Alex Blaze

Why we need a saner approach to dealing with cruising

Filed By Alex Blaze | October 31, 2009 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: cruising for sex, Dan Savage, England, public, sex, std's, suicide, uk

Reason #3920:

Lee Creamer, 26, admitted extorting hundreds of pounds out of three men who were fearful their families would find out about their activities, the Portsmouth News reports.

He would go to areas such as Portsdown Hill and the Rock Gardens in Southsea dressed as a police officer and tell his victims they could either go to court or pay an on-the-spot fine. He would then drive them to cashpoints and give them a fake receipt and details of a course they had to attend.

The three offences took place in June, when Creamer took a total of £1,560 from three men, some of whom were married.

Appearing at Portsmouth crown court, he pleaded guilty to three charges of blackmail and one of impersonating a police officer.

Police believe he may have targeted many more men and are appealing for victims to come forward.

At least the newspaper didn't publish the names, addresses, and mug shots of the victims and label them dangerous sex predators.

This story makes the cruising problem clear: it's a battle between two groups who want to use public spaces where one side has said that, in order for them to enjoy parks, the other side can't use them at all. No compromises, no creative solutions. Cruisers just can't use that space because the children might stumble in on them (or, if you're in China, the excuse for cracking down on cruisers is because they commit other misdemeanors).

What happens is that one group is easily taken advantage of with no recourse. Sure, you can say that it's their choice to cruise in public, and therefore they should just take it. Of course they want to be caught having sex and then blackmailed, posted on the internet, lose their jobs and families, and commit suicide! It's all part of the thrill of public sex!

There are better ways to deal with this conflict, like designated areas for cruising if we're really worried about accidentally seeing dudes having sex, no children zones in parks if we're really worried about kids stumbling across something, condoms available if we're really worried about STD's being spread, and trash bags if we're really worried about condoms being thrown on the ground. The fact that those other solutions are never even considered (or sometimes they're implemented and denounced by very people who say they're worried about the effects of cruising instead of cruising itself), though, shows me that we aren't really worried about any of those things, and just hate the idea of people having sex outdoors and see this group of people as an easy target when it comes to scare-mongering before an election.

And when a group of people exists outside the law, or an activity they participate in is outside the law, there's no recourse when they're attacked or violated. Sure, some people eventually came forward and reported this guy who was blackmailing them, but I'm sure there are plenty more like him out there and that he went after far more people than the ones who came forward (especially if he had fake brochures for a fake counseling session in his hand).

Because cruising isn't going to stop. Stings, massive social stigma, people taking pics of cruisers' cars and posting them online, fences... none of that's stopped cruising. Can we just admit that it happens and find a solution?

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How about a really radical idea?? Go have sex in private someplace ! Straight persons are also charged when they are caught having sex in public, although, granted, the social stigma is not as great because gays are second class citizens.

Even if there were officially sanctioned cruising spots, there would still be plenty of cruising in all of the other "forbidden" locations.

There is no shortage of places for gays to have sex, and this one encourages low self-esteem and degrading the entire community.

Right on, Alex!
A sociologist friend of mine once compared gay cruising to hunting: "the outdoors, the thrill of the chase, the element of danger- all primordial masculine pursuits." I don't know if that's necessarily the case, but it certainly strengthens the argument in favor of facing the reality of the situation and doing constructive things to protect whatever it is they're afraid is being damaged.
But that won't happen easily. Sex is still a shameful act (even straight sex!) for many Americans- and public policy hates to address that reality, although it's pretty good at addressing the morality of the majority....

