This week we are heading to San Francisco to meet Creative Strategist Nat Gunn. And, when I say strategist I do mean strategist! Moving to San Francisco in 2014 Nat came equipped with a game plan that she took that seriously, throwing herself in to the dating world. It was this very plan that led her to meet her partner Bridget, and their first date together brought them to Virgil’s Sea Room, a queer bar on Mission Street that recently closed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
We caught up to talk about astrology, online dating profiles and the importance of queer spaces.
Virgil’s Sea Room – Nat Gunn
Nat: I came with an agenda. I was gonna sleep with at least 20 women before I settled down. I gave myself a goal.
Nat: I moved to San Francisco in 2014 and it was a very strategic move for me. I’d been living in Portland, Oregon, my hometown for decades and was ready for a professional pivot. So I went back to school and chose San Francisco because of its global international business scene. And let’s be honest, the party scene.
K: Ah, and so it was like a total uprooting of your life?
Nat: Yeah, total. It was, um, for me, both a coming into my own skin and learning who I am in a new setting and a new career path. Um, it was. 100% discovery on a, on a personal level. And, um, I just come from Portland where I feel like I squeezed the life out of the Pacific Northwest. I rafted all the rivers. I, I climbed all the mountains.
K: Oh, I thought you were going to say you slept with all the women.
Nat: I dated, I dated, I dated around and I was like, Hmm, I need some, I need some more ladies. So where might I go? There’s a little bit of story here with technology because, um, I’d just been coming out of a long-term relationship and, you know, I’m, uh, 43 years old, so I kind of missed the whole early adoption of online dating.
So at the time I first made a dating profile on a, on an app. Was, you know, in my mid thirties. And I felt so behind, I was asking my friends like, oh my gosh, what should I say in my profile? Are these pictures too dorky? My profile on OkCupid went through many, many different iterations. but one thing,
K: but you took it seriously though. You like,
Nat: oh yeah,
I’m, I’m a strategist. I was like, if I’m going to uproot my life and start over, I’m going to succeed.
K: And so, and so like give me a flavour of what the bio said.
Nat: Hmm. Well, it said too much. Let me tell you, I wrote a small novel, um, no many short stories. I said that I was looking to have fun. I loved going out and I wanted to meet lots of people who could show me around the bay area who could help me understand where to go, who to see. What to wear, you know, I was looking for almost a guide as well as, as well as some, uh, getting around.
And the way that turned out is, is a good story because I also was using one of their features. I don’t think they have it. I recently checked in to to see, I was going to write OkCupid and say, here’s my success story. Don’t you want to feature, you know, me and my partner,
Nat: but they don’t have this feature anymore, but they used to let you search by Sun Sign and astrology.
K: Ah, ok
Nat: Yeah. I’m a huge fan of astrology. It’s been an influence for good in my life. You know, a lot of radical self acceptance has come through my study of astrology. And so I had also dated around the Zodiac a bunch and I had some, some pretty strong assumptions. I thought I need a Leo, I think the kind of woman who’s going to be able to handle me.
I’m an Aries is going to be a Leo. I need someone who’s so like dripping with confidence. She, she, you know, doesn’t need a lot of, uh, you know, uh, what’s the word I’m looking for? Hmm. She just kind of the world spins around her easily. And, um, I’m very, I’m fiercely independent. Leos are also, then I thought a good partner for me would be that fiery energy.
So I, on OkCupid, I was like, where’s, where’s like enough mid thirties Leos in the world. Then I narrowed it down to New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco. Of course, that’s where you have the collections of lesbians in this country. And so I decided on the Bay Area and that’s where I applied to business school.
K: let me unpack this a bit more. So if someone messaged you on OkCupid and everything, like everything was on paper, like perfect. You liked their photos. You liked what they had to say about themselves, but they happened to be Capricorn. I dunno, like some star sign that you didn’t think you were compatible with.
Would you just dismiss them?
Nat: I would reach out and invite them to be my friend. I certainly, um, have my dearest, dearest friends are all over the Zodiac. I don’t feel like there’s any sign that I wouldn’t be able to be friends with, you know, deep friends even, but in terms of my preferences for a partner and a lover, I knew I needed to be with another fire sign
K: WOW… ha have you ever been challenged, like, um, like have you ever met someone and got on with them so well that that’s challenged your thinking around that?
