Welcome to our latest feature, Queerty Query, where we’ll be raising questions and asking you to weigh in. Sometimes they’ll be funny, sometimes they’ll be serious—it all depends what the chatter around the water cooler is.
Today we’re looking at a topic that’s been debated within the gay-male community for years: public sex.
Before you could easily walk into a bar and chat someone up, before the advent of Grindr and Manhunt, gay guys had few opportunities for intimacy—leading many to turn to public parks, men’s rooms and other cruising grounds to find sex.
Though times have changed, and finding a partner is as easy as turning on your cell-phone, the cruising culture is seemingly still thriving: A five-year undercover campaign in Palm Beach has resulted in the arrest of more than 600 men since 2006. In January, a fundamentalist preacher and a police officer were among those arrested in a public-sex sting operation in Tampa’s Peace River Park. Just this week, 18 men were arrested in Los Angeles for turning a public rest room into a makeshift love shack.
Are these men victims? Is public sex essentially a victimless crimes? Or is it unfair to commandeer public spaces for what should be private activities. (Lord knows we don’t want to see a straight couple bumping uglies in Central Park.)
Are tearoom trade and the like just part of gay culture or do they hold us back from making advances in the struggle for our rights?
As a counterpoint, San Francisco writer and porn star Conner Habib wrote an essay in Salon defending rest-stop trade as an act of political and sexual transgression:
For the man who is unsure of his sexuality, or unsure of how to tell others about it, for the man who has a family but feels new desires (or old, hidden ones) unfolding inside of him, the website and the phone apps are just too certain of themselves. They’re for gay men who want to have gay sex. Sex at the rest area, instead, abolishes identity; there’s a sort of freedom there to not be anything—instead, men just meet other men there; men who want the same sort of freedom…
I live in San Francisco now, and there’s more acceptance here of sexuality and identity than anywhere I’ve ever been. There’s also very little anonymous sex. “Anonymous” sex here means meeting a man online or on Grindr or at the bar, learning his name, going back to his apartment or mine. It’s not a bad thing, of course, but I miss being a nobody at an in-between place, a no-place. Here, I have to be somebody, everything is so defined around the edges. At the rest area, I could just be a body, be there for some other body that I didn’t know, that was longing for the sort of comfort and love that only no one, nowhere could give.
So, should public sex be accepted as a permanent part of the gay-male identity or relegated to history’s garbage heap? Make your presence known in the comments!