I can't agree. I want equal treatment. Frankly I don't have sex in parks. It is a public park and I don't see this as any sort of unfairness since hetero couples are not allowed to have sex in the park either.
It is simple cruise a bar that is open to cruising and then get a room.
If you are hanging out in a public park to get laid then don't complain when the same law against it is applied to you that would be applied to everyone else.
I just do not see it as a matter of hatred or homophobia since there is an outcry when a park is being used by hetero sex people for this purpose.
I have kids and no I don't think that my kids would be messed up for life if they stumbled on this scene, but I do think that they should be able to visit a public place without stumbling onto this scene. They don't go a peek into the bedrooms of two guys so why would it be ok for those two guys to decide to go get it on in the park?
If you are breaking a law that is equally applied to everyone and which is not an unjust law I don't care if you are straight, gay or bi you should be stopped.

bigolpoofter | October 31, 2009 6:54 PM

The most sane approach of all to open-air public sex or hooking up -- cruising happens everywhere, and it's quite separable from negotiating and consummating sex -- is not creating designated public sex venues, but eliminating the stigma against same-sex attraction that drives men to seek connection and pleasure in high-risk settings. It's a cultural and generational solution requiring a sea change in appreciation of sexual diversity, not a simple exercise in zoning. Confine cruising and public sex to well-defined areas, and one gives perpetrators of extortion and violence a neat perimeter on which to function. Make it possible for men to connect with other men in a generic space, e.g. not labelled Queer or sexually transgressive, for the sole purpose of realizing desire, and one is beginning to resolve safety.
Experiencing sexual attraction and the euphoria of orgasm are strong, undeniable motivators for humans; and people over the centuries have risked wealth, privilege, friendships, and familial bonds in search of them. Layer on cultural disdain for one's desired activities, and chaos and danger are certain to ensue--this from one who has shared publicly many reminiscences of homosex in dark alleys, backrooms, and other clandestine spaces over the last thirty-plus years. Until society at-large provides more safety for open expressions of same-sex attraction anywhere and relents in its sex negativity, high-risk cruising will continue and corralling it into a proscribed zone won't make it any safer.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 31, 2009 10:28 PM

I think there is also the personality type who prefers public sex for it's own excitement. Part of that excitement is the risk of getting caught. Part of the excitement is the anonymous nature of the sex itself by certain people who do not want to have "gay friends" ie. "trade" like Charlton Heston. Go Moses, go!

The same personality type who prefers to disgust the squeamish with their "openness and comfort" with their sexuality as a political statement.

I don't agree with that statement, but would advocate no questions asked, short term hotels, or bath houses for the many married men who are having same sex relationships. I would not do a thing about improving the climate for people to have public sex. I would encourage people to keep private acts private. Just because dogs fornicate in public is no excuse for us to sink to their level.

Straight public sex does happen, a lot, but it doesn't get policed and harassed nearly as much - barely as much - as queer sex. When you talk to cops, they'll tell you that the numbers are disproportionate in terms of arrests of gay men because, supposedly, those are the perpetrators. What they don't tell you is that cops are trained to entrap gay men only in these spaces. Debbie did some interesting journalistic work sometime in the 90s, focusing on a park in Texas (as I recall), and the disproportionality of arrests was clear even then.

It's also critical to keep in mind that the definition of cruising changes according to the perceived gender identities of the people involved. There's a reason why you won't see as many male couples kissing in public on Foster Beach here in Chicago (I can't speak for the famed Hollywood beach); they will, most definitely, get picked up for "cruising" or "public indecency." The phobia against "cruising" is also a phobia about gay/queer sex.

On the other hand, straight couples - of all ages - can do pretty much what they want in public without facing too many consequences. Even then, perceptions about class might play a role in how they're monitored - if you're a woman who looks like you don't "belong" in the area, you'll probably get questioned to see if you're soliciting.

As for breaking of laws - laws don't always determine what society *should* be like in an ideal world, and they do often determine what *some* people deem right or correct or moral or necessary, and they always have vested interests at heart. Until recently - very, very recently - sodomy was illegal in the U.S. Just something to remember when we frame this conversation in terms of "legal" versus "illegal."

I'm with Alex on this one. We haven't even *tried* to come up with a sensible approach to the issue in this country, and it's time we did.

