For gay people in the 1990s, West Hollywood was a sacred site, a safe haven free from the heterosexism and homophobia of the straight world. Everyone visited at least once; almost everyone moved there (like my ex-boyfriend Fred); or tried to (like Oscar, the former lover of Ronald Reagan,).
But if West Hollywood was a Gay Mecca, San Francisco was Gay Heaven, a mythical, perfect place, beyond the reach of all but the very blessed or the very lucky.
In the fall of 1995, we managed it. For a little while.
Other gay neighborhoods, South of Market and the Mission, were likewise impossible. Eventually we found an apartment in "The Avenues," about 3 miles west of Castro Street.
There were lots of things wrong with San Francisco:
1. It was very expensive, and there were no jobs.
2. It was very cold and damp, with a wet wind whipping through you all the time. And those quaint Victorians? Drafty, freezing, cramped. Constant sinus congestion, frequent colds.
4. When we drove anywhere, we had to spend 45 minutes looking for a parking space, and invariably we ended up parking a mile from our destination, in a scary neighborhood.
5. We felt guilty going anywhere, due to the dozens of panhandles holding out their cups and chanting "Any change? Any change?" If we gave in and deposited change, we were marked as "easy," and aggressive panhandlers would follow us around, demanding money.
6. Crime was everywhere. People were robbed regularly. Our car would be broken into regularly, even if nothing was visible. The trunk would be jimmied open to see if anything was inside.
7. There were lots of heterosexual tourists who thought of gay people as an attraction, and kept gawking and taking photographs.
We couldn't stay there forever. It never felt like home. But in spite of the problems, San Francisco was still Gay Heaven.
Because of the little things.
A matinee at the Castro Theater.
Browsing in All American Boy on a Saturday afternoon.
The Sunday beer bust at the Eagle.
A quick burger at Orphan Andy's
Climbing up from the Castro Street Muni Station early in the morning, and walking through the bright, cold new day.