. Sadly, I had to inform her that they were old, flabby, pot-bellied, pale and gay.
The Supervisor (similar to an Alderman in other cities/towns) whose district includes the Castro neighborhood, Scott Wiener (yes, his last name is unfortunate, and no, he is not that Weiner, and whatever one-liners you’re imagining we San Franciscans have already told each other) grew concerned about the possible health risks concerning the spread of butt bacteria (I can’t believe I just wrote that) and wanted to introduce a law requiring the nude sitters to “…place a towel or other barrier on a public seat before sitting in it. And that they be prohibited from dining in restaurants naked.” (from the SF Chronicle article written by Heather Knight which you can read here) This stirred up more controversy than people expected.
First of all, the City & County of San Francisco has a surprisingly strong Libertarian streak (just ask the surprised Libertarian activists who discover how popular Ron Paul is around here): a lot of defenders of public nudity didn’t approve of the imposition of forcing the nudists to carry a towel with them. Second, San Francisco has a new “sit/lie law” that bans people from sitting or lying on sidewalks, no matter how many/few/no clothes they wear. Why should nudists be allowed to sit in public when panhandlers on Haight Street can’t sit at all? Third, the gay population in the Castro wanted public nudity in their neighborhood banned, period, arguing that among other things, the nudes were bad for the local small businesses. San Francisco, contrary to conservative stereotypes, is one of America’s hottest hotbeds of entrepreneurship, business, and free enterprise.
When the story spread that the sitters were not even San Franciscans, they were out-of-towners, the aghast locals asked Mr. Wiener to do something about this. Think about that; people not from San Francisco conducting themselves in San Francisco in a manner too risque for San Franciscans. I can’t believe I just wrote that.
So Mr. Wiener did what politicians are expected to do, obeyed his constituents’ wishes, and introduced a law limiting but not eliminating public nudity, because after all, this is San Francisco, and we have annual events such as the Folsom Street Fair and the Pride Parade where nudity is expected, so we can’t ban expected nudity, now can we? However, because after all, this is San Francisco, the public hearing drew protestors who stated that the nude sitters were not out-of-towners, they were San Franciscans, and since they were nude activists, they therefore engaged in some pubic baring at the public hearing (and I can believe I wrote that). Many of the other Supervisors opposed the law, saying that “Sometimes there’s a little weirdness about how we express ourselves, but that’s a great thing about San Francisco.” The proposed law did pass and barring surprises will go into effect on 1 February 2013.
The final vote? 6-5. Naturally, everyone says that the new law just barely passed.
Vonn Scott Bair