Nat: It’s not challenged. It it’s also, it’s maybe sharpened it. It’s, you know, focused it in, maybe confirmed some of my, um, what I was I’m open, always open to challenge. I mean, I work in the innovation space, kind of on the edge of doing new things. And so, um, I love anything that that will check my assumptions, but I felt like I just had, um, all of my experiences were, if anything, confirming my suspicions.
K: oh, wow. Yeah. So you are very strategic. I’m just like, does this, does this person want to buy me dinner? All right, let’s go.
Nat: Well, you know, you’re right. It was a long game. So I had come from a career on the stage. I was singing opera. I was singing art song. I was designing and directing musical theatre shows, et cetera. I was on faculty at two universities. I’d made a good go of this career as a performing artist in a, um, educator.
And when my foot fell apart, I had to have, it surgically reconstructed. I had to relearn how to walk and rehab for a year. It was a good time for me to really, um, mine, my values and my priorities, and to kind of reorganise my life around what was important and what was timely. And so with this move to San Francisco, I did have a lot of, uh, guiding, um, principles.
I had strong sense of boundaries, a really, strong sense of who I wanted to be around and, and why. I guess it felt like when I, when I turned 35, I woke up and I was like, oh, wait, there’s this whole second half of my life. I have to think about now.
Right. You know, you see your parents start to age and you think, wow, I need to get my marbles in a row here.
K: Yeah, your parents getting older is really weird. it’s weird and scary. Like my parents live in Australia, so I don’t see them. Gradually getting older. I just see them in like every three or four years and it’s like, oh fuck, shit.
Nat: Yeah, it’s
K: How did this happen? What’s going on? Yeah.
K: It’s really scary. Um, so do you remember what your first impressions of San Francisco were?
Nat: yes. Um, very much. I, well, let me tell you, my first date was the week I arrived. I had 10 dates lined up. I, yeah, my online profile was fruitful over the summer, leading up to my move. And so when I landed, I had
K: someone picked you up from the airport.
Nat: no, I, I drove down with my best friend in her truck and everything I owned was in her horse trailer. I mean, it was, it was like a true pioneer Oregon story, not as romantic as an airport, but so yeah, that same week, um, went on a date with a beautiful Leo named Bridget and we went to a bar in Oakland and, uh, turns out it was her friend’s bar.
And. He came down as soon as she arrived in, we were at the, at the bar, uh, and he didn’t know that we were on a first date. He assumed we were friends or whatever, whatever. And so he was kind of like grabbing her and being really, uh, huggy and, um, physical and, and embarrassing her, grabbed her and was like, oh, congratulations on opening your sweet shop.
It’s amazing. And, he turned to me and said, Hey, you’ve been to her shop. Right. What do you think? What do you think? And she’s like bright, red and blushing. She is like, um, we just met, we’re on a first date. It was very awesome. Um, so I got to kind of see how cool she was, uh, through that interaction.
Um, we spent the next three days together. Inseparable. And I canceled all the rest of my dates and that was six and a half years ago.
K: so, so like w was she the first, then the first date?
K: Wow. Wow. That is a success story for OKCupid. That’s incredible.
Nat: And Bridget’s profile on OkCupid was minimalist, which is very much her style. And our interactions over the summer were also very short and sweet. Like, Hey, gonna be there in September, maybe see you around, you know, um, it wasn’t like lengthy Jane Austen exchanges of love. It was, uh, I’m a very physical in-person person.
And so I, with all of my interactions, um, I was wanting to just get to be in person and feel the vibe and. Yeah. So we went to the outdoor, um, first, Friday art, all the art galleries open their doors and there’s food and vendors and like a street circus of fire jugglers, and, you know, carts of food. It was really a great evening.
And then we came back into the city where she lives, where we live now, actually the same home. And, uh, first of all, we came back to the, her place. Uh, this is all improv now. Cause we had, we thought we were just going for a drink. Right. But we’re just like, can’t stop hanging out. Let’s keep going. And so we get here, first of all, she changes her jacket.
I was already super impressed with her outfit. I was like, mm, I like your look. We come back over here. It’s getting foggy. The city, you know, this is something was new for me who knew San Francisco was so cold. So she opens up her closet. She has like 17 jackets. She puts on this really fly jacket and I was like, this is even better.
