Having spent a couple of hours in Haight Ashbury, I moved on to the next place on my list: Castro District in San Francisco. Although I had had a peek at Castro during my hop-on-hop-off tour, I hadn’t spent much time there. And so when a colleague suggested I spend some time looking around Castro street, I was happy to oblige.
I grew up amidst people who don’t discuss gender as anything aside male and female. Where I’m from, we have an isolated gay community. Sure, I’ve heard there’s a strong vocal presence and representation for the gays in my country, but I’ve never seen it or heard about it. As a result, I walked into San Francisco’s Castro without any previous interaction with the LGBTQ community.
Although I do have friends from work who identify as LGBTQ in the US, and it was with their guidance that I found out about Castro. To find out more and to experience actual gayness, however, I had to explore the streets on my own.
Oh my, what a day that was.
I can’t recall the first thing I noticed. Everything seemed new and grand. Right from the sloping streets to the rising flag poles, everything vivid caught my eye. It was even more exciting to see cable car lines over my head and street car tracks under my feet. I saw the gigantic rainbow flag, fluttering in the warm September afternoon. And I saw plenty of smaller flags swaying along. It meant only one thing to me: declaration. Never before have I seen someone asserting their identity with such pride. It was the ultimate claim of authority, although far from authoritative. It was welcoming. Walking into such a neighbourhood, I felt no discomfort or fear. I saw people being themselves without the fear of judgement. I saw Castro and its people emit a sense of belongingness that anyone could relate to. I didn’t have to dress a certain way or wear make up to be a girl. I could walk around sporting short hair and shorts if I want and people still smiled at me from the bottom of their heats. It was all obvious from the way people walked and conversed.
As I walked further I noticed a group in the middle of the street, dancing. Every street lamp in the area housed a flag. It could because it was pride week, but it could also be Castro’s characteristic. The dancing men spun about as the DJ played in the corner, and older men sat around chatting yet making meaningful conversations. A banner on the DJ table told me it was an organised celebration. Talking to one of the men in the cheering lot, I further learnt that gay organisations in Castro rent out public places and often set up celebrations — just for the hell of it.
I smiled. Then lingered, wanting nothing more than to linger longer. But I continued. There was more of Castro to see.
Trying to balance between the map on my phone and the splendour around me, I found myself standing at a crossing, staring at the crossing. While fellow pedestrians crossed the road onto the other side, I looked with wide eyes at the lines that stretched out from my feet.
And at that moment, I concluded that Castro is one hell of a place to live. It’s not only for the lesbians, gays, the bisexual, transgender, and queer who know how they identify themselves, but even for those confused souls bordering in-between. Who’s to say, perhaps there are more, better, gay villages in other parts of the world, but from my sample of a gay village, I’d say it’s worth cherishing such a vibrant community.
I discovered a marvellous face of San Francisco that day, and it was a discovery I had to make on my own. I already feel like I’ve grown up a little. And that’s always a good sign.