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Night Crawler 

Wednesday, Jul 2 1997
I'm as guilty as anyone. I decided early on in my life that I would never again live in a city that didn't have a gay population formidable enough to be a primary voting demographic. This was more than just liberal-minded sentiment, or a desire to feel safe. It was a commitment to an aesthetic ideal. The Bay Area's fantastic permutations in clothes, music, theater, and art led me to a charming notion that, in a community where a person's sexuality is already explicit, one can worry about more important neuroses.

Each year the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade -- that intense, epicurean outpouring of humanity that travels down Market Street -- has celebrated this city's sexual freedom in a dazzling flurry of chartreuse feathers and thick black leather, belying the theory of some psychologists that sexual repression is the impetus behind art (the result of some sort of shameful mental masturbation, they say). For over a quarter of a century, our parade (the biggest of its kind in the country) has been a resounding, creative whoop of civic joy. Hundreds of thousands of like-minded individuals, and even more covetous enthusiasts, from throughout the world have been invited to join in and strip down, or to look on in wonder as near-nude go-go boys parley with 7-foot-tall drag queens under the auspicious roar of topless Dykes on Bikes. It sounds so grand. So why the overwhelming sense of malaise, Night Crawler?

Ironically, it seems that a heightened level of social acceptance has turned the rainbowcentric Pride Celebration into something only a touch less anemic than beige burlap. Pink Saturday, held in the Castro on the eve of Parade Day, was once a glut of flashy sequins and strange (o)aural gratifications. Tonight, I find myself surrounded by heterosexual couples in Dockers and ready-made Old Navy ensembles. They laugh merrily and move through the comfortably clad crowd. Phoebe Graton, a 32-year-old resident of San Anselmo, wipes foam from her chin left by an overpriced beer her boyfriend has raised from a plastic garbage can. She stops in front of a ring of naked men and women dancing near the stage. As her friends join her, images of "gay" couples flash on a screen overhead. Graton and crew are Bay Area suburbanites, broad-minded and enlightened ... and utterly boring. They smile.

A little farther on, just outside a local juice shop, another group of clean-cut folks surrounds a crew of kids dancing to hard-core techno. The kids are hot, pushing their feet well past 100 bpm while, in the center of the group, a gentleman of the old guard does his best interpretation of the Vogue. The spectators approve and let each other know it with cheering. Just as they do at the sight of a passing drag queen.

"This is why I came to San Francisco in the first place," says Graton. Her friends nod and smile accordingly. I feel ashamed to agree.

At the parade, it is much the same, with a self-regulated division between spectator and participant. The procession of flesh that once lapped over onto the sidewalks is chiefly contained within the floats' course, and many couples -- more often than not, men and women walking hand in hand -- wonder at the somewhat staid quality of the affair as if it were invented to entertain them. At the concession booths, a number of proprietors worry over a rumor that the B.A.R. or the Bay Times is planning to expose the decided lack of gay people selling alcohol at the Gay Pride Parade -- a sign, the papers would say, of the impending gentrification of the event. One look at the crowd should be enough of an indication to anyone who cares: The SFLGBTP Parade is becoming the parade that all San Franciscans will call their own. How unfortunate that acceptance and popularity come by way of a tedious hetero washout. There should be a law: Donate a dollar; look fabulous and dance, or just stay at home and watch it on KOFY TV 20.

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By Silke Tudor

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Silke Tudor


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