1978- 525 Haight Street

1978- 525 Haight Street

My place in the upper Haight had become too cramped and I wanted a little more space. I started looking around at apartments and found a place at 525 Haight Street that had been bought and renovated by some gay people. At the time, this block of Haight street was pretty desolate. Almost all of the businesses were boarded up. There had recently been a major bust of prostitutes and drug dealers that had been doing business openly there for a while. People on their way to the upper Haight tried to avoid walking through this dark, foggy, crime infested area. The only people that had been populating this block were the black underclass of pimps, prostitutes, dealers johns and junkies.

The rent was cheap and the apartment meant my needs and so I moved there. Shortly after moving in, I wrote to my brother, Roger, telling him I wasn’t sure if I would be shot soon. Being six foot, four inches at the time was probably to my benefit. No one ever accosted me.

San Francisco was on the verge of explosive gentrification. It would become an issue between the African-American community and the gay community. Many successful upwardly mobile white gay people with disposable income were buying up run down and sometime derelict buildings throughout San Francisco to renovate them as homes or income properties. In spite of rent control, the constant change of hands in real estate sent property values sky rocketing. Eventually this would result in a large part of the black community being displaced to Oakland, Richmond, Antioch, Vallejo and other outlying areas of primarily the East Bay. San Francisco would become increasingly white and yuppified (young urban professionals) and guppified (gay urban professionals.

I was ambivalent about the changes. On the one hand, there were places of blight like Haigh and Fillmore in which there were blocks of empty, burnt out, rat infested buildings in which no one lived and primarily traversed by pimps, protitutes and junkies and gentrification reclaimed those buildings for renovation and inhabitation. But when the buildings were renovated, property values all around would go up and rents would go up and even with rent control, the black families that had lived on the periphery of these areas were priced out of the market and were forced to move. Gay white men with good jobs and disposable incomes were about the only ones that could now afford to live in the City and later it would be the dot com yuppies. The city would never be affordable in the way it had been when I had first arrived with the hippie influx of the sixties.

The seemed primarily gay for a moment in time, though… through my jaded gay eyes anyway. There were really about five neighborhoods in San Francisco that I remember having large gay populations and those were the neighborhoods in which I lived: Polk Street; The Castro, The Folsom, Pacific Heights and upper Haight. We were everywhere in mass. It was the peak of the gay party sensibility of promiscuity, poppers, and dancing. Drugs of choice were pot and cocaine for many, meth for others. It seemed like there would never be an end to the party. It was frenetic.

For many, though, including myself, it seemed to be going nowhere. Sex was easy to come by but intimacy was elusive. There was a steady stream of casual one night stands. There was sex in bathhouses, doorways, parks and alleys. How was is possible to be surrounded by hot gay men and be totally unable to connect emotionally with any of them? How could someone having so much sex feel so alone??

I was continuing to see my therapist. When I had first started seeing him, I thought John was going to come to couples counseling with me but John had no interest in working on the relationship and so then I recruited my therapist to help me build the strength to break my addiction to John. I was finally finding myself again but it seemed like there wasn’t much there. I had a few friends that I saw superficially but my life really consisted on work, getting high and having recreational sex. I desperately wanted more in my life. I wanted to feel complete on my own but I also wanted a relationship.

My therapist suggested that I try to meet men in environments other than bars and bathhouses. He suggested that I become involved in organizations that gay men attended that centered on other activities besides getting high and having sex. One of the first organizations I got involved with was a gay camping and outdoors group I quickly realized I had no interest in camping or going out into the wilderness even if it was with other gay men. I got involved with a group called Black and White Men Together that met a church in the upper Haight. The first night I went, I just walked around the block a couple of times, unable to work up the nerve to actually walk go in. The following week, I did make it into the actual group.

B.W.M.T. was an organization of primarily black men and white men getting together to discuss issues having to do with racial issues in the gay community and issues that came up in relationships between black men that were into white men that were into black men. It was called a “rap” group, a term that had been left over from the sixties. At each meeting, there would be about twenty men. Occasionally there were Asian men or other ethnicities. There were incredible facilitators in those early meetings I attended and there were some great groups. It was also a great place for cruising.

After the rap group part of the evening, there would often be a potluck and social part of the evening. Usually I fled immediately after the rap part as I was terrified of having to make small talk with anyone. I was not good at it and it made me pretty anxious to consider it. As long as I was part of a structured, facilitated group, I could quiet my anxiety enough to participate but unstructured socializing at that time seemed impossible. I was good at having sex with other men but terrible at trying to have a conversation in a social setting. Actually, I could fake it, and when people from those days discovered my social phobias, they are often surprised as I could appear to others to have no such problem. Marijuana only made it worse and everybody smoked pot in those days.

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