Issue 16.1, February 2001


Essay Excerpt

From "Queer Pilgrimage: The San Francisco Homeland and Identity Tourism," Cymene Howe

Anthropologists have, for decades, noted how places are made mythical through the telling of stories and the singing of songs. Anthropologists have also, more recently, assessed how places are made mythical through anthro- pologists' retellings of stories and analyses of songs (Castafteda 1996; Clifford and Marcus 1986). Because San Francisco has enjoyed a long history of my- thologizing embodied in sonfcs such as "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," the following will also add to the legacy of stories about places and how people con- ceive of those places. In the popular imagination, the city is often proclaimed the "world's gay and lesbian capital" (Apell 1998:94). This sense of a "capi- tal," I will suggest, is more accurately described as a territorial "homeland." While capitals are the legislative nexuses of states, homelands offer a symbolic refuge for believers who make the pilgrimage. The focus of my discussion will be to elaborate some of the elements that foster the construction of San Fran- cisco as a queer homeland. Borrowing from de Certeau (1984), I hope to elabo- rate the "scriptural economy" through which "the multiple levels and contexts of cultural-ideological productions" (Castaneda 1996:65) shape the notion of a queer homeland. Through ethnographic narratives, touristic ephemera, and gay 1 tour guidebooks, I address the following questions: How is San Francisco constructed as a pilgrimage site for the elaboration of queer identity, and how might this sense of a homeland emerge over time and through "touristic" prac- tices? Does a queer homeland rely on "staged" authenticity, the "backstage" only available to some? Further, how might nationalist-like tropes foster the 2 construction of a territorial homeland for a queer nation? Finally, how does queer group identity differ from nationalisms that are dependent on imagined primordial conscription?