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SF's Most Notorious Nudist Stakes Her Claim to History 

Wednesday, Dec 2 2015
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Leading the charge was Gypsy Taub.

She was then 43 years old and living in Berkeley with her three kids. She was a seasoned 9/11 truther, aficionado of psychedelics, and sexual free spirit who, in 2008, created a cable access show called My Naked Truth, which still airs every Sunday night on Channel 29 in San Francisco.

Taub's ambition with the show was to "liberate people, expose political issues, and expose the fact that our society is oppressive and full of lies." Most episodes featured her and a guest bantering about sex, masturbation, or drugs (while naked).

No less ambitious — if more lucrative — was the amateur porn website she ran out of her Berkeley home. Taub recruited eager couples through Craigslist (until the site shut down its adult services classifieds in 2010). At $200 per shoot, her performers "weren't in it for the money," she says, but for the experience. Taub worked both behind and in front of the camera, using the alias "Carmen."

Filming couples "reminded [her] that tenderness and intimacy still exists somewhere" — a feeling she'd last had, she says, while shooting porn for sites that specialized in hairy women.

By late 2012, however, Taub had taken center stage in San Francisco's anti-nudity showdown. Why she seized this role is still a bit of a mystery. In some ways, Taub's public nudity seems like a proxy for free speech, women's rights, sexual rights, and other besieged freedoms. It's also, perhaps, a way for her to shed the repression and trauma of her childhood in Soviet Russia. As Taub says, "People replay their childhoods their whole lives."

There were a half-dozen other nude diehards in San Francisco then, most notably George Davis, who unsuccessfully campaigned for mayor and the Board of Supervisors on a pro-nudity platform. But neither Davis nor the city's other prodigal nude sons — Rusty Mills, Lloyd Fishback, and Mitch Hightower — had Taub's ruthless firebrand energy or theatricality.

"On the upside, she's very bright, creative, and energetic," Davis says. "On the downside, she's very argumentative, and there's a question about her focus." Davis cites 9/11 conspiracy theories and anti-vaccination protests as political bugbears that have sidetracked Taub.

Mills, a longtime nudist and Taub ally who can still be seen about town wearing virtually nothing, agrees about her temperament. "If Gypsy has a certain idea about something and you try to change her mind or do something different, she gets very belligerent," he says. "Nevertheless, she's been good for the movement."

That movement has deep, embattled roots in the Bay Area. In the early 1990s, Andrew Martinez, then a student at UC Berkeley, became a cause célèbre when he began appearing naked on campus. University police arrested the "Naked Guy," but the county prosecutor declared nudity legal unless it was accompanied by lewd acts.

Nonetheless, the school banned public nudity in December 1992, followed less than a year later by the city of Berkeley. Martinez was sentenced to two years' probation after he crashed a city council meeting in the buff, becoming the first casualty of the city's new clothing mandate. After a subsequent descent into homelessness and schizophrenia, he became a casualty of another kind when he committed suicide in the Santa Clara County jail in San Jose, where he was being held on assault and battery charges. (Public nudity is also illegal in San Jose; his mother collected a $1 million settlement from the county.)

San Francisco was the region's last nudist holdout. Although the city is synonymous with sexual liberation, it has also seen a long tug-of-war between indulgence and resistance, as Josh Sides points out in his book Erotic City: Sexual Revolutions and the Making of Modern San Francisco. The city has always been conflicted about its status as "the smut capital of the world," to quote former Mayor Dianne Feinstein.

Politicians and religious leaders collaborated to squash outré expressions of sexuality, often by pursuing "an aggressive policy of geographic containment," according to Sides. The Tenderloin, once rife with porn theaters, strip clubs, and gay bars, was a byproduct of that quarantine — essentially a West Coast counterpart to Boston's Combat Zone. The Castro was another firewalled area, although its transformation from working-class Irish Catholic enclave to gay stronghold in the 1970s had less to do with city policy than with out-migration. As residents of the neighboring Eureka Valley and Haight-Ashbury chased the American dream into the suburbs, home prices dropped, and gays moved in.

Backlash followed. Fred Methner, a spokesman for the Castro Street Improvement Club in the '60s and '70s, regularly lobbied the Board of Supervisors and the city Planning Department to purge the "vile" pornography that began popping up in the Castro's storefront windows. He found a sympathetic ear in then-Supervisor Feinstein. With her Lucy van Pelt haircut and double-breasted blazers, Feinstein was the city's self-appointed morality czar, waging a scorched-earth campaign against adult bookstores and porn theaters.

As Sides recounts, Feinstein tried to restrict adult businesses from operating within 500 feet of residential areas. In dense, 49-square-mile San Francisco, that would have shunted red light retail into outlying industrial neighborhoods such as Bayview-Hunters Point. Already beleaguered by the loss of jobs after the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard closed in 1974, the predominately African-American community there bristled at becoming a designated "porno zone." Feinstein compromised by proposing that adult businesses not operate within 1,000 feet of each other — a law the Board of Supervisors passed in 1978.

Fast-forward 30 years and a different, but no less heated, moral crusade gripped City Hall (with Feinstein still invoked as the exemplar of prudishness. Per Rusty Mills, "Scott Wiener aspires to be the next Dianne Feinstein."). On Nov. 5, 2012, during a public hearing on the proposed nudity ban, Taub choreographed the first of her many headline-grabbing spectacles.

After a succession of residents and merchants spoke in favor of Wiener's legislation, citing everything from public hygiene to business interests, Taub's seven-year-old son, Daniel, addressed the committee.

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Jeremy Lybarger

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