A commentary and resource on Law and Sexuality by Professor Chris Ashford and guests
Are we seeing the end of ‘sleaze’ in San Francisco? Twelve months month ago, Mack Folsom Prison – the notorious SOMA sex club – closed its doors. Despite assertions at the time that the venue would re-open, the death of a club co-owner a couple of months before the closure seems to have also sealed the fate of the club. It hasn’t re-opened and nor has any other venue to provide a space for former Mack patrons.
In contrast to the ‘oral only’ (although not always adhered to) policy of Blow Buddies (also in SOMA) or the safe sex preaching Eros nearer Castro, Mack was notorious for the bareback sex activity that took place. It embraced and celebrated sleaze. AIDS may have wiped out San Francisco’s bathhouses, but Mack stood – like some of its customers – as a sleazy slut survivor. Just as SOMA on the outside has been gentrified in recent years, it seems the men who frequent its venues are also going through a similar process. In the 70s or arguably even the 80s, if there was demand, some entrepreneurial guy would surely have opened a venue. Failing that, another club or space would have seen a boom as former Mack patrons seek another space for sleazy encounters (Folsom Gulch seems the closest to providing a refuge but it was busy prior to Mack’s closure). Instead, these guys seem to have faded away.
Grindr and Scruff might support alternative sexual encounters, but they do not replace the cultural sexual space that has been lost with the closure of Mack.
This erasure of this corner of queer culture and history comes in the wake of other attempts to re-orientate the City. A number of years ago, the bareback porn company Treasure Island Media (NSFW), were banned from the Folsom Street Fair and earlier this year, a new ordinance came in to force, banning nudity and ending another element of city sexual liberation. The City of queers and liberation is starting to look a very normative place indeed.
More broadly, we see the triumph of the gay rights agenda, and with it, the defeat of sexual liberation. The war on porn, non-monogamy and the assertion of first hetero, and now homo-normative values continues apace. I do not regret that we have same-sex marriage in much of the world, and a string of new legal rights and protections, but I do worry at those facets of identity that we have lost, and continue to lose.