The Worldwide Spectacle Of Banning San Francisco’s Naked Soul

Rarely has a city council received so much worldwide attention as San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors. Yesterday, accompanied by booing and heckling and shouts of approval, they voted 6 to 5 to ban public nudity. A close decision, after months of hot debate. And protests, when it wasn’t too cold, by naked people outside City Hall. “Ban” in the San Francisco sense.

The earth-shattering event was plastered all over the world. The New York Times ran a story on it, as did the Wall Street Journal (et tu, Brute?) and the Guardian. The French business paper, Le Figaro, used the same photo that most other papers were using, a naked woman named Gypsy Taub wagging her finger at someone, perhaps the supervisors, while a sheriff’s deputy was getting ready to take action behind her. The photo was cropped above her breasts. “Is San Francisco Losing Its Soul,” the story started out.

The Spanish paper, El País, had a photo of naked men and women, but the essential details weren’t visible. The German paper Frankfurter Allgemeine had two stories, it simply being too good to pass up. And three photos: some naked hippies on a cable car (these people were skinny back then!); Taub, draped in a blue cloth and smiling at the cameras, being manhandled down a hallway; and a guy sitting on the steps of City Hall, dressed in a white hat, long hair, white socks, and shoes. These are the images of San Francisco that are now circulating around the world—and tourism, already a huge business, will doubtlessly spike.

The mayor and some of the supervisors were cited by name or even quoted, thus becoming instant worldwide celebrities, for a few minutes. Presidential candidate Ron Paul, though vastly more important in the overall scheme of things, never got anywhere near this kind of attention from the mainstream media.

A tourist interested in naked people may be disappointed, though. In our neighborhood, I’ve never seen any. In North Beach, a few minutes away, I’ve run into a couple of guys, a few years apart, stragglers who’d forgotten to put on their clothes. On the beach down the street (Aquatics Park), people sunbathe properly attired, though there is a nude section on Baker Beach.

While driving down a busy street South of Market one day, I passed an overweight middle-aged naked guy on a bicycle. His ample buttocks were hanging off both sides of what appeared to be a tiny saddle. Not a pleasant sight. But hey, it’s not a lot of trouble to avert your eyes. In other parts of the city, you’d never see any naked people on the street.

Then there is the Castro. Naked guys have been congregating at the corner of Market and Castro with a “hey-look-what-I-have mentality,” explained Supervisor Scott Wiener, who’d authored the legislation to ban public nudity, and who represents the Castro district. He had to listen to complaints by upset business owners and residents for two years, he said, as the situation morphed from sporadic to seven days a week. “Freedom of expression” was important in the Castro, he maintained. “But that doesn’t mean we have no standards whatsoever.”

And public nudity “has its place,” Wiener said. “We’re just trying to chart some kind of middle path.” That meant that other interests had to be accommodated. You can’t just pass a blanket abolition of public nudity, not in San Francisco.

So nudity would still be allowed at special events, such as the Pride Parade, the Folsom Street Fair (a big leather-and-kink street party), and the Bay-to-Breakers run. They’ve always been associated with naked people, and spectators come from around the world to participate or watch the spectacle. Tourism is too important for San Francisco, and the zaniness of those attractions had to be maintained.

San Francisco’s fashion consciousness had to be accommodated as well. Apparel that exposes the buttocks is for some a wardrobe basic and will continue to be allowed. Buttocks, it was determined, weren’t the offending parts. Remains to be seen what happens when someone so attired bends over to pick up a coin on the street and the banned parts become visible.

Of course, men and women can still go topless. Turns out, the only offending parts are the genitals, except during certain events. So, people have to figure out how to cover them somehow.

Naked people can still enjoy their freedom for a while. As some amendments were added to the legislation, the board of supervisors must vote on the law a final time. Then Mayor Edwin Lee’s signature will need to be affixed to it before it can take effect on February 1. Penalties will be draconian: up to $100 for first-time violators; $200 the second time; $500 and up to one year in the hoosegow the third time.

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  3 comments for “The Worldwide Spectacle Of Banning San Francisco’s Naked Soul

  1. Rik says:

    Probably when Ron Paul would have made most of his speeches naked, he would have been president by now (at least would have had a similar amount of media attention all over the world).
    Reminds me of the following definition of a bestseller: A book of which the writer in several TV shows has jumped naked on the table and swang his private parts. News is not news it is simply amusement.
    Blessed are the people that have these sorts of problems.

  2. Roger Yates says:

    We used to have a big hippy free festival in the UK at Stonehenge at the time of the summer solstice at which there was a great deal of nakedness. I was at the last one the year before the Thatcher government cracked down on it in 1984. I was playing sax in a progressive rock band. When I opened my eyes and looked over the mike stand, after a long Greatful Deadish solo, most of the audience were nut brown naked women and their offspring dancing on the grass. The event was organised by a kind of Peasant's Revolt of primitive anarchists who traveled the country in vintage buses and trucks called the Peace Convoy. A kind of Pagan Tea Party with long hair. The only ruls were no hard drugs and if you hassle women your survival potential is minimal. In the UK our default rebellion is a peasant's revolt. The Royals, the Nobs and the liberal left are a surface phenomenon. They hold power because the peasants prefer to be pissed (drunk, not angry, in English) and pretend to be brain dead and stupid most of the time. When they rise up watch out. It was a classic peasant's revolt that brought down Thatcher over the Poll Tax. Anyway, at the last Stonehenge I was in the car park among the foreign tourists who were photographing the colourful distant mayhem from a safe vantage when rather well endowed bearded youth walked naked through a group of Japanese tourists. They sprang back aghast. But a local British Bobby (policeman) present explained to them that it the young man was observing a national custom at Midsummer. The tourists were slightly mollified. Ah! for those days of tolerance again. Make love not war I say. And watch out for the Peasants Revolt.: "When Adam delved and Eve Span where was then the Gentleman!" Watt Tyler (the first, not Durden)

  3. Sorry guys. There's a reason people wear clothes: The body is not a beautiful thing. I remember working with some Saudi engineers in Germany. They were very young and had never left their country. One of them was very interested in the nudist sun bathing there. He really wanted to see some skin!

    In Germany, especially the old East Germany nude sun bathing is still popular with people, young and ,well, old. I gently told him that he would probably see some wonderfully built women…but also some not so wonderfully built men and women. He lost his lust filled smile realizing I was right. Then the lost smile turned to disgust. I guess he had trouble getting the image out of his head!

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