Ugh, editing on the screen is never as easy as it seems.

So, I meant: "What they don't tell you is that cops are trained to entrap ONLY gay men in these spaces. Debbie NATHAN did some interesting journalistic work sometime in the '90s, focusing on a park in Texas (as I recall), and the disproportionality of arrests was clear even then."

bigolpoofter | October 31, 2009 8:10 PM

That would be Riverchon Park in Dallas. It's been a notable Gay cruising area for ages, though heterosexual men often take girlfriends or sex workers there for sex.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 1, 2009 1:03 PM

Straight public sex does happen, a lot, but it doesn't get policed and harassed nearly as much - barely as much - as queer sex.

Yasmin, you took the words right out of my mouth!

When was the last time you heard of a police sting organized to catch straight people cruising? Jeeze, the vast majority of the time even johns paying prostitutes for sex--clearly against the law--go free.

Think of all the straight sex that happens among teens in parked cars. Among adults in back alleys near clubs and bars. In hot tubs, swimming pools, the beach at night. Hiking trails. Nude beaches at all times of the day and night. And yes, in public restrooms, although that's a bit trickier due to gender-segregation.

The bias against gay male sex is so obvious in the enforcement of public sex laws it amazes me that anyone tries to argue that "Straight persons are also charged when they are caught having sex in public," as Pete (here) and many others (elsewhere) do.

I've been perceived in the world as a straight woman, a dyke, a straight man, and a queer man, and I can unequivocally say that two men being physically or sexually affectionate with each other in public pushes people's buttons more than any other combination, which is directly reflected in the enforcement of laws.

What I really don't understand is why so many progressives and LGBT folks continue to support the enforcement of public sex laws against gay men. I agree that egregious examples of public sex should be policed--a straight couple in Ireland had sex on a crowded LUAS car during rush hour when I was living in Dublin. In my book, that amounts to involving the other passengers in a nonconsensual sex act, so yes, charge them with the equivalent of a misdemeanor. Likewise, the many men I encountered as a woman who on hiking trails, near nude beaches, and once in a Laundromat whipped it out and started wanking off in front of me—again, it’s the nonconsensual aspect that offends me. That, and the threat of rape.

Btw, that Irish straight couple on the LUAS was not arrested until long after the fact, I think because the story hit the news and the public outcry was so huge, the Gardai felt they had to do something.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | November 1, 2009 3:43 PM

Blue laws, or anti-sex laws, are an expression of the abrahamic cults pathological fear and loathing of human sexuality, and in particular non-breeder sex. All those laws should be abolished and replaced by a massive campaign to encourage safe sex and the creation of safe hook up areas.

Straight people have as much public sex as we do and anyone who thinks that’s not true is delusional. The difference is that they aren't arrested, beaten, ostracized and blackmailed very often for being sexual in public or private.

As for the cults they should be actively suppressed. They should lose their tax exempt status. Their schools should be closed and priests, pastors, imams and rabbis should never be allowed near children with out supervision and never permitted to frighten them with sociopathic tales of evil and punishment.

Of course that will never happen as long as people vote for bigots like Obama, Biden, McCain and Palin.

As for LGBT folks who agree with the suppression of gay public sexuality, that’s just wrong and at odds with our struggle for liberation and equality.

I waited to see what others would comment on this.

(1) If you are saying men need more places to meet for sex, then you are wrong if you are in a big city (usually, but see 1.a below) but right if you live in a rural area. Large cities have sex clubs and bathhouses, and yes, they charge money, and yes, you will have to deal with the fact that wanting sex with another man makes you "gay" "queer" or a "faggot". Most of us had to wage the psychological good fight through that stigma, and I have little sympathy for "straight" men who claim they aren't gay (or even homosexual) even though they want sex with other men. (OK, maybe you're bi --- some men really are bi --- but you're still out craving and looking for gay sex.)

