A History of Lighthouses
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Trenz Pruca – November 13, 2019

This is a favorite quote from a book called “The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolution”, a poetic gay bible of sorts. It’s a gay cult favorite and it was left as a gift in the middle of my coffee table by a wandering Radical Faerie. This page of the book struck me so profoundly when I first read it, because I immediately knew it’s truth. It reminded me of a place that I had found by accident, but would become the anchor of an idea for how life could be for me. It was my first gay eden, and it was Marshall’s Beach in San Francisco.

It was my first week upon moving to the city that my own version of Mrs. Madrigal took me around the city and we discovered the beach. We scrambled down a crumbly, slippery cliff, through thickets of poison oak , following a thin trail that led us downward and threatened us with an amazing view as long as it didn’t kill us. On our way we passed small hollows in the Monteray Cyprus trees – perfect little enclosures that would keep someone safe from the wind and sun and rain and prying people’s eyes. The trail abruptly ended at a pea-gravel slide with the tiniest sliver of a path, one wrong step and you were in a pea-gravel avalanche for the on an express train to the sharp rocks below. I finally land my bare feet on the beach in safety and wiggle my toes in the sand. Scuptural rocks perforate the water just off the shore creating depth and drama to the scene. Above all else, commanding the entire space, it’s vastness second only to the Pacific, looms the Golden Gate Bridge at the end of the beach. I take off my shoes and make why way to it, walking past a few nude bathers on blankets. A bit further and a massive pile of boulders blocks my way to the bridge and the rest of the beach. I put my shoes back on a gingerly climb over ankle twisters to find the inner chamber of the beach. I have crossed over the mythical barrier that keeps out the faint of heart and perhaps the prying eyes. There are little coves in the rocks now. Some have been built into little rooster’s nests with pebbles, dragged rocks and dug sand. Some have used driftwood to fashion walls or roofs to shade form sun, wind, and inspection. Some of the rocks form their own natural protection that one need merely lay a blanket between to inhabit. It is low tide at this beach and all of the starfish, barnacles and cling-on sea mussels have been exposed from their usual cover under the surf. The beg for inspection, most of them beg for inspection and I kneel in the sand on my knees and leer a them like a 5 year old. There are men between these rocks, and they are making much less effort to cover themselves. One might even say that these men are murchandising themselves to passerbys. As I continue on down the beach the occasional sunburnt head will pop up behind the man made driftwood structure like curious prairie dogs. Some popping back down immediately disinterested and some lingering and becoming with their gaze. As I reach the end of he beach I am standing directly below the golden gate bridge foundation. This viewpoint is massive and epic, I have never been more intimate with this beautiful structure. Just on the other side of the foundation 50 meters away at the Fort Point National Historic Site a team of overly eager Park Rangers with police whistles and federal jurisdiction will tweet and bark at you if you so much as even think about going up to the steal beams to touch them, yet here I am on the other side, not so many feet away standing naked with no supervision in site, dancing in the surf naked, free and happy as could be. I could not believe my good fortune and the good fortune of all gay men. To feel so free and alive, to be given (and to have claimed) a space to express that at the foot of one of the most famous american icons, a sculpture of beauty and aspiration, at the mouth of the Golden Gate surrounded by the majesty of the Pacific California shore at its most famous inlet. To be naked, have a change to meet others, to connected and cruise. That this was our special playground… That gays could have a space, the space…. the MOST SPECIAL greatly affected me. I felt special. I felt like there was something special that we had created here. A cultural zones where there were better rules at play than the usual heavy ones that we had to deal with. It felt like I had found the wild nature haunts that Walt Whitman had written about in the 1800s.

I suddenly feel like I am a protagonist in this great life story instead of a support character to be given such a dramatically beautiful backdrop and to be given a chance to roam so freely and naturally in it. In many ways this day on the beach marked a chapter in my life. It corresponded to other events, I was moving to San Francisco and beginning a liberating but sometimes struggling career at freelancing as an artist and designer, which means I was creating a lot more time in my life to spend in places like this. This beach spoke to me as a sign of what was possible, what was worth making space and time in my life for. I wanted to spend so many of my days in a place like this. So a year or two later when I encounter the page from “The Faggots and Friends… “ I heard a resounding YES in my heart.

