Last night on a queer studies listserv, a discussion on public sex in bathrooms began. I was enraged by a comment by Joelle, who is a fellow BGSUer. Not only was this comment anti-sex, it also made little sense. How does looking for sex in a bathroom reinforce gender binaries and male privilege? I defend cruising for multiple reasons. I and several other people in the discussion voiced these reasons, but I’ll summarize them here for you. First, bathrooms serve as a place for marginalized and emerging GLBTQ people to experience same-sex or non-heteronormative desire. Policing bathrooms for sex is a class issue. People have cannot afford to patronize gay bars or clubs are left with no other option. Despite years of Ellen and Will & Grace, a man cannot hit on a man in public without fear. Secondly, our view of ourselves as public people is quite juvenile. We cannot stand to see a couple intensely kissing in public. (Heterosexual people are allowed juvenile sexuality, while everyone else is denied one.) These people are told to get a room and so on. Our nation denies children sexuality, so sexuality is one thing that makes us adults. For us to deny this aspect of ourselves is to allow ourselves to be “infantile citizens” (see Lauren Berlant’s Queen of American Goes to Washington City), children who cannot manage ourselves and therefore must have our lives controlled for us.
The anti-cruising argument is simply part of a growing conservative movement that clings to archaic notions of family. To deny sexuality in public is to deny non-heterosexual people access to the public and adulthood.
I am in support of unsexed bathrooms. Everyone needs to eliminate bodily waste and people should not have to face harassment to do so. When discussing this topic with women, they become uncomfortable. They worry about violence against them in this space, which is segmented off from other public spaces. This concern needs to be recognized within the larger transgender struggle for some-thing resembling a false notion of equality.
Below is a segment of the conversation- last names have been removed
P.S. I hate when people use the “postmodern” as a way to show access to equality. I not only doubt they we are completely postmodern, but see postmodern aesthetics as a way to hide socio-economic hierarchies. That conversation is for another day.
I have no doubt cruising has a long history in men’s restrooms, but the practice needs to be critiqued from both a radical feminist and trans/gender perspective. Men’s sexual cruising culture is one of the things that facilitates oppression against women and trans people. While rabid gay transphobes like Barney Frank continually raise the specter of trans women using women’s restrooms and locker rooms to oppose trans civil rights, the practice of cruising in men’s restrooms goes un-critiqued and un-marked. Further, if you do raise a critique you may be accused of “homophobia” or being “anti-sex.” The gender binary division of public restrooms functions, among other things, to preserve a privileged cis-male cruising sexual culture. It does this by furthering the notion that women need to be shielded from sexual threat by men in patriarchy. In postmodern culture, there are many other places adult men and other genders can go to engage in consensual sexual activity besides PUBLIC restrooms where others who are not interested in seeing nor being approached for such activity must frequent in order to relieve themselves. It is possible to be pro-sex and still critique public sexual cruising because of the way in which it perpetuates rigid gender divisions, privileges cis-male sexuality and contributes to the oppression of trans women through displacing legitimate concerns about public male sexuality to the shoulders of trans women who are being demonized (and denied civil rights) for simply trying to use restrooms without being harassed.
Michael: (This is me)
While I see your point, I also see the argument used by proponents of
“Family Values,” who argue that they cannot escape the public spaces
(streets, malls, classrooms) where same-sex desire is being shoved in
their face. Following your argument it seems that same-sex desire is
fine, just as long as it is out of the public — “In postmodern
culture, there are many other places adult men and other genders can
go to engage in consensual sexual activity…” I think you raise valid
points, but the similarities between the two should raise concern, no?
I suspect tearoom sex could be read in three additional ways:
1. As an artifact of having to find sexual expression and opportunity outside the public/outside gaze in a heterosexist society.
2. A fetish which insites notion of risk, randomness, anonmymity
3. A challenge to the hetero/homo divide since tearoom sex may involved men who identify as “hetero” except when the opportunity to go homo presents itself in a tearoom encounter.
…and may I add that the attraction to public sex is by no means exclusively of queers nor its practice circunscribed to members of the same sex/gender. however when it is, it is disproportionaltely censored. i have seen at least two movies with different gendered couples having sex on airplane bathrooms (seems to be a pretty common fantasy) and, of course, sex on elevators (as mick jagger’s song confirms). however we are less critical of these heteros displays of public sex…. au contrare, these acts add to the attractiveness of the movie or song… and let’s not talk about the different treatment the police gives to public sex depending on whether the actors are of the same or different sex. at least here in puerto rico
is there some practical way to stop tea rooms?
i seriously doubt it.
before i would imagine restricting it, i would want some good information on
who what where when and how.
otherwise it’s speculation, trial by accusation.
my guess is, never having engaged in tea rooms, is that most participants
are focused on their own individual concerns and don’t feel particularly
entitled but more likely threatened. as i say. speculation.
i don’t think any gender identity can ever be socially included until all
are. it’s not as they say a zero sum game. tolerance is tolerance inclusive
of all possible alternatives. discourse communities are created by
recognizing the excluded. it’s a conundrum not easily resolved.
I don’t do that kind of cruising any more–bad knees, etc.–but I would hate to
see the end of tea rooms. It isn’t just because there is nowhere else to go. It
is because that is the place where something happens that can’t happen
elsewhere, no matter how many bathhouses or sex clubs there are.
And then there are those parks on a nice summer night.
I have a chapter on stranger sex in my book queersexlife but I’m not sure
reading about it will explain why some of us need to do it.