(1.a) My guess is the largest area in the US without bathhouses is the upper South. To my knowledge, there is no such place between Indianapolis and Atlanta, or between Atlanta and Texas, unless you go south to New Orleans. Louisville zilch, Nashville nada, Memphis nope, Little Rock nothing, and Alabama and Mississippi are a gay sexual wasteland. As is West Virginia.

(And the folks in Louisville wonder why they are the Internet porn capital of the US. Why? Because there is virtually no sex industry other than female prostitutes in Louisville.)

(2) If you are saying that you want to live in a society where gay sex is equally accommodated as is straight sex, then I'm all with you. I hope you are really young, because I have lost hope that I will live long enough to see such a day, even if I move to Amsterdam or SF (both of which I've considered). But expecting the public to accept the idea that outdoor public sex is a proper use for a public park is just asking too much --- are we talking about Earth or some other planet?

(3) If you want outdoor gay sex specifically, then plan a vacation to Palm Springs or Key West or a similar gay mini-mecca. We even have such gay lodges/campgrounds here in southern Indiana, of all places, and there's a famous one in northern Tennessee that draws its clientele from the vast wasteland described in (1.a) above.

1) I'm not sure how and why we still need to classify some things as "gay" sex and some as not when dealing with the terrain of law. If we could get society and, more importantly, the law, to recognise that sex can be sex, and that it can and will survive without identity markers, we would see a sharp drop in the harassment of gay cruisers. As things stand, it's precisely this notion of "gay sex" that compels cops to continue their harassment. That's not to deny that sexual acts might define sexual identity for people, but to be wary of how we let those definitions work in the law's favour. Maybe these men are gay, maybe they're not, maybe they're bi -- their identities as they experience them are not what constitute the issue for the law. What matters to the law is the way it can use identity categories to enforce laws unequally, when convenient. Gay marriage? Get the Commissioner of Police to march in the Pride Parade in support of it. Gay sex in parks? EW and OMG - get those skunks out of the bushes, and let's not worry about silly things like entrapment and civil liberties because, after all, their own "community" is not going to help them!

I suspect this differentiation around "gay sex" and what counts as legitimate places for sex is largely, but not exclusively, generational. There are, alas, plenty of 20-something gays who vehemently cry for the shutting down of bathhouses because they think they're immoral or abnormal or, in an age of internet hookups, simply don't see why they need to exist (ah, youth).

I'm with you on 1a). But the para actually makes a strong case for public sex venues.

As for 2) and "But expecting the public to accept the idea that outdoor public sex is a proper use for a public park is just asking too much --- are we talking about Earth or some other planet?"

Well, Amsterdam is on earth, and I'm referring to Alex's earlier story here:

It can be done, it has been done.

We can continue to insist that the U.S (which should not, of course, be defined as Earth, not that I think you're doing that but I'm forestalling people's general willingness to do that) is incapable of change because of the extreme right wing (and in its hysteria around sex in general, the U.S does, indeed, appear to be not of this earth). Or we can continue to press for sensible public discussions about public sex. I lay some of the blame for the lack of the public discourse on sex and public sex in particular on the fact that the gay community has often had its hands tied on the matter because any mention of public sex immediately serves to paint it as degenerate and pedophilia. But I also blame the gay and feminist communities' mainstreaming over the last thirty odd years for the fact that we no longer have the ability to have a sensible discussion.

In fact, even as recently as the mid-'90s, pro-sex feminists and queers were part of a vibrant resistance to the coalition of neolithic feminists and hard-line conservatives who engaged in shutting down public sexual culture and pornography; Lisa Duggan's Sex Wars is an excellent resource for more on that. That kind of coalition is absent and, I'd argue, impossible today, given that both the feminist and gay "movements" have gone their own wonky ways into the wilderness of sex negativity.

As for 3), I don't think that queers or straights should have to travel to vacation spots for public sex.

