I Do Not Understand Reality, Even More Nudity in San Francisco Edition, 20 November 2012

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Good Evening:

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
Read more at Neil J. Riley’s article (and yes, there are pictures!): http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/S-F-barely-passes-public-nudity-ban-4055606.php#ixzz2Cq1HaMVB
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4 responses »

  1. As a Libertarian (since 1980, learning of the Party and the movement across the bay at UC Berkeley), i know one of the core values of the movement/party is freedom as long as everyone else is able to have the same freedoms. In other words, my expressions of freedom must not cause harm to your or others’ abilities to similarly enjoy and express your freedoms. If “butt bacteria” is an issue (and i don’t know), then my reading of a true Libertarian stand is that the Libertarian nudist would want to and would be expected to provide some form of biological isolation between his/her rump and shared public surfaces.

    Forcing the use of a particular device such as a towel would be wrong, but some sort of barrier is a reasonable expectation. Though in a pure Libertarian world no law would be needed as the individual is personally responsible for their actions and would be taking care of the matter themselves. (At least this is the theory i’ve always read.)

    From the Party of Personal Responsibility,

    ))Sonic((

    • Sonic Purity: Another excellent comment. “…my expressions of freedom must not cause harm to your or others’ abilities to similarly enjoy and express your freedoms” is a statement that probably explains why Libertarianism has surprising appeal in San Francisco. And I know it’s surprising–it even surprises Libertarians. I remember walking past a table manned by Libertarians at the Embarcadero Farmers Market one Saturday during the 2008 campaign. No mistaking the shock on their faces–they could not believe how many passersby said “Go Ron Paul!”
      Thinking back to your comment about my other post about public nudity in San Francisco, I recall your gratitude for the existence of clothing because the nudists you described seemed so unappealing. From a Libertarian perspective, is there a clash between someone’s expression of freedom in the form of nudity vs. someone’s expression of freedom in the preference for the absence of nudity? If in fact public nudity in the Castro causes a decrease in income for the local small businesses, are the nudists harming the business owners’ ability to enjoy their freedom to make money? If yes, from a Libertarian perspective whose freedoms take priority (if anyone’s)?
      Have a great holiday.
      Vonn Scott Bair

  2. Pingback: San Francisco: The City That Nudes How! « The San Francisco Scene--Seen!

  3. Pingback: Phoneography Challenge: My Neighborhood – World Naked Bike Ride Spring 2013 « The San Francisco Scene--Seen!

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