Past Life

PHOTOS: A Life-Affirming Look At San Francisco’s Gay Community In The ’80s


When he wasn’t snapping shots for Los Angeles newspaper The Sentinal, photographer Thomas Alleman was a regular in San Francisco’s active gay scene in the mid-’80s.

Dancing In The Dragon’s Jaws is his intimate photo series capturing San Francisco gay life in full — activism intersects hedonism, pain crosses pleasure, and life defies loss.

“We reported and photographed a blizzard of protests and demonstrations, vigils and marches and sit-ins, as the community struggled for social and political recognition of the crisis,” Alleman told Featureshoot.

Keeping in mind that the AIDS epidemic decimated S.F.’s gay community, it is the inclusion of triumphant moments that instills the power of the human spirit in Alleman’s work.

“But not every drumbeat was martial, of course. Often it was syncopated and disco-y, and I watched countless partiers dance to it with a shimmy and a bounce, and with life-affirming joy. While many of the pictures demonstrate a community in lamentation, many others are about anger and resolve, and most are about love and life. And disco and drag.”

Some things never change.

“And, while [the] tribe convulsed with well-earned fear, heartbreak and anger, some still found the courage and the will to celebrate the dream of life they’d come to San Francisco for, and they danced in the dragon’s jaws.”





















H/t: Nerve

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  • ggreen

    30 years on the San Francisco drag queens are still hideous and tired. The guy in pic number 19 with the beard (I think)is Robert Lee Hanson former CEO of Levi’s and American Eagle Outfitters.

  • Harley

    @ggreen: REALLY!! That is your comment as our brothers and sisters were fighting for our lives in the midst of an epidemic we knew not where or how it was spreading and our detractors were saying it was GOD’s punishment on us for who we were? And a president that preferred to just “let us die”? And yet we survived and thrived and came back stronger and better for it. Shame on you. Remember it was the drag queens that stood up to police brutality at stonewall in New York in 1969. To note, I am not a drag performer but I love them anyway.

  • mallorie

    @Harley: Drag queens, yes, but don’t exclude trans women like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha Johnson. They played an enormous role in the riots too.

  • ggreen


  • Stevenw

    Whats Meg Ryan doing on that bike in the 4th pic?

  • Hillers

    @Stevenw: Lmao! I totally had the same thought! I was trying to remember if Meg played a dyke on bike in some indie mid-’80s flick before she became America’s sweetheart of the silver screen in the ’90s.

  • tada-no

    Why are the photos in black and white? 80s had color film. And you wonder how many of these smiling faces are still with us.

  • pilotmanjoe79

    I thought the first first was beautiful. An innocent but loving kiss. Full of pure simple happiness.

  • Sebizzar

    This makes me really emotional :’)

  • reece99

    ggreen you are an ASS.

    People like you take your gay lives for granted today. You have the net, your phone, your social networks, gay marriage, acceptance in the workplace, and a hell of a lot more, because of the strength and work of these people that proceeded you. Stonewall was a reaction by “drag queens” against police brutality and public prejudice against queers. A lot of the people in these pictures are dead now due to AIDS. A disease that is survivable because this “tired generation” forced the drug companies and society to do something about it. So stuff it ggreen.

  • TerrenM

    Looking at these pics are the exact same as looking at the black and whites of inside Studio 54. One must realize that MORE THAN HALF of the beautiful people in these pics are no longer with us due to overdoses and AIDS.

  • james_in_cambridge

    Thanks Queerty. This is one of the best things I’ve ever seen here…!

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