The more sensible approach is to acknowledge that public sex has always taken place and will always take place for any number of reasons. To reduce the argument to one about civilised behaviour when most of our actions, especially as queer people, are already considered less than such by the law, is meaningless and only ensures that queers will continue to be unfairly targeted by both cops and by blackmailers (the subject of Alex's original post here). Speaking as a Chicagoan, let me just say that the cops have and should have a lot better things to do in the city than hunt down men in bushes in Montrose Harbour (which, I hear, is being policed much more heavily these days).

Without changes in our attitudes and our laws, we are going to see the continual harassment of queers in parks AND bars (the two are definitely related, in my mind - again, it's the spectre of "what *they/we* do that causes raids in both kinds of places). We're also going to see more instances like that of Larry Craig, when the gay community failed to use the occasion to make a case for a saner discussion, or even to openly criticise the waste of taxpayer money on such meaningless exercises because it had to waste so much time discussing/laughing at/pointing out the hypocrisy of Craig. But, because we will not have made a case for why cops shouldn't be wasting their time surveilling public restrooms, we will continue to see this kind of hypocrisy. And it will continue to damage us and to drain our resources. It's fun for us to laugh at such instances, but we'd be better off redirecting the conversation into more meaningful directions in the first place.

And just to clarify my first point about identity and sex:

When the cops arrest two gay men for what they presume/decide (the lines are fuzzy and that's really why such surveillance is so damaging) is sex in public, they don't ask them how they identify (as gay, straight, bi, whatever). They simply arrest them for what they decide is the physical act between the two men and what that supposedly means to the law. And we can't forget that the very sight of two men kissing can, in the eyes of the law, constitute "public sex" even though that same act will not mean "public sex" when a man and a woman engage in the same behaviour.

And that's what I'm getting at here: Our protestations about identity and sexuality mean nothing in the face of a system and a society that has already decided that gay sex is, by its very nature, abhorrent and unnatural and to be stamped out at any cost. Couple that with the fact that "gay" is still not okay in the eyes of the public (unless it can confined within marriage or other safe parameters), and then the fact that it's not acceptable to be out in so many homes and workplaces - and you get the kind of surveillance and blackmail that Alex writes about.

There's a lot more to be said about *lesbian* sex in the eyes of the law, but that still escapes the radar for a number of reasons, eroticisation and invisibility being only two of them. Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore's anthology That's Revolting had a chapter devoted to a lesbian public sex gathering. But then that topic might be for an entirely different post.

Just by the way: I'm currently reading a lot of material about how the state has, over the years, come to define homosexual acts vis-a-vis its notions of citizenship and belonging, and it's fascinating material. Especially fascinating is how *lesbian* sex was frequently met with befuddlement and/or an *extremely* vicarious mode of questioning (on the lines of "so, did you use your tongue down there?" etc.)

And that last bit should actually read "lesbian public sex." I was referring to instances where military police in the '40s and '50s, for instance, would find lesbian personnel engaging in activity in cars, but they had no idea what to *do* about it since, as some put it, there was simply nothing in their manuals to tell them what was going on, and what they were supposed to think about it.

It was, of course, a completely different matter when they found *men* in cars together. And that's worth considering - why gay sex in particular came to be so codified and policed over the years.

1) I'm not sure how and why we still need to classify some things as "gay" sex and some as not when dealing with the terrain of law. ...

Yasmin, sorry if I wasn't clear, but you missed my point entirely. No, we do not have to define sex, especially public sex, as "gay" or "straight" in the eyes of the law.

But in a word, Yasmin, I was talking psychology, not law. I was talking about the incredible ability for some men to enjoy sex with other men while telling themselves, a la Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar, "I ain't no queer."

In equally arbitrary manner, some guys develop the notion that if they hang their wanger out their zipper fly to get a blowjob from another man, then they are still "straight". (It's the guy giving head that's gay!) But if they drop their pants for sex with another man, that's the boundary that means you're gay.

It's ridiculous, but the variation on such compartmentalizations is without limit. But I can't sympathize with such denial mechanisms, because such thinking maintains the man's sense of masculinity at the cost of losing contact with the facts of what is really going on.