This is good. And so we walked down three blocks to Virgil’s
Nat: and there we sat on the back patio and just talked and talked and the scene was really fresh and exciting. And we had our first kiss back in there, um, sitting on the picnic bench under the heat lamp, it was like the whole world stopped. It was, it was all of a sudden a Ghazi, you know, surrounding.
There was no one else there about us. It was this magical moment.
K: Before we talk about that, I just want to like, skip us back a bit and talk about online dating. Um, W, so how you’ve described the way that Bridget communicates and the way that you were communicating, I think is so much better for online dating. Like I hate when you get into this really intense writing thing with someone build up all your expectations and then meet them and you’re like, oh no.
Okay. This isn’t what I expected. Um, have you ever had any experiences like that?
Nat: Yes. When I, when I lived in Portland, I went through a little bit of an evolution where I had thought of myself as bisexual. And I mean, this is a common story, I think. And of course I was, you know, working in the theatre, which is very, uh, gendered space. You were expected to look like your characters and kind of exude your characters persona.
So to say, I had long hair. I was all day full makeup, high heels. Push-up bra very hyper feminine because that was really expected of me in my industry. When I finally, you know, came into honouring my body and, recognising that I’d had a lot, a lot of bad sex with men, it wasn’t my fault or their fault.
It just turns out I’m gay. And, um, I cut off my hair and I, you know, started, uh, slowly transitioning my wardrobe away from being, you know, this voice professor, uh, theatre artist to being me. Who was I? Um, it was an interesting transformation that kind of coincided with this time. I was telling you my foot fell apart.
I was relearning how to walk. Like my whole embodiment of my movement through time and space was in this warp phase of transformation. When I first started dating, I had no idea how femme-y I was because on the inside, I was like, oh, I’m so masculine. And I’m just going to go out. And, you know, the gay me that I feel.
And so I did have some exchanges with women whom, um, we had, you know, some lots of back and forth expectations built up. Right. And then we would arrive and in person they would see and feel the vibe of me and be like, oh, I was, I was so naive. I was ready to go to bed with this woman. She, luckily I was with women who were honest enough and knew what they, you know, they’d been on the street as a gay woman longer than I had.
And they were like, oh, you know, I’m really not, jiving with your, you know, fem forward energy. Um, and so I was coming across, differently, online than I was in person. And this was something I had to learn, um, through experience. So since I’ve been now in this Mecca of the bay area and in queer spaces with hundreds and hundreds of queer women, I see now like, Ooh, I am really Femi.
And it’s okay. Even though like on the inside, I feel very masculine and macho sometimes.
K: there’s a spectrum. Isn’t there.
Nat: into this queerness. Right. Right. So like my queer expression is, is, you know, I definitely have a macho attitude and demeanour, you know, I’m the person who will approach someone on the dance floor.
Um, I’m the one who will ask to buy someone a drink and, and have a conversation. I’ve been like that my whole life, even as a teenager, I was very, I was asking the boys to dances. I was, you know, that cock tease on the dance floor. And so this was part of my nature. Again. I said, I’m an Aries, my Venus and my Zodiac, my Venus is also in Aries.
So that’s kind of a queer positioning
K: oh, what? You explained that to me? I don’t know.
Nat: Um, so each sign in the Zodiac has a masculine or feminine assignment. And my, my whole birth chart is very masculine. And, um, especially where your Venus is positioned. Might explain kind of how you prefer to connect, how you prefer to seek your pleasure. And so my Venus is also in Aries as is my sun, as is my Mercury,
and so I’m very direct. I’m very, happy to start and chase and be the one who’s brave asking
K: isn’t it. Isn’t it funny? Like I’m, I’m I don’t want to labour on this too much, but isn’t it funny that we view that as masculine?
Nat: Right? No, and there are a lot of, a lot of this I think is going to morph over time, you know, language and posturing and
K: our understanding of genders.
Nat: absolutely it’s really, I think, on a, on a pretty steep change curve. But in the, in the lesbian scene, like you’re either, especially for my age now, it it’s, uh, it’s different, I think for younger
K: but there is a very distinct binary between femme and butch. Is that what you’re trying to say?
Nat: um, I wouldn’t say it’s, yeah, I would say the shape of that, that bell curve might be a little bit different then in, in, uh, the hetero space or what have you it’s um, yeah, there’s just a, and this is something I’m I had to come to learn through dialogue with other people and sharing space with other people.
