Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Paradox of Folsom

Today from 11 AM to 6 PM is the Folsom Street Fair.

Drawn out by the balmy temperatures and booths offering everything from falafel to flogging, three hundred thousand revelers will fill the stretch of South of Market between 7th and 12th Streets, in the city where inhibition is a dirty thought and freedom's just another word for taking your clothes off in public.

I will be there in the middle of it, smiling, flirting, gabbing.....and thinking.

Folsom, in its own way, is an expression of what we are about as a community. It's the chance to pull things from the back of your closet, mental and physical, and put them out on public display; a final summer cleaning, if you will, where inhibitions are shed, where you can be you, and where the true, overwhelming pleasure of being a sexual being can finally come forth. You need not be ashamed of who or what you are on this September afternoon -- a powerful and heady thought.

Yet the reason I will be there is precisely because of what happens when sexual beings run rampant without thought or care.

Some might say that this is a self-inflicted wound; that the attitudes allowed at Folsom is what has let AIDS strike down and bury so many pieces of our community. From pulpits and public forums across the country, this place, this event is denounced as mere debauchery, as sex perverted into something hideous and horrible -- and that those who the icy hand of HIV grips are getting nothing more than their just desserts, the swift sword of God Himself striking down the undesirables.

But it is not.

Andrew Sullivan caught considerable flak for his statements of how HIV infection transformed his life -- something easy to interpret negatively for those who suffer through the deaths of loved ones or the pain and anguish they felt.

Yet, on the other hand, HIV and AIDS has forced the gay community to come out and together as nothing else possibly could. Not a one of us would have chosen plague as a means of that happening -- yet out of this has come thousands, millions, of volunteer time and dollars, of people reaching beyond and discovering a new purpose for their energies, of changed perspectives and reordered priorities.

HIV/AIDS was the coming of age of who we were, what we are, and what we will be as a community.

So tomorrow, I will stand near the corner of Dore and Folsom, kilt on, smile engaged, witty banter at full steam, using, ironically, sexual desire to defuse, defang, and defeat what sexual desire has wrought on our community.

Yes, it is a paradox. But it also is a statement.....the spirit of Folsom, that freedom, will not be destroyed by public distaste or ravaging pandemic.

We exist, still as free as we ever we were....but united and wiser.

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