Over the years my relationship to this beach would grow and grow. Not long after I had discovered it, the National Parks service got a grant from the Gap founder () and undertook a project to reform the beach and make it more accessible. At first the dangerous and forbidding pathways that kept the accidental tourist away was cleared and widened. Good solid wooden steps descending from parking lots and solid steel bike locks_ descended easily and without (trap, pitfall, trap) to the beach. The path was easy now, and the usual fans of the beach knew that the aeon was changing. The Monterrey cyprus coves planted 100 years ago were chopped down and cleared out along with the poison oak to make way for the native California scrub brush that covered the hills before colonization. A beautiful and easy to read sign in typical national park lettering now stood midway down teh staircase proudly pointing the way to Marshall’s beach. A few weeks after opening, someone had desperately and emphatically written in sharpie on the fresh new boards “This is a GAY NUDE beach ->”, trying to claim space with words now that the natural defenses had failed the onslaught of “improvement”. The same fat sharpie was used to cover over the two “ll”s on the sign to rename the beach a more campy “Marsha’s Beach” I don’t know who person with the marker was, but I immediately felt kinship. The trimmed, well defined pathway in looked as inviting and benign as a Gap store in the mall. And in came the tourists, and in time also came the Instagram influencers. Photos of the epic view of the bridge lured more and more people down to take photos. It did NOT destroy the gay culture at the beach, but it did diffuse it somewhat. The once lost and forbiddingly inaccessible paradise was as easily entered as a gap store. The men who once roamed the beach free from view were more easily scattered like a gaggle of beach birds when a pet dog runs through. I felt very selfish, I did not want my own special eden to be democratized. Philosophically everyone deserved to be in this space, but in reality that threatened to change the space forever. Luckily the mighty bolder wall still provides somewhat of a buffer to the outside world, but it’s a weak one.
Luckily gay sex has it’s own forcefield. Those encountering often feel as much or more shame than those engaging it it, and the person with more inherent brazenness and less internalized shame or fucks given will likely continue to hold the deed to the space. This is the same thinking behind the men walking around the Castro naked as a counterstrike to the abundance of baby strollers that began to show up mid-2000s. You can claim your space with brazenness and by sticking out and in some ways this has been what has kept these gay edens safe. Straight people don’t want to see or be associated with what is going on there. But even that has started to change as culture has grown more accepting.

A whole decade has passed for me from standing on that great beach. I have used that free time to explore many beautiful places on earth and make them my home as well. I have been collecting these edens from the forests of the Pacific Northwest, to the volcanic beaches of Hawaii, to the sandy tidelands of Cape Code, to the vast forests of Germany and the craggy marbled shores of Greece. In my collection of gay edens I have started to notice what qualities kept me coming back, what spoke to me and interested me and what qualities these places held. I interviewed many of my friends who i knew were in love with these spaces as much as I was, and I asked them bout their experiences. I included some of their answers about what makes a space like this special.

The natural power of the space and its affect on your senses

“There’s a sense of procession,” my long-time friend Gino described, he has take me for my first time to a few of my now-favorite edens and he loves them as much as I do. “ It’s like going from the default world into Eden. You are processing through a canopy of trees and shrubbery almost like you are getting eased into it. Then there’s a sense of grandeur and expansiveness. Neverendingness.” He pauses, “You think to yourself, this is what it would have been like 100 years ago (referring to the Columbia River Gorge and San Onofrio”
The procession is important, he emphasizes, there has to be a voyage, a separation from your default life to your idealized life.
It’s the connection with the landscape and how your body reacts to the openness instead of the closedness, the shapes and the moving water. Your senses are all being gently massaged, and that massage is really deep. It’s not a light touch, it’s coming down to your core. “
It’s also soft to the senses. “It’s not intimidating but exciting and it’s exciting. There is soft earth below you that you can walk on so that you can really feel the terrain around you. You are connecting to the electricity of the earth without anything in the way. No cloth, concrete or rubber. I sink my fingers and toes into the earth. I have my avatar moment when I connect with Aiwa. Safety, softness and expansiveness.

