Friday, January 01, 2010

“Erotic City” Tells Tales of S.F.’s Sex History

an intimate review by LEO E. LAURENCE • Copyright © 2009 by Leo E. Laurence

Photo courtesy of Professor Josh Sides’ Web site

The title of a new book, “EROTIC CITY,” sounds sexy but it’s misleading. This is really a history book focusing on San Francisco’s erotic past. But, by playing loose with some important facts and even inventing dialogue, the book really approaches being an historical novel.

The author, Josh Sides, isn’t a porno writer. He is the Whitsett Professor of California History at Cal State Northridge. Erotic City looks into San Francisco’s history over roughly the past 100 years, from a sexual perspective.

Prof. Sides did a lot of research for this book, including local interviews with this journalist and Pat Brown of La Jolla, another unsung pioneer of the Gay Liberation movement.

This book is a vast storehouse of historic data focusing on everything from local politics to street prostitution to the AIDS crisis in the 1980’s in San Francisco. It is published by the distinguished Oxford University Press.

Gay Liberation Is Launched

There now seems to be universal acknowledgment that the now worldwide Gay Liberation movement began with Stonewall in New York City, but it’s fiction.

This is a second book I’ve read that explodes the Stonewall myth, and reveals that the Gay movement really started on the streets of San Francisco three months before Stonewall.

Another history book that confirms Prof. Sides’ new revision of Gay history is The Gay Militants by Donn Teal, published in 1971.

“In April 1969, the Committee for Homosexual Freedom (CHF) became the first gay liberation organization in the United States,” Sides writes in Erotic City. “The story of the CHF is ultimately the story of Leo Laurence and Gale Whittington,” the author adds.

Dozens of other so-called Gay “history” books and magazine articles claim Gale and I were lovers, but my lover was the Gay folksinger Don Burton. Admittedly, both were very similar: young blonds, slim, smooth and cute. That’s what made Gale the big attraction for the CHF in recruiting.

But Gale was an unusually shy guy, 20 and looking 18, but unusually articulate. He spoke ever so softly, but his words were like canons being fired as he unexpectedly became a Gay militant.

This book by Prof. Sides is, unfortunately, factually inaccurate on some significant events in Gay journalism that led up to the founding of the CHF in March of ‘69.

Author Sides make me out as an unethical journalist for allegedly giving the famous photo that sparked the Gay Liberation movement to a Berkeley Barb interviewer without Gale’s permission.

The photo shows me, wearing a Mexican serape (I still have it) and hugging Gale with both of my bare arms snugly wrapped around his bare-chested waist, and my chin resting in the left side of Gale’s soft neck.

This book claims that when I was allegedly being interviewed by the Barb, I supposedly “had handed the picture to the Barb interviewer, saying: ‘I want this picture to become reality’.” That interview and dialogue are pure fiction. I was actually a veteran staff reporter for the Barb at the time.

What really happened behind the scenes leading up to the famous photo being published in the Barb is much more exciting and sexy. Truth is far stranger than fiction.

Publication of that special photo resulted in Gale being fired and the formation of the Committee for Homosexual Freedom.

As editor of Vector Magazine in ‘68, the official, monthly publication of the Society for Individual Rights (SIR) in San Francisco, Gale joined my staff as a fashion writer.

For a solid story that he wrote on men’s fashions, I decided to put a sexy photo of Gale on the cover. He was young, cute and hot!

We did a very private photo shoot in his bedroom in the huge, stately mansion once occupied by Sally Stanford, the notorious madam of San Francisco’s earlier past.

The cover photo that ran in Vector Magazine showed Gale wearing only very short cut-offs, and lying on his bed, with his finger inviting the viewer into his bed. It was erotic and Gale really got into posing.

By day I was a reporter/editor/producer at the ABC-KGO Radio-TV studios downtown near City Hall. By night, I was a regularly published gay reporter in the underground newspaper, the Berkeley Barb. Everybody read the Barb, every Thursday.

I invited one of the Barb’s better photographers, Ron Howard, into our very private photo shoot in Gale’s bedroom.

When the shoot was finished, I asked Ron to take a photo of Gale and me.

“What do you want,” Ron asked me.

“Oh, I don’t know. How about this,” I said, as I stepped in behind the bare-chested Gale. I intimately wrapped my arms around Gale’s naked waist and put my head deep down into Gale silk-smooth neck.

Ron fired rapidly. He took two shots, and both are in the archives of Project History, an international effort to produce a first-person book about the CHF.

Then Ron left.

As a staff photographer, he appropriately took his photos to the brilliant editor of the Barb, Max Scherr. He picked one and very, very carefully cropped Gale’s cut-offs out of the photo. Anyone with a dirty mind would think Gale was naked in the photo. It was stunning photo-editing.

The published photo accompanied a feature article I had written urging the notoriously closeted Gay community in San Francisco to come out of the closet and join the cultural revolution of the late 1960’s. It was very radical and the CHF later won the historic support of the very militant Black Panther Party.

Sides does a great job of exploring others aspects of the sexual history of San Francisco. T-rooms in Golden Gate Park, for example.

He even shows a sleazy photo of one of the more famous men’s rest rooms, located at 41st. Avenue and JFK Drive, in the west end of the park. Many times I had hot head in that T-room in the late 60’s, but Sides book fails to capture the erotic adventure in prohibited, T-room sex.

Author Sides did his homework and throws a lot of facts at the reader on page after page after page of data. Sometimes I found it too much, and my reading got boring. Still, I specifically recommend that community “leaders” like Nicole Murray Ramirez and all the LGBT Center staff, where this reviewer and Pat Brown of La Jolla are essentially persona non grata, read Erotic City by Prof. Josh Sides of Cal State Northridge.

Contact the reviewer at (619) 757-4909 or