Being a socially restrained Brit, I don’t normally converse with strangers, but here in San Francisco, I do. And I actually enjoy it. It’s much more fun than being backwardly polite and overbearingly restrained. And strangers can often have a lasting impression. I spoke to a few homeless guys here. One, Larry, split up from his wife and had nowhere to go, so ended up on the street selling newspapers. He was distraught at only having sold two and wanted me to buy one for a dollar. I gave him the five dollar bill I had in my pocket and he ran down the street, jumping and dancing as if he had just won the lottery. Five dollars, as my pernickety little left brain later wanted me to work out, is something I currently earn every six minutes of my life, even whilst drinking coffee in my favourite San Fran café. Five dollars for Larry got him a bed for the night. It’s astounding how little it sometimes takes to help someone else and how often I choose not to because of the little fears and inhibitions that my mind dictates to me.
Homeless guy number two didn’t tell me his name even though I saw him twice. A small, mousey haired man, with anger growling through his knuckles and glaring through spaces that were once his teeth. He used to watch his neighbours beating up their dog with a baseball bat every day for months on end before his anger took over and he took the baseball bat to his neighbours. Arrested and evicted, he now lives on the streets. The dog can still hardly walk but according to his new owner, lives “a life of luxury” in a Safeways trolley, propped up by about a dozen thick woollen rugs. Caring for the dog has become his purpose in life, costing him over $600 in medical bills per month. That’s a lot of money for someone who has to beg for it. He lifts him out every fifteen minutes or so, kisses him on the head, puts him on the ground to drink some water, has him walk as much as caninely possible then lifts him back onto the rugs, hoping for a couple of dollars from the next passer by. Usually they just breeze past, often taking a snapshot, totally ignoring the man and his dog.
The corner of Powell and Bush seems to be a hotspot for homeless talent. One guy set up his own drum kit with wooden sticks and empty paint cans and wine bottles. The wine bottles were set out like a piano keyboard and the paint cans produced tones that a professional percussionist could be envious of. His funky sense of rhythm might have made you think he was one of these David Garrett style Candid Camera jokers wanting to see how the public react to a professional musician pretending to be a beggar. But he was truly homeless and truly professional in a deeper sense of the word, his soul and spirit definitely deeply aligned with his music making. A few feet away sat a painter, sitting outside Starbucks making amazingly beautiful portraits of passing people and surrounding architecture. Why does the wealthiest country in the world ignore these people, define them by their misfortune and ignore their talent? What other musical, artistic or scientific talent is dormant in the remaining homeless people of the United States and the rest of the world? Perhaps, a Nobel Peace Prize winner deserved of the title. Perhaps a modern day Beethoven or Charles Dickens. Perhaps the brain who will find a cure for cancer. How are we going to find out if we measure people’s importance and entitlement based on their income and otherwise treat them like shit?
Hi Sir, what can we get you today?
Decaf americano please.
And what name can I put on the cup for you? Will Fluffy Bunny work for you today?
Oh no, I think I prefer Priscilla today.
That’s okay Sir, we don’t judge you here. Maybe you’d like to come back tomorrow and be Fluffy Bunny?
I guess it’s only in San Francisco that a Starbucks coffee could end up like improvised theatre. Diversity is something that abounds here, and that is something that is so fascinating and freeing for somebody like myself, whose original environment was the opposite. My little fingers don’t really know what they want to write about it, because it’s such a huge topic. We all need to belong and I guess we get it confused with selling our souls to become something or someone that we imagine something or someone else requires us to be. My mum likes me when I play the good little boy, my boss likes it when I’m obedient, there is often a huge pay-off in being a people pleaser. But when I play the role that is required, I am no longer authentic. I got approval confused with love, praise mistaken with love, and where did it get me? It got me approved and praised and stamped with imprints like a visa into a foreign land, but I soon realised that that land was nowhere I wanted to call home. Disentangling that crap requires monumental effort because it’s really hard to see beyond the foreign land called home when the foreign land is so familiar. We humans like things that are familiar, even if they’re bad for us. That’s a rather fucked up thing about being human, and we have developed complicated theological, religious and spiritual explanations for maintaining the status quo. How ridiculous is that – I mean, if it doesn’t work, why the hell not just change it? I followed the New Age path for many years before realising it’s no different an indoctrination to religion. It’s all a set of man made rules passed on by gurus or men in frocks, pretending that it’s the word of God and if we don’t follow it then we will burn in hell or stuck in a never ending cycle of karma. Nice. Publish it in a book called “The Bible”, “The Koran” or “Twenty Easy Steps to Enlightenment” and nine tenths of the world are believing it, fighting over it, and killing each other over it. Somehow, I don’t think that was God’s plan for us, but unless we wake up and see that it is a diversion by design, then we are going to self destruct. A message to those religious maniacs who impose their view on the world and defend it by murder, or those spiritual fairy do-gooders out there who think it’s enough to sit in a circle, follow a guru and spread the message that the world can change if you just love yourself, imagine some pink light and chant “OM” three times a day, “Fuck off!”. (Or “Go away” if you want to be more polite about it!) We need to wake up, not meditate ourselves into a coma or kill over our beliefs. True knowledge sits inside of us, whether currently following the indoctrination of religion, the New Age movement or not. The journey into yourself to find that truth is a damn sight more intense than sitting in spiritual circles of codependency, or following some rules set out by a false God that doesn’t exist. That is just hiding the hard stuff and wrapping it up in pretty Christmas paper. Sure looks good until the Christmas bells are ringing and you do the unwrapping. If it looks good and seductive, or tempts you into destructive beliefs without looking into your own conscience, it’s usually a waste of time. If it makes you afraid, challenges you and pushes you out of your comfort zone into something more authentic, if it’s something a huge part of you does not want to do and you find a zillion reasons for not doing it, that’s probably going to take you closer to your truth. And smelling the first whiff of that bud of truth is the most exciting experience I had on this planet. Entering that space of truth beyond the illusion of wrathful gods and karmic cesspits, even if it is only currently a whiff, is blissful beyond any orgasm.