The interplay of safety and vulnerability

It’s no wonder that the gay spaces are often in some of the wildest of places, and within those spaces they are at the far far end. The last bit of beach, the end of the trail, the most remote and hardest to get to spot. It is in these sanctuary spaces that men can fully feel safe and express themselves.

“The landscape feels like it’s hugging you”, Gino described” In the dunes here, the beach is very exposed and you go behind and you’re so safe. and you are protected. And that’s why people have sex there, it’s intimage, its almost like you go behind the curtain and it’s a beautiful thing. And that’s what it’s like a rooster rock, you can have some privacy in teh forest and then come out of it and wash yourself in the river.

You are vulnerable and open, you aren’t hiding behind the facade of cloth and the pomp and circumstance of interaction in the default world. Where you can unrobe yourself from modern culture.

You can have both a natural experience, but also you are naked and communing with people. When you are naked and meeting people you are at your most vulnerable. Peple are seeing what your dick size, and your cellulite if you have it. You’re baring this is who I am. You can have sex there and not fear anything. If someone walks into that, it’s okay. Because they are your fellow brothers. You’re not going to get arrested. You’re feeling really wonderful. You have safety. You don’t feel like you are going to be hunted.

The power of the community.

For me the spaces that are the most memorable are the ones that have a vital sense of community. There are thousands of nude beaches out in the world but there are only a few that have enough gay men that come there to make the place really excitement. The possibility of meeting someone that you like, of romance or the possibility of sex is important. When a gay space has enough momentum there’s a sense that there’s someone for everyone. You just might meet someone that you are interested. Love is in the air, as they say. I even find that too big of a crowd can make the space feel too frantically reminiscent of a meat market. Some spaces have a very special vibe, as if decades of interactions have left a residue in the landscape and a culture of how people behave in these spaces. Some are very sweet, such as rooster rock in oregon and Rock River in Vermont. Both of these carry the woodsy down-key vibe of their respective states. Herring cove in Provincetown carries the new england dandies with their rainbow colored umbrellas and with occasional muscular flash of the show off nature of the new York or European men. There is a chance to observe others dancing with their little bluetooth speakers in the sand or having a wind vs sunhat antic, or two men embracing each other in the shallow water. There is a grand stage and backdrop for you, but there are equally scintillating characters to act on that stage. “With gay men, you never know what is going to happen” .

Teh sanctuary of the space. Like in some of the spaces a lot of the native amerian tribes when they were warring, they would come there and they would not be warring in the space.

You can have both a natural experience, but you are also naked and communing with people. When

  1. Safety. “It’s like the space is hugging you,” my friend Gino commented. There’s a s

A sense of safety. So many of these gay spaces are the last part of the beach, the furthest out. The place you wouldn’t push stroller or drag your children to. The space enfolds you, holds you.
A sense of “Procession” as my friend Gino tells me. The space if revealed like a Frank Lloyd right house.. where you climb through spaces with low ceilings, it takes time to get there and then suddenly boom. It’s the journey to get there.
A sense of community: This can happen on a number of levels.
A sense of connection:

There are many places on the earth that are beautiful and that you can be nude… but sometimes that means that you are the only one out there. Or that there are people there, but noone interesting to you, attractive to you, noone with anything in common to you. Is there a sense of possibility. Is there someone there that excites you. Can love happen? Are you inspired by the people present? Do they elevate you? Are they within your reach? The places that feel truly magical are the ones that have a momentum of people coming to them. People know about the space and go on a regular basis. Often times this means that the spaces need to be accessible to large enough urban areas or at least in places where gay people go often enough on vacation.

There is a sense of playfulness with the environment.
Raw Natural beauty.
they are

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What that gay men have claimed the space. In some ways it is the acts of gayness, the male affection and eroticism, the nudity that also protects them. I have seen many times on Marshall’s beach where a straight tourist couple following the lead of instagram photos wanders too far down the beach, and upon seeing one too many uncovered willy either one of them starts to make haste for the exit.

  1. Procession and safety.
  2. the trappings of eden, the painting. the marble. Adam and Steve in the garden.

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