An unrecorded 1976 insider’s pictorial map of gay life in San Francisco, documenting, celebrating and even in places mocking the interests, haunts, and habits of the city’s vibrant homosexual community.
Much as the Green Books had catered to African-American travelers of the 1930s to 1960s, so did Guy Strait’s The Lavender Baedeker and the many editions of Bob Damron’s Address Book help gay men (and lesbians) find shops, bars and restaurants, and cultural venues catering to their needs. That said, I have spent the past few years chasing maps documenting 20-century American culture and counterculture, and this is the earliest large-format map I have found documenting any aspect of LBGTQ life. And it does so to a manner that is absolutely in-your-face and unvarnished, by turns “in-the-know”, exuberant, raunchy, compassionate, and gently mocking.
The map depicts the northeastern part of the San Francisco peninsula, with East at the top and the San Francisco Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and Bay Bridge clearly visible. Provocatively, many features of the city have been re-imagined as erect penises, with buildings, islands, lighthouses, windmills, and even buses all unmistakably phallic. Iconic San Francisco landmarks, such as the Transamerica Pyramid, the row of Painted Ladies, the Palace of Fine Arts, and City Hall, are visible and set within this highly-sexualized landscape.
In another act of re-imagining, artist J. Clark Henley has rendered the city’s inhabitants as alligators, many bearing a mustache not dissimilar to that worn by Henley himself. I am uncertain as to why Henley chose alligators; it must be some kind of inside joke, but any number of Google and newspaper searchers for both “alligator” and the map’s title, “Alligator Oz”, have not yielded a plausible explanation. It could be a reference to the alligator logo on the Lacoste shirts that were for a time “de rigueur in a portion of the gay community.” (The Washingtonian, Sept. 1980, accessed online May 2022) The explanation could also be as simple as a phonetic play on the central syllable in the word (alli-GAY-tor).
In any event, the alligators are engaging in the full range of “human” activities: driving, dining, dancing, shopping, hanging out, working out, ogling one another, and having lots and lots of graphic sex, often in very public spaces. Most are accompanied by speech bubbles explaining more or less exactly what’s on their mind from the trivial to the salacious to the existential. In Golden Gate Park, we find a lone alligator in melancholic contemplation, telling himself: “I’m so different, so unique, so alone.” Not far away from him is another lone alligator apparently consumed by the exact same thought. Closer to the Gold Gate Bridge, just south of the Presidio, is a row of townhouses in which all of the occupants participate in a joint chorus line hollering: “Oh happy day, we don’t have wives who need their hair done, or children who need their stocking filled, so we can need Bill Blass, Vidal Sassoon, Elsa Peretti, and Wilkes Bashford, not to mention a complete collection of toys from Leather Forever.”
Mapmaker Jesse Clark Henley was a writer, model, and artist, born in San Francisco in 1950, where he established both his career in the 1970s. During this time, Henley created his Alligator Oz map and began work on The Butch Manual, which offers facetious advice to gay men seeking to adopt excessively masculine behavior. In 1979, Henley moved to Los Angeles with the ambition of further pursuing his career, and in 1982 The Butch Manual was published in New York by Plume. After being diagnosed with HIV in 1986, he returned to his native San Francisco to live with his family, and he died there in 1988.
Aside from a brief mention in Henley’s Bay Area Reporter obituary, the map appears to be entirely unrecorded in the carto-bibliographic sources. I recently sold an example to Yale’s Beinecke Library, and that offered here is only the second of which I am aware.
Not in OCLC or Rumsey. Some background from “J. Clark Henley,” in the Bay Area Reporter for Sept. 8, 1988, p. 17, accessed online, May 2022.