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4 February 2001

The first time I came to San Francisco, the energy and vitality of the city captured me.  I knew I had to live here and I made it my mission to do so.  Three years following that first visit, I unpacked my boxes and became a resident of the city.

Living in the Castro was a bit like moving to Disneyland and Mecca at the same time.  What ever the time of day, I could find men congregated – on the sidewalk, by coffeehouses, in bars, in churches, events and parties – and they would greet you with an embrace, a warm kiss.  Despite the size of the city – it felt like a small town. If you didn’t know someone – ask just a few friends and you would find out all the details you wanted.  The sexual energy was there, but there was something more – this was a place where you could be whatever you wanted to be and feel safe doing so.  I felt like I was part of a community.  I felt as if I were home.

One of the most striking features of the city were the number of activists and volunteers doing things.  From putting together street fairs to creating works of art, from taking care of those with AIDS to working with the homeless, I was amazed at the willingness of so many to give of themselves and their time to others. 

In the four years since I arrived, the city has changed a great deal.  Many people have left the city, some have left the planet.  But, many still remain, committed and vital.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on community – what it is and what it means to be part of.  I’ve heard many people voice that there is no “gay community” including today the author of one of my favorite websites.

I think in popular usage, the word community often really means “subgroup”.  The “African American community”, the “gay community”, the “Latino community” or any other “[insert name] community” , really refer not to communities, but to a subgroup or category.

Community to me means more than simply a subcategory by which we can lump a group of people together.  While we certainly can form communities with those who fit in a subcategory with us, the act of forming a community is not about an attribute it’s about an intention.

Community is about recognizing our interconnectedness and then acting upon it.  It is the intentional act of working to care for, and be cared for by, those around us.

I think quite often we expect community to embrace us first, rather than seeking out and actively working to be part of a community.  And while communities can welcome us, it is only though our active participation that we truly become part of the larger whole.

The truth is that there both is and is not a “gay community” or a “black community” or “[insert name of category” community.   What I mean is that simply possessing the attributes of a subgroup does not create community, but actively participating in the interconnected life of that group does. 

Community is a decision to be part of those around us, actions to support the decision, and a conscious effort to reach beyond ourselves.  If we wait for community to envelope us – it likely never will.  However, when we seek it, we are often rewarded with the connection to others it brings. 


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