Do you remember that scene in Annie Hall, when the Woody Allen character says no one ever believes him when he says he was raised in a house under the Coney Island roller coaster? Well, that’s how I feel about where I live now. No one would believe it. Hell, I wouldn’t have believed it if you’d told me 20 years ago that one day I would live not only in San Francisco, not only in the infamous Castro—but at the very epicenter of the gay universe. Someone I met at a party not long ago referred to my address as Fag Zero. I prefer to think of it as the corner of Queer and Gay.
Through my bedroom window, I have the world’s best view (second best, perhaps, if you count my upstairs neighbors) of the enormous rainbow flag that has flown over the Castro for decades now, as proudly as the Stars and Stripes atop the White House. If I open the window on a blustery day, I can hear it whipping in the wind—as if some heavenly drag queen were snapping her laundry on the line.
This corner, where Castro meets Market, is where the subway and the trolley spill out every gay tourist who makes the pilgrimage to our very own mecca. The first thing they see when they emerge may be the pink and blue neon sign for the Castro Theater, but the first sound they hear is the flapping of that flag over their heads. It’s a marker visible for miles around, a beacon pointing the way to the gayest neighborhood this side of Amsterdam.
In the world of real estate, location is everything, and now I know why. When you meet that special someone in one of the Castro’s many bars, the inevitable question “My place or yours?” is routinely followed by “Where do you live?” In my own cruising days, it was a question I looked forward to and dreaded in equal measure. “Around the corner,” I would say quite sincerely, and my companion would laugh with an I’ll-bet-you-say-that-to-all-the-boys smirk. Until we rounded the corner and I took out my keys. Then his jaw would drop and the inevitable exclamation would resound: “You weren’t kidding!” Which was often followed by, “I’ve always wanted to see the inside of this place,” or—still more dreaded—“Oh yeah, I’ve slept here before.” The building does have a certain George Washington quality to it, I suppose. If George Washington were gay. Okay, maybe it’s more of an Abe Lincoln quality, then.
So, suffice it to say that after years in the Castro, I’m a bit spoiled. When I walk through this neighborhood, hand in hand with my boyfriend, I don’t think twice about the fact that the streets are full of transgender pioneers and men in leather, that the occasional storefront window sports an assortment of porn DVDs and dildos of every size and color known to latex. The uniqueness of the situation doesn’t register for me anymore. This is the world as it’s supposed to be.
But not as it is everywhere. They say California is a bubble. They say San Francisco is an even smaller bubble. And the Castro … well, the Castro is a bubble butt.
Traveling virtually anywhere else on the planet gives me a dramatic reality check.
A few years ago, my then-boyfriend and I went on vacation in Hawaii. Our first mistake, of course, was deciding to stay in Waikiki—which, basically, is Indiana with palm trees and more interesting cocktails.
One morning, we wanted to catch the sunrise (correction: he wanted to catch the sunrise; I hadn’t seen one except under duress since … well, ever). So we ran out of our cozy little gay inn and, holding hands, raced past some of the bigger hotels on our way to the beach. As we passed by the Marriott, a deep voice snarled out at us: “Oh, are you boys in love?!” That last word, strung together from at least five drawling syllables, was almost unrecognizable. But John heard it pretty clearly.
He stopped dead in his tracks, and I would have careened into a fire hydrant if he hadn’t held onto my hand so tightly. I boinged to a stop a few steps ahead of him and turned around. The voice that had accosted us belonged to a beige beach ball of a woman who was still smirking in our direction. She was part of a small group waiting outside the hotel for a tour bus, and we were her entertainment until the official fun began.
“Yes,” John shouted, his face a provocative affront. “We are in love. Has anyone ever been in love with you, you fat cow?”
I wish I could say it was the first time John had ever admitted to being in love with me. Wouldn’t that be a sweet, romantic way to end the story? But alas (for the world of literature), it wasn’t the first time. But it was the first time I saw his spine in full force. John has been known to do drag from time to time, and as we all know, drag queens are the bravest souls on the planet.
While the woman just stared at us in disbelief, John yanked my hand again to pull me close, and planted a long, lingering, wet kiss on my lips. As we raced to the beach to beat the sun in its attempt to crest the horizon, I imagined the paramedics racing to the hotel to revive Mrs. Cheney from her latest heart attack.
So much for paradise. I’m as fond of palm trees and island sunsets as the next guy, but paradise for me has more to do with the way people relate to one another than the landscape in which they do it. I will continue to assert my right to march down any street as a proud gay man, and to kiss my lover full on the lips even where it will scare every horse in town. But after that, I will go home to the corner of Queer and Gay. As Dorothy Gale, our patron saint, has taught us, there’s no place like home.