The Anxiety of the Castro Has Always Been There

A former resident looks back at a changing gayborhood.

The Castro has likely been a source of anxiety during the entirety of its existence as a neighborhood for LGBTQ people. But demographic composition of the people experiencing that anxiety has likely changed quite a bit. I can only imagine what the early-1970s residents of what was then a middle-class largely Irish-Catholic neighborhood thought about the deviants moving in. I’ve never stumbled on a cache of ugly opinions from that era, condemning deviance or moral turpitude or whatever, but then again, I’ve never looked very hard.

These days, the anxiety is different. My boyfriend and I used to live in the Castro, but we don’t anymore. We had to leave last August after the four-unit building that housed our two-bedroom apartment was sold. I’d only lived there for four years, which is still the longest I’ve lived at any single address since moving out of my parents’ house to go to college. But my boyfriend had lived there since the mid-’90s. We had a garden, a garage, and a working fireplace. It was affordable, and there was a dog park around the block. I don’t anticipate ever having any of those amenities in San Francisco again.

Sometimes, I try to remember the one thing I hated the most about a home I always loved, which is this: In wintertime, the sun would set behind Twin Peaks a little after 3 p.m. You can’t feel too sorry for yourself, though, having lived as a couple in a two-bedroom apartment for four years in mid-2010s San Francisco, because that also means you had that other incomprehensible luxury: a dining room. I don’t imagine ever having one of those again, either. These days, although we still throw parties, our dining room table lives in the living room. We rest our bikes against it, bikes we used to store in a garage.

I drove by our old house a few days after we moved and found its charmingly ugly sea-green exterior had already been repainted an appallingly tasteful matte gray. At least it wasn’t beige, my sworn arch-nemesis. But it was an abhorrently alien shade, Zillow-fied for curb appeal so someone would snap the property up as an investment and maybe Airbnb the mysterious fifth unit behind the garages whose existence I’d only learned of weeks before we moved.

The 94114 ZIP code is a hotbed of displacement, and the entire time I lived there, I saw the Castro get less queer, month by month. It’s still very gay, of course — and also very white, and pretty old. Anecdotally and statistically, the neighborhood wasn’t changing because entropy is a fundamental principle of the universe. That is true, of course, but it’s not the reason. I know the reasons: assimilation, Google-Facebook-Apple, encroaching suburban blight.

There are things about the Castro I’ve always hated: the unnecessarily vacant storefronts, the affluent homeowners at the dog park with nasty opinions about the unhoused, Beaux. I hated feeling cold even as I perspired heavily after pedalling home from work on foggy summer afternoons, the characterless condos, the boring twinks with attitude. And I’m glad I don’t have to look at that mind-bogglingly hideous new public-art monstrosity in Jane Warner Plaza every day of my life.

But I love that neighborhood, warts and all. I love Noir City every January at the Castro Theatre, the jukebox at Last Call, the Vulcan Stairs, taking the F-Market to work on days when I wasn’t biking for whatever reason, the clutch of forested houses off Stanton Street behind Kite Hill, and the lady who tipped me in edibles back when I used to deliver wine. I don’t love shrieking drunks, but I never minded them that much, either. I like a sort of proximity to uninhibited people. You can be a weirdo around them.

And I loved the near-certainty of running into someone I knew on my eight-minute walk to the Muni station.

I live barely a mile away now, and I can go back whenever I please — but all routines are disrupted. I’ll never walk homeward up the hill as I once did, never again take a mug of tea and a crossword puzzle and my 15-year-old dog to the park. I got swept away. I’m more sensitive to the Castro’s museum-ification, with its embedded sidewalk plaques commemorating historical LGBTQ icons, and a street fair that nearly died. The neighborhood’s anxiety about itself is real, although certainly quite as existential as the anxiety around displacement in the Mission. But it’s weird to be there. It’s weird to be as gay as me and have few friends who live in the Castro, and zero who have moved there since I left.


Related Stories