Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Shame in the Castro

So the grey-complected bureaucrats, shivering in their dank shuttered offices in self-righteous fear of the lusty and boisterous city they haunt, have managed to do what homophobes and the cops of earlier eras never could ... they killed Halloween in the Castro. Shame on them. Shame especially on Supervisor Bevan Dufty, a gay man, who does the work of the homophobes.

As I write only a few blocks from the darkened streets of the historical core of the gay revolution, they have closed public transit and strong-armed merchants and bar-owners into closing early. They have barricaded the sidewalks so revelers cannot take the streets. They have banned parking not to make room for merriment or celebration, but to make room for their own police-state tactics. They did this in the name of "safety" because of a few fringe bad episodes in an otherwise exuberant celebration of hundreds of thousands of people.

It is not coincidental that this occurs a few day safter the New York Times features a story that does not lament the decline of gay neighborhoods ... are they passé, it asks. It's ostensibly about social change, but actually about obscene real estate prices. I believe that the moral force behind killing Halloween here is a combination of grumpy old gay property owners who begrudge to current youth the fun they had in their own youths, along with the new smiling straight property owners who pat themselves ceaselessly on the back for finding a neighborhood where they can be cool. Neither group wants our history except, perhaps, in a tasteful library display.

We need our history because it is a visceral reminder of the fact that we have had to fight with our bodies and our lives for the freedom we have. We conducted that fight in living memory. Stonewall happened when I was 16. When I was 10 in 1963, on the day of Halloween, the reactionary San Francisco city authorities revoked the license of the epochal Black Cat, a well-known gay hangout. The "nelly queens" celebrated one last time that Halloween, drinking non-alcoholic beverages, and the place closed forever.

Halloween in the Castro, 1997

Gay people celebrate Halloween, the great gay holiday, because it is a festival of difference ... it is visceral play of the dialectic between appearance and reality. Look at it ... night plus costumes plus play plus blasphemy ... what is not gay about that? Many groups may claim Halloween, and so be it, but Halloween is ours. It is celebration of transgression, and our lives through no fault of our own have been transgressive since the dawn of christianity. The bastards cannot take it from us ... but the bureaucrats did. They stripped it from our heartland. How heartless.

Halloween in the Castro, 2006

Guys spend all year creating magnificent costumes. This has been a decades long focal point of creativity and expressiveness that allows our deeply creative community to strut its stuff, to show the world that we may be out there, but being out there is a great way to live. But such considerations of expression and creation are too much for the tiny minded civic school-marms. A pox on you, Dufty. Shame on you

Before gay liberation, the drag queens of Toronto used to march back and forth between the Parkside Bar and St. Charles Tavern on Yonge Street to the jeers and pelting of a mob ... the pelting lasted until 1980, but the Halloween party goes on. I am reliably informed that similar parades of drag queens occurred in many cities but I do not have a reference at this point. But we had the guts to do it, and we had the guts to suffer the taunts and the attacks until we could mount a movement to secure our liberty.

Halloween in the 70s and 80s in the Castro often featured violence much worse than the couple of incidents that form the "casus belli" against gay Halloween for our grey bureaucrats. CUAV, Community United Against Violence, was founded in 1979 to fight back against gay bashing, and it actively patrolled the neighborhood. The police in those days were of precious little help. As the celebration grew and grew, the police came to play a better role. Now they have been enlisted to kill the fun.

This city likes to pretend that it is the "city that knows how." No way, now. This is a city that cannot run a transit system, that cannot pave its streets, that cannot clean up its garbage, that cannot help its homeless, that cannot provide affordable housing, that can no longer serve the artists and misfits and refugees who make it what it is. Tourists come to San Francisco because it is different. But it is less and less different every passing hour as we are invaded by smug suburbanites and SUVs and nervous lookie-loos with no more creativity than the blister packs of the consumerism that is their only joy.

Now the city meekly claims it cannot manage a large, popular, recurring event. New Orleans can manage Mardi Gras, but San Francisco can't handle Halloween. New York can manage Halloween in the Village not to mention Times Square on New Year's Eve, but San Francisco can't bring itself to do the same. The city that mourns its lost bids for the Olympics whines and snivels that it can't handle happy people in costumes on the streets. For crying out loud, Pamplona can handle mad bulls rushing through the streets clogged with human beings, but San Francisco, o poor San Francisco, can't manage a street fair. Shame on the bureaucrats. Shame especially on Dufty, who would know better if he had an ounce of sense of who we really are or where we came from or what we have done. It is especially disheartening that Mayor Newsom, who has fought the good fight for gay marriage, does not understand what a kick in the nuts this is. Think big, Gavin. Don't be a grey-complected bureaucrat like teeny weeny Dufty whose political career is over and who will go nowhere. We need the bold, not the meek, in office.

In the background, I have just watched a 1997 History Channel documentary narrated by Harry Smith, called A Haunted History of Halloween, that doesn't bother to mention gay people at all, even as they show pictures of the celebration in Greenwich Village. Our history is perpetually silenced. It is one of the chief methods of eliminating us. When the City of San Francisco silences our annual celebration of ourselves, it is complicit in that strategy. Closing the Castro Halloween Celebration is homophobic, and it is a stain on the careers of those politicians who established the policy, and on the city where we have fought for our liberation for a century. Shame on San Francisco. Shame.

More ranting on this subject here!


Anonymous said...

EXCELLENT! "The bureaucrats have done what the homophones couldn't." Truer words have not been spoke. I mourn with you.

Marc Geller said...

Thanks for saying what needs to be said. It was very sad out there last night. By shutting down the party, essentially we let the terrorists win.