Finally, my point is that some men might react, "But I don't want to go to the bathhouse, I want to cruise the park" --- and their reason for reacting this way is that, in their way of perceiving things, men who cruise the parks are just "straight" guys who like extra-curricular fun at times, but the men who go to bathhouses are the "gays" "queers" and "faggots".


Yes, I see your point in, "Finally, my point is that some men might react, "But I don't want to go to the bathhouse, I want to cruise the park" --- and their reason for reacting this way is that, in their way of perceiving things, men who cruise the parks are just "straight" guys who like extra-curricular fun at times, but the men who go to bathhouses are the "gays" "queers" and "faggots"."

I think that's definitely one aspect of cruising, but it's not by any means the only one (and I don't think you claim it to be the case). And I don't know that my gay/queer friends who cruise the parks always care about whether or not the men they get together with react in the way you point out. I'd also point out that there are bathhouses that specifically cater to men who "identify" as straight/not out/all the admittedly problematic categories we can think of and think of the bathhouse experience as one where they can have sex with men, period. One of those used to be a block away from where I live. But, I'd also point out that even "regular" bathhouses (and, I'd add, some supposedly "straight" gyms) operate the same way. Not everyone who goes to one thinks of himself as gay.

My own concern is with how these kinds of compartmentalisations do or don't play into the mechanism of surveillance. I see your point about psychology, but my concern is with the law, and how we might start resisting its impulse to use our definitions of sexuality for its own ends. Alex's post, as I read it, is about developing a saner approach to cruising. The conversation about how to think sanely about cruising might include a discussion about why (although I doubt we can have such a conversation without pathologising sex) but I'd argue that resisting the law also means acknowledging that "they" don't always care about the "why."

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | November 2, 2009 5:27 AM

AJ, you forgot Saugatuck Michigan. :)

I must be getting "whacky" again! (as our editor loves to call me) Look at who is commenting on this posting? The tag team is at it again goddess bless em!

Firstly Yasmin, as Allen points out we have to determine the difference between your "if" and our reality.

We have to determine the effects of public sex and divide them by the possibility of another Matthew Shepherd. This is what AJ was discussing. The backwardness of middle America and the costs the vulnerable have to bear.

HOW MANY KIDS have to die to satisfy you and your selfish vision of utopia!?!

You state that "any mention of public sex immediately serves to paint it as degenerate and pedophilla."

It is spelled pedophilia. Please write it down baby and look at it every day...and think. And if you have never experienced it, count yourself very lucky. Bil spoke at length recently about what it is to be a victim and out of respect for these victims of both genders please spell the act correctly. I realize it is not as important as transposing an "s" and "z" to you but to some borderline whacky nutty folk it may be.

I fought for our liberation when it was one hell of a lot more dangerous to be Gay in Indiana. Any mention of public sex (from my perspective)refers to our oppression not our advancement. We should not hide in an ally or require forest cover, but should have "no questions asked short time" hotels for all those married men to use. Hey, it is either that or they are still living with mom.

We also have to look at the mores of the society we are discussing. Amsterdam is on earth, but has it's own mores. The age of consent varies by country and culture as well so that must be considered. You cannot paint the sexual mores of Amsterdam on central Africa or either set on the United States.

All places are on earth Jasmin, but earth is more diverse than your understanding.

People who aren't out aren't thinking too clearly if they choose public sex among all the options they have.

I mean - it's in public - and it's what you want to remain private?

You have a very hard time blackmailing people who are out.

Yes, but at that point might we be seeing a subconscious desire to stop hiding? At least in some instances.

Actually, while we many never see an end to cruising, there are things we can do to reduce it. This study: demonstrates that state same-sex marriage bans increase the incidents of cruising locations (and as a result, HIV rates), it seems like removing some of the legal framework that discriminates against gays would actually be a step towards harm reduction for cruising.