By Erin Sherbert
By Howard Cole
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
In the last year, other Castro nudists have started emerging during the day. While Mills and Lloyd enjoy sexually charged attention, other nudists say this movement isn't about being sexual at all. Instead, they're out to prove the opposite: that there's nothing shameful or scandalous about the human body, and they theorize about creating a free body culture. (Cops say they'd better accept that argument if some of them weren't using cock rings or chain belts with baubles hanging by their balls: "If it were for the intention of being a pure nudist, they wouldn't be wearing jewelry to draw attention to themselves," Limbert says.) Davis says he does it to meet people, or to simply make his life more interesting: "I'm really an absurdist at heart." One man describes going out naked in public as a second "coming out."
Though several of the guys are straight, no one is opposed to getting the occasional catcall from men in the neighborhood. "You go to someone else's house, you abide by their rules," Mickey explains.
But who, exactly, defines the Castro's rules is changing.
VIDEO: Watch an interview with nudists George Davis and Rusty Mills.
VIDEO: Go behind the scenes of this week's cover shoot.Watch the creative process and see the shots that didn't make it.
SLIDESHOW:The Castro nudists celebrate Halloween.
Gay men first started snatching up the neighborhood's affordable Victorian houses after World War II as the former working-class family owners migrated to the suburbs, converting the traditional symbol of the nuclear family into a mostly childless community. In 2000, the Census showed the neighborhood was still whiter, richer, more male, and with fewer kids than the city average. But many believe the 2010 Census results, due to be released over the next three years, will show a Castro with many more families with children.
"In the LGBT world, we do have kids now," says Steve Adams, the president of Merchants of Upper Market and Castro. "I'm open-minded, I'm liberal, but we have kids in the neighborhood. You want to make sure your kids are growing up right and not shocked at certain things, like naked people in a plaza."
Limbert says he no longer considers the Castro predominantly gay. "We've gone through a transition period and are a mixed-use and business district," he says. "We have families, businesses, and tourists that don't appreciate you trying to bring attention to nudity. ... We're already very tolerant in the Castro, and now we're being pushed in another area." With the changing demographics, the Castro is negotiating what it means to be probably the most sex-positive place in the country to raise children.
One night last month, young men plunged a giant inflatable penis out of the window of a Victorian on 18th Street for the amusement of passersby, grabbing it back inside when they spotted a woman with a toddler approaching. Controversy erupted in 2005, when parents complained about a teakwood statue of an Adonis-like man with a gigantic, erect cock in the window of Phantom SF antique store on 18th Street.
Owner Robert Hedric draped a cloth over the offending penis to placate the complainers. Yet, sitting among the chandeliers and nude paintings in his shop on a recent weekday, even he didn't defend the nudists. "I wouldn't consider something like that to be in my showcase window, let's put it that way," he says. His assistant, Carlos, disagrees: "It's to open people's minds. We're so close-minded about nudity in America."
"Even in the middle of the city?" Hedric asks.
That's what troubles Terry Bennett, whose store is just two blocks down the street: "Parents should be able to decide what to expose their children to at what age." She says her daughter will tell her, "Mom, that is so inappropriate. Why don't they have clothes on?"
The nudists know the protect-the-children argument well. It's invoked by law enforcement and leaders of both the Merchants of Upper Market and the Castro and Castro Community Benefit District. Davis once told a social worker in an interview for becoming a foster parent that his home was "clothing optional"; the interview ended soon after. The nudists argue kids aren't harmed by nudity, and mostly read their parents' response: laid-back parents have laid-back kids, and parents who cover their eyes have sensitive ones.
"Kids don't know about sex," said Eric, sitting in the plaza as strollers rolled by. "It's the parents that equate it with something naughty. To [the kids], it's just you don't have any clothes on."
The nudists, even the straight ones, know the Castro is the neighborhood where they'll find the most acceptance, or at least indifference. They keep a mental map of which businesses or even specific employees and bartenders will allow them to enter in the buff. If the manager of one pizza place refuses to serve them when they have only a bandanna covering their loins, they'll just go down to the pizzeria down the street that will.
On Halloween night, a group of the guys entered Bisou French Bistro, a new restaurant near the plaza with pounding pop music and a curved red velvet wall, to take up the French chef on his offer to give them a discount if they'd come in the nude. (Most restaurants and bars usually have the men slip on a G-string, per the liquor code.) As they exited, some patrons gave the nude gang blank stares; others gave them a round of applause.