Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
July 06, 2004

From outlaws to in-laws
Author/s: Bruce Vilanch

“San Francisco is a place that takes its sex very seriously, and that is how it is taking them.” My late writing partner Jerry Blatt, with whom I collaborated on many projects with and for bette midler for about 15 years, wrote that back in the ’80s when aids cut its first deadly swath through the city, the period chronicled in And the Band Played On, for those of you too young to remember. It was a joke, sort of, but clearly of the blackest kind, which was one of Jerry’s specialties. An openly serious sexualist, he succumbed to the disease a few years later.

Jerry was one of the guys who told me he was going celibate because it was better than nothing. And I knew what he meant. the kind of sex he lived for was available to him only at the highest possible risk. He gambled and he lost and he knew it.

It’s more than a decade later, and lesbigays are not just the flavor of the season but a community making a genuine imprint on everyday America. Our nasty, hedonistic image has been tamed—or at least morphed—into something fabulous and accessible to straight people. At its nether end, there are about as many news stories featuring sober, happy people going for marriage licenses as there used to be news stories about extreme bikers and drag queens.

A lot of the storybook couples got their licenses in San Francisco when the getting was good and that devastatingly handsome Abercrombie-AARP print-model mayor took his stand in favor of us. Yes, the same San Francisco that features the Up Your Alley Fair, an annual event where the bondage peeps take to the streets, walking nude men on pearl-studded leashes and setting up booths to sell nipple rings and dildos with family crests.

San Francisco is still a city that takes its sex seriously. When you go to a bar called Daddy’s, it’s called that not because the owner is known as daddy or because it sounds like a friendly name for a place, like Cheers. It’s because that’s what you will find there—daddies, dozens of them, maybe even some real ones.

Because the city is relatively small and is home to a disproportionate number of gay people who have come there from smaller places, the residents refer to it as the City. In New York or Chicago or Los Angeles, they ask you how long you’ll be in town. Not in San Francisco. It’s always “How long will you be in the City?” Most people have come to S.F. to create a life for themselves free of the strictures of wherever they lived before. That may be why the place has such a high sexual temperature. It may also be why one of the town’s chief AIDS fund-raisers is an elegantly turned-out woman by night and a male department store manager by day, leading two separate but equal lives. This sort of thing doesn’t surprise anyone by the Bay—they’d be disappointed if there weren’t a phone book full of such people.

Now that some of us have gotten all cozy and domestic, writers like John Rechy mourn the loss of the outlaw edge that was their particular slice of gay life. In a greater sense, they are referring to the general idea of gay people being bonded by their illegality, their outsider status, and how that is slowly evaporating with our descent into the melting pot.

It will be a great experiment to see what happens to us. San Francisco shows there is plenty of room for everybody, even if the outlaw fringe now seems like more of a theme park than a dedicated way of life. The authenticity may be missing, but that’s what comes with change. If you want authenticity, just tune in to your neighborhood evangelical and you’ll get a bracing dose of the real thing. They have a bigger stake in our being real outlaws than we do.