What, what are these vibes, uh, how do you express them in your look in your mannerism, in your conversation? Um, yeah, I hope in the future that it’s not just considered
K: And so then when you were going on these dates and meeting people and they were like, Hmm, you’re kind of femme, were you like offended? Were you like, was it just like, oh, I need to process this?
Nat: it was so weird. K. Because I had, in the chase of my career, been told again and again, that I looked too masculine from my roles. I do. I look like my father and when I would go to these auditions in New York City with 80 other, Sopranos trying out for the one coquette role. Everyone’s conservatory trained, everyone sings like a goddess.
Nat: so what does it come down to? It comes down to how tiny is your waist? How big are your eyes? How sexy are you?
K: how ample is your bosom?
Nat: Yeah, it’s very misogynist space, uh, in, you know, the casting world in entertainment. Uh, Probably don’t need to explain that to anyone now that the #metoo movement and Harvey Weinstein, all that.
So I’m coming from that world. When I tried to step into what I felt like was a more authentic expression of my gender. Um, it was shocking to learn that I was actually quite femme because strangely in, in that theatre space, I wasn’t femme enough
K: yeah. It’s I think that’s so fascinating when you’re told something so often that you internalise it and then in another context, you’re just completely shook by the fact that you’re not that thing that you thought was so core to your identity.
Nat: yeah. So all these years later, I’m, I’m comfortable now with it. I’ve learned how to, you know, buy the tops that say I’m, I’m gay, but also a little femme-y and I’m owning it.
K: so is that, is that floral prints, uh, colors that are
Nat: Yeah. Yeah. And when I, when I first came, I rejected, I did, I rejected that quite a bit. I cut my hair. I mean, this, what you see in, in, I’ll have to explain for those listening, but I’ve got a really curly mullet going on, and this was a COVID experiment that happened not by choice. Um, I usually wear my hair very, very tight and high, just like I’m at the barber every three weeks high and tight and, and on the top, it was also just like maybe in a little quiff.
Yeah. Or what have you. But, um, yeah, this, this longer hair has also this whole COVID hair has given me a trip on my, on my gender sense of expression as well
K: ah, cause starting to view things differently.
Nat: Yeah, I’m stepping out and a little bit more owning a little bit more even of, of this, um, femme reality
K: Yeah, fascinating. I’ve not been to the hairdresser yet. Um, and that’s been like a year, so yeah, I’ve had long hair and it’s like the first time in my life I’ve ever had long hair. Um, which is really, yeah. It’s really
Nat: You know what I’m talking about?
K: yeah. View yourself in a different way. Um, and like fun to play with.
Nat: yeah. Super fun. It’s my art therapy every morning
K: yeah. Like, I mean, it is also fun when you’ve got a shaved shaved to play with that, like to rub that. Yeah,
Nat: it feels so good. It feels so good. And you know, at the bar, I can’t count how many times a woman would come up and just like, without consent, just start rubbing my head.
K: Yeah, that’s not fun. Really. Um, Uh, uh, yeah, so, okay. So let’s go back to Virgil’s. So that first time it was a bit of a whirlwind for you, you were maybe distracted and thinking of other things, but do you remember that first impression of the bar?
Nat: Oh, yes, I do. Um, when you walk in, first of all, there’s this great big painting of a ship with many sails. Um, probably, you know, like a 18th century vessel. And, uh, to me, San Francisco has always kind of been kind of that, um, pirate gold digger, wild west space. So when I walked in, I was like, oh yeah, this, this is San Francisco.
And there’s a great big, long bar red walls. I love red walls. Any place with red walls feels good, red is my color. And it was packed. You have to kind of shimmy through people, you know, as you’re walking along the bar. And then when we got to the back patio, we sat down and next door to Virgil’s is another queer bar.
They’re literally next door to each other and it’s called El Rio. It’s still open. They actually just started doing some, uh, limited openings for events there. And El Rio is always hopping. It is loud. It is energetic. People are smashed together. There’s a line out the door, two blocks down. Virgil’s.
Bridget calls it, the Adult Swim like this this is where you go. If you wanted a more chill vibe, but you still right over that fence, you hear the music, you hear the sounds of the laughter, the dancing, the talking. It was, um, interesting for me. It was like, wow, I can’t believe there’s two amazing places right next to each other.
