It's one of life's unfortunate ironies that nudists are rarely the sorts of folk you'd like to see naked, and the cadre of skin-clad sunbathers who congregate at Jane Warner Plaza in the heart of San Francisco's Castro Village are no different. Generally flabby, paunchy, falling demographically somewhere between Jurassic and Antediluvian, and usually wearing nothing more than sneakers and the occasional sun hat. It's... not a pretty sight. But fear not citizens! Scott Wiener has a simple solution to the plague of wrinkled old man flesh polluting Cloud City's pristine streets: make nudity a crime.
Mr. Wiener is the City Supervisor for San Francisco's 8th District; my old stomping grounds and the seat once held by Harvey Milk (though back then it was the 5th). He's a nice enough guy: soft spoken, polite, tall as a sequoia, and up until now his legislative claim to fame has been the introduction of San Francisco's so called "skid mark law," which (sensibly) requires a towel be placed between naked buttocks and public benches and chairs, and vigorous support for SF's "Sit/lie" law which essentially criminalizes homelessness.
Now Mr. Wiener has introduced legislation which would ban nudity in the sidewalks, plazas, parklets, and on the mass transit of San Francisco. He says he doesn't have any problem with nudity per-say, but that the situation has gotten "out of control" and that he is responding to complaints from the community. But the community is by no means unified in their disgust, and the nudists have as many supporters as detractors. In an attempt to bolster support for his crusade against balls and buttocks, Mr. Wiener released a statement citing "irresponsible behavior" on the parts of some of the sun bathers, such as "wearing cock rings" and "walking past girl scout troops" because won't someone please think about the children?
All of this needs to be put in the context of the many many problems which are facing the Castro. Brutally high unemployment (especially among the trans population), shuttered storefronts as far as the eye can see, rampant drug abuse and a staggering rate of youth homelessness. All of which leads me to the conclusion that he either truly believes the human body is disgusting and shameful and needs to be wrapped up and hidden from the world in order to protect humanity (especially the children! Oh God, the children!), or he's cynical enough to think he can use this issue to recreate Harvey Milk's "dog poop" moment to gain broad middle class support, and he's willing to trade his community's liberty for political gain.
Make no mistake, this is a matter of free expression. Citizens of a free country should have the right to say what they wish to say, create the art they wish to create , and wear what they want to wear; even if that means wearing nothing at all. If the city of San Francisco can tell you you have to cover everything below your waist, what about above your waist? Mr. Wiener and his supporter will say that I'm wrong. That this isn't about the First Amendment because a few of these nudists sport cock-rings and have thus crossed some theoretical line from free expression into exhibitionism and obscenity.
But the problem with "obscenity" is that everybody has a different definition. It wasn't so very long ago that two men kissing or holding hands on a street corner was considered "exhibitionism," and not so long before that that two men dancing together was considered so dangerous to the fabric of society that they could be thrown in jail. Some San Franciscans might object to pants-less sunbathers, while others take offense to bare-breasted lady-bikers, and yet others would prefer to see all women draped in head-scarves or burqas. My dad used to love to say, "My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins," meaning that we should all be allowed to do as we please up until it harms others. And public nudity does absolutely no harm to anyone, least of all children. We all have to ask ourselves, "What right do I have to impose my sense of propriety on anyone else?"
In my brief life I have had the pleasure of visiting almost every major city in the United States. And the quality that makes San Francisco shine more brightly than all the others is it's dedication to personal liberty and tolerance for other people's way of life, even when we don't understand those life styles or find them distasteful.
To support Mr. Wiener's proposed ban on nudity is to implicitly agree with the Talabanic notion that the human body is dirty and shameful and must be hidden away in order to protect the world. And it is an arrow through the heart of that which makes San Francisco unique among America's cities.