The documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk” and Michelle Tea’s memoir Valencia offer insight into the experiences and attitudes of San Francisco’s gay and lesbian communities at two different moments in the city’s history. Consider Harvey milks and Michelle Tea’s backgrounds, the issues they faced, their feelings about the possibility of change, and the spirit or mood of the times in which they lived. How do you think they each felt about San Francisco, and how does that affect your sense of the city.
Answering the questions by Comparing and contrasting backgrounds of Harvey and Michelle, and discussing the different issues or obstacles they faced of the career decisions they made and personal issue which led them to ultimately different paths. Also answering by considering the twos feelings about the possibility of change in the future and the changes that they proceed to make; and lastly discuss the mood of the times in which they lived and the era issues which they faced. All will offer insight into the experiences and attitudes of San Francisco’s gay and lesbian communities at its separate moments in history.
Michelle tea’s back ground is somewhat similar to that of Harvey milk’s background from how they both migrated to San Francisco and both came from a normal nucleus families, but are different from the lifestyles they choose. Michelle tea is originally from Chelsea, Massachusetts or Boston which she referenced in “Valencia”, she was born in the 70’s and had both her parent when she was growing up, lived in a predominantly heterosexual society, and choose to come to San Francisco to discover her sexuality. Career wise she didn’t have the drive often growing tired of her jobs which led to her getting fired or quitting. In her own word she states, “I was irresponsible, had no work ethic, was raised by parents who called in sick regular as weekends,” (Tea 200:43). Michelle’s misfortunes in the work force led her to become a sex worker. Her personality background information is she is an intense, passionate loving person who can be loyal and dedicated said in another quote. “I had ceased to care. My love for her was religious, it was patriotic; like god or country it was something I pledged myself to in service of something huge and perfect that I was honored to have anything to do with.” (Tea 2000:45) To classify what kind of lesbian Michelle tea is I would put her in the category of being Lip-gloss Lesbian similar to a femme lesbian, but a little less feminine. She may still do manly things like watch sports and in the case of Michelle chug 40oz beers while still displaying feminine qualities. A lip-gloss lesbian is just as similar to the girl-next-door that everybody loves; who won’t be viewed as hot, but cute still being able to attract men and women. She has her own sense of style i.e. looking at the outfits described in the story (Tea 2000). The lip-gloss lesbian are mostly attracted to feminine lesbians, and sometimes butch lesbians like Michelle being attracted to Wilma and Iris with her motorcycle. Harvey milks early background begins being born and raised in Woodmere, New York came from a great family and lived in a society that condoned homosexuality so he kept up a facade his whole life to avoid persecution(Epstein: 1984). Similar to Michelle Tea because he to left his home to “come out of the closet” in the safe environment of San Francisco gay community but during the beginning of the migrations and of the gay community’s (Epstein: 1984). Different from Michelle’s background was his apparent success he maintains during his employment career he had a lot of jobs being a high school teacher, diving officer, working at an insurance firm, a Wall Street firm and finally becoming a business owner of a camera store(Epstein: 1984). The background of Harvey personality was stated in the
documentary that he was a friendly and outgoing person who’d go out of his way for people he didn’t even know(Epstein: 1984). Even with the good aspects of his personality he had bad aspects was stated that sometimes Harvey was known to throw childish temper tantrums when he didn’t get his way (Epstein: 1984). I’m not sure how to categories his sexual background in terms of homosexuality probably in the middle of a dominant (butch) and submissive (femme) homosexual.
The Issues Harvey and Michelle faced where sever but of different types. Harvey issues were discrimination based on sexual orientation (Briggs initiative) and Government interference in private sexual matters mainly Police persecution of gay establishments like bars, bathhouse and others in San Francisco (Miller 67:1994). Apparently Oral sex was consider a felony, and during the 1970, almost 90 people in San Francisco were arrested for the act, such persecution was so severe that homosexuals Faced eviction if they were caught having homosexual sex in a rented apartment (Miller 67:1994). Homosexual men were embarrassed and unwilling to face arrest in gay bars and other establishments, so they turned to having sex in public parks at night (Miller75:1994). Author Neil Miller of the history of gay and lesbian states that, “In 1971, over 2,800 gay men were caught and arrested for having public sex in San Francisco parks. Compared with New York City who recorded only 63 arrests for the same offense that year and was at the time the current record holder and had the largest population; therefore Any arrest for such a lewd public charge required immediate registration as a sex offender(miller 77:1994).” Issues that Michelle Tea faced was more personal and some of the issues involved where a major problem during her time period. The personal issue was her employment issue of holding down jobs and figuring what she wanted to do or more like she wanted to work less and make a quick buck. She chooses to take an easy route of selling her body for money as most women did. She personally struggled to come to terms of being a prostitute, “I could whore. I had done it, vowed I would never do it again because it was so gross and weird.” (Tea 2000:46) The community issues of her time were the problems of drugs and sex causing people to contract STD’s, overdosing off of drugs and depression people suffer from resulting in them committing suicide.