Um, this would never happen in Portland. This would never happen in Seattle. Right. So, um, I remember feeling like, um, this, this almost borrowed yet designed energy. That was the combining of those two properties.
K: Hm. And so is it, was it like the clientele, was there an overlap in the clientele or were they very distinct and different?
Nat: Um, there’s definitely an overlap and, and part of it is because of the line. I mentioned the line out the door to get in,
K: Sometimes people give up, is that what you’re saying?
Nat: Absolutely. And the line to the bathroom
Nat: at El Rio is just sometimes impossible. And so a lot of folks, and they were very friendly. A lot of folks would just come over to Virgil’s use the bathroom, um, hang out, have a drink, or, you know, come upon someone like, oh, Hey, we were trying to go to El Rio, but couldn’t go by, was trying to use the bathroom.
But here we are.
K: Yeah. Yeah.
Nat: I think though, you know, uh, in terms of the size of Virgil’s, it’s much smaller. It’s more intimate. I’ve been to so many awesome, you know, like Tuesday night birthday parties on the back patio. Aware. Definitely. I think it would, you could say it was, uh, a unique clientele it’s right at the base of, um, Bernal Hill it’s right next to the Mission District.
Um, close to where I live just a few blocks down and Noe Valley it’s this coming together of many iconic working class neighborhoods. And so the folks who enjoyed Virgil’s was always a mix. Um, great tattoos, great hair, great denim jackets. You know what I’m saying? And a lot of old time gaybourhood folks who actually live there would frequent Virgil’s
K: so quite a mixed age group?
K: Uh, that’s wonderful. I love when bars are like that, I think, um, Yeah, especially in the bigger cities that’s happening less and less
K: Um, so and so, okay. I read online that Virgil’s was nautical themed, and so instantly I’m thinking that there’s like, uh, starfishes glued to the wall and anchors like hanging and oh, nets hanging from the ceiling. please tell me I’m wrong.
Nat: yes, you’re wrong. Like I said, there was that great painting when you first walked in the door and, I think the red walls and like the plush seats, um, you know, the table that might’ve looked like a captain’s trunk, you know, that was more so
K: uh, okay. So less, less tacky than where, where I was going. That, is that what you’re saying?
Nat: Yeah. It wasn’t like SpongeBob Squarepants. It was
K: The, um, I kind of love when a bar is full of tat and crap, but I’m always worried about who has to clean it.
Nat: Or not clean it
K: There’s there’s usually quite a lot of dust. Yeah. There’s usually quite a
K: I say, when was the last time someone touched that thing?
Nat: Yeah, yeah.
K: Um, so then let’s talk about Bridget.
So, um, without. Trying to sound offensive. Oh God, I shouldn’t have started the sentence in that way, but, um, it’s a very stereotypically lesbian thing to meet once and then spend three days together.
Nat: Yes. And you know, both of us had had a good two or three years. Playing around and having fun, getting to know ourselves again after the end of long-term relationships. So, we were cautious. We didn’t want to be those lesbians. We wanted to check ourselves and make sure that we weren’t going to set ourselves up for heartbreak or, you know, do things, quote, unquote, wrong.
You know, all of those dumb cultural, uh, pressures we put on ourselves the first three months we were together, it was so electric and fantastic. Just magnetic, scary. We were a little bit in denial of how good it was because we thought we couldn’t possibly be this good only three months in. And so, um, about at that time that that interval, I, invited her to come home with me for the Christmas holidays.
And I thought, okay, if this is really going to be this good, and if we are going to continue, I thought she’d better come home and see what, you know, see where I come from, meet my people, because if we are going to go on, if I really am going to fall for this person and make a life with this person, she needs to know my background.
And so we did this great big road trip up to Portland. Um, got to see a lot of my friends and family also in that interval, just happenstance here in San Francisco. She had loads of her friends from the Midwest she’s from, um, uh, Wisconsin, just about an hour north of Chicago. And I got to see a parade of her friends come through and visit.
And that was a fabulous confirmation that she was is. Awesome as I… I mean, her friends would pull me aside and be like, do you know how amazing Bridget is? She is so cool. It was also like a little double-edged sword. Like if you break her heart, I’m going to
Nat: I was feeling confident, but cautious.
And I want it, I mean, again, I’m a strategist. I was like, let’s get a proof of concept and some data to confirm that this is
K: Did you mind map here? Did you let get the post-its out?
