“If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair…” and not much else for the past forty-five years. Very effeminate gay men traipsing around the gay pride parade in nothing but combat boots and g-strings, girls at rock concerts going wild and topless, have been a part of the image of San Francisco since the hippie days. But they were just the image, and not the problem. San Francisco, and especially the Castro district, has a very active nudist population who didn’t confine their public nudity to concerts and parades, but disrobed regularly. That has created a public confrontation between the nudists and those who really don’t think every human body is worth looking at.
I’m reminded of a line in the British comedy Coupling, “It’s like straight sex without the embarrassing genitals.” Guys aren’t really all that attractive completely naked. For that matter, neither are a lot of women.
For nudists, it’s a free speech issue. They believe that our culture has burdened humanity with an unnatural aversion to the human form, and they express their beliefs by walking around buck naked. Many of those infested with this aversion to the human form are uncomfortable, even shocked, at the sight of a swinging cod or bouncing boobs. The issue has forced the city’s Board of Supervisors to choose sides between the nudists and the tourists and residents.
And so, by a hair’s breadth, the Board voted on Tuesday to ban public nudity except on special occasions. Supervisor Scott Weiner, sponsor of the ordinance, explained that it has gone beyond a few naked guys and the spread of naked butt cheeks is generating more complaints from his constituents than any other issue. “It’s no longer a quirky part of San Francisco, it’s seven days a week. Many people in the neighborhoods are over it and want to take action.” Weiner represents the Castro district.
Voting for the ban were Weiner, David Chiu, Mark Farrell, Sean Elsbend, Carmen Chu and Malia Cohen. Opposing were Christina Olague, Jane Kim ,John Avalos, David Campos and Eric Mar. There will be a second reading of the proposal and if it passes that, it will go to Mayor Ed Lee for signature. Lee supports the measure and it would take effect February 1, 2013.
The ordinance would ban the exposure of genitals on city sidewalks, plazas, parklets, streets and public transit. Children under the age of five would be exempted, as would certain special events like Bay to Breakers or the Folsom Steet Fair. First offenders would pay a $100 fine, second offense within 12 months a $200 fine, but there would be no “sex offender” charges that usually accompany public nuidty charges. A third charge could carry a $500 fine and a misdemeanor charge.
In opposing the proposal, David Campos cited his concerns over diverting police resources from violent crimes to catching naked bodies, while Christina Olague and John Avaolos were worried about restrictions on personal freedom. Avalos said, “Sometimes, there’s a little weirdness about how we express ourselves, but that’s a great thing about San Francisco.” David Weiner countered that he doesn’t “agree that having yellow hair is the same as exposing your penis at a busy street corner for hours and hours.”
The Board debate has had the expected backlash, with “nutde-in” protests at City Hall. When the vote was finished, several opponents in the audience expressed their displeasure by taking off their clothing. As they were being escorted from the chamber by Sheriff’s deputies, a nudist named Stardust said “It’s telling people they should be ashamed to be naked, and that’s totally wrong.”
Attorney Christina DiEdoardo, has filed suit asking for an injunction against the ban. She believes the close vote on Tuesday offers hope that the second reading on January 17 will not pass. “We only need one person to change their mind. It’s a completely unjustified restraint on free speech.”
I really have my doubts that public nudity was what our founders had in mind when they guaranteed us free speech in the Constitution., even though their society was a bit freer about sex and sexuality than the Victorians of a century later. This is one of those issues where the idea is a good one – teaching our children to accept the human body as being as much a part of nature as a pantsless Donald Duck – is at odds with the prevailing social norms. Change does not come easily in society, and especially not when the society is as diverse as ours. The French found a balance between those who embrace the human body and the hardcore Catholcism of so much of their country by establishing nude zones. As a transition, it’s a viable first step. No one in France can file a complaint about nudity in the designated nude zones. If one objects to nudity, one simply stays away from those places because to do otherwise is harassment. Maybe if the Castro district didn’t attract so many upright, uptight tourists who want to come from Middle America to look at the “freaks” as though the residents were zoo exhibits, there would not be as many complaints.