Considering Michelle Tea and mainly Harvey Milks feelings about the possibility of change for the future is that Michelle made no reference to change that had no desire at the moment and Harvey Milk who had a grand vision for ideas to change the future (Epstein 1984). Only reference of change that took place in Michelle teas life was who she virtually slept with. Harvey Milk change ultimately came when he took up in the involvement in political and civic matters. When Harvey came up against civic problems and policies he disliked; he felt it was his duty to change the problems for the betterment of the people (Epstein 1984). One incident infuriated him about politics when a teacher came into his camera store and asked if a projector could be loaned to him/her because the equipment in the schools were malfunctioning (Shilts 88:1982). Harvey believing it should be city assembly’s main priority rather than anything else. “Milk decided that the time had come to run for city supervisor He said later, “I finally reached the point where I knew I had to become involved or shut up (Shilts 67:1982).” One the first change Harvey felt need to be put into effect was he and other gay business owners needed better representation , as a result founded the Castro Village Association, as milk as the president using the philosophy that gays should buy from gay businesses(Epstein 1984). This was the result of when two gay men tried to open a business and the Eureka Valley Merchants Association (EVMA) attempted to block them from receiving their business license and also discriminating towards selling to gays (Epstein 1984). The community changes that Harvey initiated caused non gay citizens and the non gay’s business owners to stop discriminating against gays or to move out, creating what is known as the predominately gay community of the Castro today(Epstein 1984). Milk had failed many times in his election for a bid in san Francisco politics he had shown great leadership in the small community of Castro District (Epstein 1984). Harvey felt he was starting to be taken seriously as a candidate but not serious enough and decided to run again for supervisor with a different approach (Epstein 1984). He reconsidered the approach of looking more professional as he used to look back as his day as a stock broker and cut his long hair, stop smoking marijuana, and started to wear business suits again. Harvey Milk’s new approach earned him the support of the teamsters, firefighters, and construction unions (Epstein 1984). Harvey changed his Castro Camera from a small rinky dink shop to become the center of activity in the neighborhood (Epstein 1984). “Milk’s fiery, flamboyant speeches and savvy media skills earned him a significant amount of press during the 1973 election. He earned 16,900 votes-sweeping the Castro District and other liberal neighborhoods and coming in 10th place out of 32 candidates (Shilts 67:1982).” One of Harvey’s last changes was the possible manipulation of reorganizing to allow districts to elect their own supervisors which allow him to win a seat on City assembly (Epstein 1984).
The spirit of the mood of the city during the times of Harvey milk and Michelle Tea were different because they were set in different time periods. The mood of the city was more radical for both of them because of the 60’s radical change or revolution. During Harvey’s time 10 years after the 60’s, the mood of the city was just starting to unravel it was the 70’s and San Francisco was becoming the hotspot for or destination for homosexuality. Thousands upon millions of gay men and women were migrating to San Francisco to openly express their sexuality (Epstein 1984). Also during the time of Harvey the spirit or the mood of San Francisco was probably a lot raunchier and sexually open because they did not quite know about AIDS and the repercussion of unsafe sex. The Castro the main gay community was just starting to get its beginnings and was being fought for. Michelle Tea’s era of San Francisco was probably based in the late 90’s as of the reference she made of crack cocaine, Where is Waldo, and finally the reference about O.J Simpson that was a clear giveaway. The mood of San Francisco was that of awareness because of the AIDS and other STD epidemics going around people weren’t as raunchy or having polygamous sexual relationships. The gay community also had its issues with drugs; suffering already from heroin which was already around since the 70’s in the Castro but with the invention of crack cocaine, Methamphetamine and the rise in popularity of powder cocaine effectively altered the mood of San Francisco gay environment. The Castro during the 90’s was by Michelle’s time a predominately gay community with its own businesses and residents.
I believed that Michelle Tea and Harvey Milk each felt or thought about San Francisco as a safe haven for their sexuality were they could openly express their homosexuality and not be persecuted Because in the environment they were in everyone was gay; if not people learned to accept their homosexuality for what it was. This reinforces my view of the city as being open minded and liberal giving me a sense of pride of being a native in such an almost free place.