Nat: Yes, yes, yes. So after that trip, uh, we kind of admitted how in love we were and, um, decided to cautiously think about what it might look like if we spent the rest of our lives together.
And it was, about the nine month mark when I moved in and we felt like champions we were like, oh, that’s like, that’s like nine years in lesbians timeline.
K: you held out nine months. Um,
Nat: I know
K: sitting on that patio on that first day, what were you thinking? Like, how did you know
Nat: my body told me and our conversations had been so rich and I could sense that there was potential for decades of conversations. You know, there with some folks, you know, you could, you might explore some topics or speak about and around things enough to know, like I could deep dive for years on this topic with this person, or yeah.
You know, this shallow exchange is telling me otherwise. So I think. It was my body first telling me, and I had to come to trust my body. That’s something as a woman, especially I had been conditioned to disregard my body. Um, so, um, there was that certainly, uh, body talk conversation. And, um, I felt so aligned with her professionally as well because I’d come from a craft space and she was in a craft space.
And I think crafts people really understand the obsession that comes with that kind of, um, expertise and, uh, and building a career around it. It’s kind of madness, right? So knowing that she just opened this shop and was so dedicated as a business owner and as a craftsperson, I knew, I understood that. I re I respected that and.
I was about to start business school. So, um, I, I thought, wow, there’s so much to explore here in terms of, um, how we could get on, but I, I was scared. I’m not gonna lie.
K: Yeah. And I guess, um, you know, picking up on the point that you’ve made about, uh, listening to your body and trusting your body, had you felt that way physically before?
Nat: I had, yes, had many experiences where my body was alive and excited, but this was for me, a new combination of, of that along with, um, the depth and breadth of conversation, as well as my imagination. Here’s the difference is when, when I met Bridget, it was like, My imagination lit up and I could see the future.
I could see that we might really get on for quite a time. And other experiences I had been like right in the moment, this is now, this is here, this is short term short term. And in that moment I just moved somewhere. I knew that I was going to be here for some time and I just kind of relaxed into the long game of it.
And, um, seeing how or feeling rather how my imagination, um, impacted the power of that conversation. And body response, I think was pretty magical
K: uh, that’s. That’s so cool. Um, yeah, I always find that, that weird, especially, you know, especially with internet dating, um, where you are coming together for one evening and there’s this combination of what I’ve imagined this person to be prior to meeting them, like what I’ve projected on them. And then also.
I need to decide whether I like them within this next hour window. I need to decide if this is something I want to do pursue. And, and it feels like, yeah, you’re just like the cogs are turning and grinding and like going, so to hear that you were able to relax into that rather than being, um, do I, um, I’m not really sure what, oh, oh.
They just scrunched up their nose and I didn’t like it. Maybe that’s it like, you know, all that overthinking. That sounds so wonderful. Um, but so then what did you do for three days?
Nat: Well, I’ll tell you it was a Friday. So you can imagine it was just like this extended weekend. Um, well we had amazing, amazing sex. Um, we went on long walks around the gaybourhood. We had, um, food at a couple of favourite cafes and I got to see her, her shop. You know, it was kind of like a, a dance around her space.
K: And where, like, where were you living at that time? Had you like, Y Y you,
Nat: I was
K: would have had some were sorted before you got there now, knowing you
Nat: Of course it was living in a, uh, a cute little old apartment with a roommate in South Berkeley. So it was, um, it was a good 15 miles between us and with, you know, Bay Area traffic back then it was sometimes a 40 minute drive, to get back and forth, um, or public transport of course was also an option, but that would also be 40 minutes
K: I live in London. So that sounds like nothing to me. I’m like, yeah. That’s yeah. That’s that’s reasonable.
Nat: right, right.
It’s so it’s so, so relative, you know, there are our second weekend hanging out, was in my new hood and we went to a dance party in Oakland called Hella Gay. And this was, this was also like kind of a test for me because the way someone moves their body, the way someone, you know, kind of holds the beat and carries the energy and their body is super duper important and sexy to me.
And so we went to Hella Gay. The music was great. The scene was so hopping and she was, she is an incredible dancer and I was even more smitten.
K: So wait then, does that mean that on that first night you met in your neighbourhood and then went back to her neighbourhood in order to go to Virgil’s.
