I went to San Francisco last week. We went to look at high schools there, but we also saw the city, got a sense of the culture, the inclusiveness that is pervasive in California, the multicultural society, the progressiveness and collaboration.
So the first question that a student asked me when I returned was, "Did you see a bunch of flamers?"
Now for those of you who are too enlightened to know what a flamer is, he is an overt homosexual. And, yes, my student, I did see some flamers. In fact, in the Castro district, I saw two men walking down the street almost completely naked. They had small flaps covering their genitals. If San Francisco were "The Windy City," I might have seen the whole enchilada.
But I didn't tell my student that. "Flamers" is such a provocative phrase for the generosity of living that I saw. And if my young friend lives under the misconception that gay couples swarm on every street corner around the city, he is sadly mistaken. So mistaken, in fact, that if he wants to dwell on a social issue in San Francisco, he would be better served to focus on the rampant homelessness that is far more pervasive.
So it was with some trepidation that, after a week of teasing back and forth, my student and I met up at an event where I once again tried to defuse the use of anti-gay rhetoric and he was feeling his oats. "Let's ask Coach _________ what he thinks," he said, certain of victory in the court of public opinion.
I had to walk away. California and its rampant permissiveness was still too fresh for me to acknowledge the limitations of my Tennessee city. So I occupied myself elsewhere.
Some minutes later, as I worked the room, I happened upon the student and the coach. The coach asked me, "Did you put _________ up to asking me about gays in San Francisco?"
"Not at all," I countered defensively. "In fact, I asked him not to involve you."
The coach turned to the student. "Actually, _________ I have four of those kinds of people in my family."
I walked away, with a smile to myself, leaving the coach to explain the world to the student, rather than the two of us gang up on him.
San Francisco meant a lot to me. It showed me a world that I rarely see, but it is not the the world of gay vs. straight, if that still needs to be a conflict. No, what I saw on the west coast was the world of everyone being able to do what he or she wants, without judgement.
We took a tour when we were out there. And when our otherwise-enlightened tour guide pointed out the Castro district, I was disappointed, because after his introductory words, I had been invited, intentionally or otherwise, to view each person that I saw walking in the street as a potential homosexual. I just didn't want to be pushed into labeling in a city that didn't seem to label.
Or maybe I did want to label, but I wanted to label the homeless that everyone seemed to walk past, and I wanted to label them as visible, as visible as the nearly-naked men who walked past us on the street, confident that they had been both seen and accepted.