Alix was my San Francisco host. One thing I love about – well I never know whether to write gay women or lesbians – is that they have such a deep, profound sense of truth and integrity about political matters, personal responsibility and honesty. It’s not that they don’t love sex, but there’s a whole different set of realities around what interests and attracts them to each other. We talked about one encounter I had had with an older man, Gregory, at the Bar 440 in the Castro. He was an opera singer and I had the feeling that he hid a lot of sadness, disappointment, bitterness, anger and regret underneath his flamboyant exterior. Gay men don’t seem to have acquired the skills to communicate with each other in any way other than the drug induced superficial encounters that hop along the bar from eye to eye. Whilst he was telling me about living in the Castro for over forty years, there was a pretty twenty something year old taking off his T-shirt and dancing seductively and arrogantly in an “I’m so beautiful but you can’t touch me” kind of way. And it was this moment that came back to my mind, when talking to Alix. She was wondering in general about why we don’t have friends who are much older than us, like in certain tribes, where there is no separation. There is no difference between young and old, they all belong together. Young people may have fitter bodies, older people have immense experience and wisdom, and they all come together to make a perfect whole. Gay men of the older generation certainly have had the excruciating experiences of fighting through the societal, familial, legal challenges of coming out, sometimes losing everything in order to stand up for their truth. Young gay men parade the benefits of that sacrifice without giving a thought for the human cost that was needed to pave the way. I can’t imagine what bravery it took for them to stand up against all that resistance, but they did. They risked losing their parents, friends, family. They risked losing their jobs and societal standing. They risked imprisonment. They risked ridicule, verbal and physical abuse. Some of them were killed for it, as some of us are still being killed and ridiculed for it today. There are untold conversations between gay men that are not being had. The hidden messages, that gay sex should not really be tolerated and is abhorrent are still rife in our consciousness, and push us to live out our lives and sexuality in ways that hold up those ideas. Anonymous sex in dark, closeted places rather than joyously experiencing togetherness in the open like heterosexuals. We didn’t create those rules but we have become enslaved to them and have turned them into a damaging subculture. In a recent debate on homosexuality which was reported in a mainstream British newspaper, I was astounded at the number of times the word “sodomy” was used. The word comes from an ancient Biblical city, Sodom, which was burnt by God for its intrinsic evil. Some biblical historians interpret this evil as homosexuality, some as rape and some as social injustice. The point is that the word “sodomy” has been created with these imprints of evil and punishment, so that when reading such articles these images and feelings will be subconsciously conjured up in the reader. Has there ever been a discussion of heterosexuality with frequent usage of “coitus”, or “coitus interruptus” if you want it to last a bit longer? Heterosexuality is synonymous with natural, family, children, marriage. It’s socially accepted, supported, celebrated, almost glorified. Homosexuality is shunned, scorned and frowned upon, at best tolerated, but basically still assumed to be unnatural, immoral and evil, definitions which are subconsciously always reinforced by such articles. More dangerously than that, the gay men and women I know, myself included, are living with these imprints as belief systems about ourselves. Unnecessarily and unjustly, and either living them out subconsciously or reacting to them.
We are not who we have been taught we are: gay or straight, black or white, rich or poor. Male or female, artist or scientist, intellectual or illiterate. We all have a gift for the world, and we can all choose to find it and use it.