K: Ah, so you knew pretty quickly then that you were going to be maybe staying
Nat: You know, it’s funny because, um, at the time I don’t own a car now, but at the time I owned a car and she, um, also did, I mean, a great lesbian car. She’s got a 2003 Volkswagen Jetta with a ski rack on top, very lesbian car, but she took, public transport over to meet me in Oakland. And, we, we decided to go out to the art gallery walk and just the evening was getting on and on and on.
And, you know, the trains don’t flow very well in the
K: Oh, I see. Okay.
Nat: I, I, uh, offered to give her a ride home and yeah, w as soon as she said, yes, I was like, we’re going to sleep together.
K: Good job. I showered. Oh, oh, I love that. And just that feeling of anticipation when it’s like, oh, I know this is going to happen, but like when are we, when is it going to happen? When are we going to leave? Maybe I just don’t come on too strong. Yeah. Oh, oh. I miss all of that without bars.
Um, uh, so then what was that like? I’m just really fascinated about you moving to a new city. Kind of trying to eke out your own, uh, life, your new life, like all these new things, and then having the, this is the wrong word, but I’m going to use it anyway, the distraction of a new relationship. So kind of like not, you know, like kind of it’s this space between assimilating into someone else’s life. Uh, but also like having this need to establish your own life. Was that difficult?
Nat: it wasn’t for me, but I see how you’re framing it. Um, as a, as a challenge space, for, you know, a lot of folks that might’ve been a, um, a sense of dichotomy there, but for me, I think because I was, So much in support of her professional success. I thought if I’m gonna, if I’m gonna, you know, want to hang out with this person, I have to go put on an apron and sweep her floor.
And I did for our whole first year together, spend several hours helping her at the shop. I mean, I sold many of her chocolates. I swept her mopped her floor. Uh, even though I’ve got a bad foot, I was on my feet trying to help, help her, um, get this going. And, you know, oftentimes in the service industry, what do you do when you’re done?
When your shifts over you go out, you relax. So it was for me, very familiar, same in the theatre. When you’re done with that show, you sweep up the theatre, uh, you mop up the floor and you go out with your friends for a drink. And so it felt very familiar to me to do that. And, um, there were though several times where I went out on my own because I.
You know, it wasn’t constantly with her in the shop, but, um, I was, like I said earlier, we’re both really independent. There was no worrying that I would go run off with someone else. It was just, she understood, I have a need to move my body to a beat. And so often I would take myself out and go dance alone.
And, um, in that regard for me, it was like people watching. And certainly I enjoyed being watched as well. I mean, there’s a little bit of an extrovert in me that loves being appreciated. And, uh, so yeah, I didn’t, I didn’t feel a challenge there
K: oh, that’s good to hear. Yeah. Cause I think like you can fall into that, uh, existential crisis of like, are there
other things I’m missing out on because I’ve not like fully explored all these other bits of my new life.
Nat: You’re right though. I mean, I came with an agenda. I was gonna sleep with at least 20 women before I settled down. I, I gave that, gave myself a goal.
K: had you bought gold stars so you could chart them on the wall.
And so you you’re right. I did have to kind of screw my head around that goal and be like, what, what’s more important here. Is it more important for me to like, get into the scene and slut it up or is it more important for me to get in the scene and, and just period. So I, I, I was able to sink into that, uh, that new goal, which was just to be out and about getting, you know, get to know, um, what it looks and feels like to be a lesbian in San Francisco.
K: What, what is it like being a lesbian in San Francisco?
Nat: Well, there aren’t a lot left in just the time I’ve been here. There’s been this Exodus
K: The lesbian, the great lesbian Exodus,
Nat: yes, yes. This most, most women I know now are living in the east bay. They’ve gone to, um, places where they can actually afford rent or maybe even, you know, own a home and not in this city is
Nat: more impossible.
We’ve got rent control. Luckily, I mean our, our landlords, um, a gay couple elderly couple been here in the city since the sixties. We love them so much and they’ve not been raising. Our rent, you know, so we luckily have, um, a rent that is, I mean, I hate to use the word affordable cause is it, I don’t know, but it’s not, it’s not as gouging as other
K: And, and so are you seeing then the neighbourhoods just becoming more and more homogenised? Uh
Nat: Yeah. However, you know, I’m also seeing, um, more of a blend, more of a, all people welcome inclusivity. That is great. Uh, where it’s, you know, there are a lot of, um, folks who are in hetero relationships, but might be bisexual or what have you, who are, um, frequenting these spaces as well. And so it’s, it’s changing.
