Since the 1960s, San Francisco has been America's capital of sexual libertinism and a potent symbol in its culture wars. In this highly original book, Josh Sides explains how this happened, unearthing long-forgotten stories of the city's sexual revolutionaries, as well as the legions of longtime San Franciscans who tried to protect their vision of a moral metropolis. Erotic dancers, prostitutes, birth control advocates, pornographers, free lovers, and gay libbers transformed San Francisco's political landscape and its neighborhoods in ways seldom appreciated. But as sex radicals became more visible in the public spaces of the city, many San Franciscans reacted violently. The assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were but the most brazen acts in a city caught up in a battle over morality, a battle that often spilled over onto sidewalk violence against free-love hippies, gays and lesbians. It was a moral conflict exploited by Richard Nixon and the Republican Party, and seized by Hollywood as a flamboyant backdrop for a raft of vigilante movies, most notably the Dirty Harry series set in San Francisco.
Perhaps most important, Josh Sides illuminates the many ways that human desire has shaped the destiny of postwar San Francisco-and much of postwar urban America. Indeed, he shows that one cannot understand the American city-nor modern America politics-without taking into account both the real and the imagined transformation of our urban areas into repositories of sexual desire.