Let me just say, and. When, when I first moved here, I did really, really appreciate going out. Like I said, to parties that were just for women. It was really how I got to know through a reflection, almost like a holding up a mirror that this is who we are. This is who I am. Um, it’s very validating to share space with people who look and vibe like you.
And I think it’s psychologically really critical for queer people to have spaces like that.
K: and, and like a gendered space. What do you learn in the gendered space that
you wouldn’t learn in a mixed space?
Nat: mm, well, the body language is very different. Um, there’s a lot of like intense eye action, where across the room, you’re appreciating someone, um, In a way it’s a little more subtle yet. If you’re not comfortable with eye contact, it can be alarming.
Nat: Um, I think that there’s, you know, the, the, the posturing of it, I mean, I’m a trained actress, so I’ve studied gesture and posture and embodiment, you know, uh, I see characters all around me and so I, I couldn’t help, but notice that, um, gendered spaces do have overall an interestingly different, um, style or choreography let’s say of movement
K: and and do you think that’s because people feel freer in those spaces
Nat: yes, yes, yes. I would say so there aren’t, Environmental pressures to be anything other than you are or expectations.
K: And, and do, do you think, like with having men around or having other genders around, there’s more of a policing of your own behaviour?
Nat: Hmm. I wouldn’t use the word policing, but maybe a different awareness. And, and when you have like a more multi-dimensional, um, landscape of, of reflection and awareness, I think it just feels different. It’s not bad or wrong, or it’s just different in my
K: Hmm. It’s really interesting. Um, so let’s go back to Virgil’s or how did you hear that? It was closing?
Nat: It was heartbreaking. It was, um, early in the pandemic when a lot of small businesses, um, especially the nightlife scene were starting to speak up. Um, there were funds. And, financial efforts to try to support the nightclub scene in San Francisco and the Bay Area. Um, and so the owner of Virgil’s, was very familiar with, um, you know, financial situations that weren’t favourable, and spoke out, a few times just with like warnings, uh, alert, alert, help, help, you know, a lot of the, um, owners of clubs and restaurants were vocal, very vocal like, Hey, can we get some help here? You know, culturally San Francisco is so rich.
However, with this transformation of population skewing heavily toward young tech workers from outside the bay area who don’t have cultural relativity or prowess, the conditions in which these clubs can thrive as businesses have been harsh for a long time. And so when the pandemic hit, most of these places were already in a precarious situation with rising rents, with, um, shifting, situations.
And so I first learned about Virgil’s closing, on my phone. It was like, uh, a news alert from one of the papers I follow. And so, um, it broke my heart. It was, um, it really felt like a blow. It felt like, oh, this was our place. This is where we had our first date where we had our first kiss and now it’s
K: um, and you never got to say goodbye.
Nat: Right, right.
K: Um, so what has San Francisco lost with the losing of that venue?
Nat: Well, I can start by saying El Rio has lost its overflow. Um, I think the gaybourhood here certainly on the local level has lost a favourite meeting place. Um, and in this, in the terms of the city, I think it’s just one, it just adds to what’s one more lost space. Um, I feel like it’s been a string of them over the past many years.
Um, Bridget has been here more than 20 years and she can tell you how much of this Exodus has been going on for years and years. So it’s especially I think for. Queer women it’s, um, one more place that’s no longer woman owned and, uh, run. So that’s significant in terms of, um, opportunity and potential for modelling or for, you know, just that, that general, um, trajectory of small business success.
I think it’s, I think it’s a shame on our city leaders that they haven’t done more. In fact, just this week, the city supervisors have approved a fund that will hopefully provide some rescue measures for small businesses who are the cultural blood of this area. And, uh, it’s a little bit too little too late in my opinion.
Um, and I’m really, um, Disheartened that they didn’t do more sooner. It really speaks to how much the scene, um, has fallen away from people’s sense of cultural importance. And that breaks my heart.
K: so what would you say made Virgil’s special?
Nat: for me, Virgil’s was a place where I’ve always felt I belonged. I never thought that it wasn’t for me, I’ve been to places where, you know, maybe it’s the theme of the night, or maybe it’s the DJ, whatever tunes are on, um, can influence your sense of belonging. And for Virgil’s, it was 100%. I belong there all the time.