homosexual activity, for decades a fact of gay life, became major news
in recent weeks, though in this case the media became the message.
Over 20 television stations,
from Miami to San Diego, observed the May sweeps period by broadcasting
sleazy stories about male sex in public parks and bathrooms. The stories
tried to make their point by using video footage of sexual activity, which
they took with strategically-placed, hidden cameras.
The stations justified this
invasion of privacy by alleging that their purpose was to fight illegal
activity, and to save children from sexual predators.
Public sex, especially sex
in public toilets or "tearooms", has always been controversial, even within
the gay community. Virtually without exception, bathroom sex is male masturbatory
or male homosexual in character, a vestige perhaps of the male's greater
It is not my intention, in
writing this article, to condone tearoom sex. In fact, due to its health,
safety and legal hazards, I do not recommend it.
There are many reasons why
a man would want to have sex in a public rest-room. To some gay men or
boys, tearoom sex is a step in the coming out process; a relatively easy
way for them to discover the joys of male love before moving on to gay
social networks, commercial institutions, or even a lover.
Before I was ready to come
out of the closet, over 25 years ago, I was an avid participant in bathroom
sex, mostly on the campus of the junior college that I was attending at
that time. To me tearoom trade was a social as well as a sexual experience,
and I met a few interesting people, including a fellow student and a construction
worker from a nearby job site.
My life as a tearoom queen
was of short duration, and I stopped cruising public toilets when I discovered
the bars, the baths, and an active gay community. But bathroom sex, with
all its faults, allowed me to become comfortable with myself, and my man-lovin'
Gay men and boys who use
tearooms as a way to come to terms with their homosexuality do so for the
short-run. For other men, tearoom trade is their main or only form of sexual
expression. Many of these are classic "closet cases": men who can not or
will not accept their homosexuality.
For them, a quickie in a
toilet satisfies their sex needs but does not require them to be publicly
"branded" as queer, which would be the case if they went to a gay bar,
sex club, community center, etc. Toilet sex is also popular with men who
live in rural areas or small towns, where there are no gay communities;
men who live with their parents, heterosexual spouses, or children who
might not understand; or heterosexual men who are just plain horny.
Lastly, and this is most
controversial, bathroom sex is popular with many "out and proud" gay men
who enjoy the adventure, the thrill, and even the dangers involved. These
men, and not the closet cases, are the ones who write the articles, guide
books and web sites that tell their brothers - and the cops and the press
- which parks and tearooms are cruisy.
What makes a public bathroom
"hot", sex-wise? This I never figured out, though there are some criteria,
mostly location, that makes a toilet a favored place for sex. College campuses
are ideal places for tearooms, if only because colleges are full of testosterone-charged,
horny dudes who still question their sexuality.
Public parks are also
popular - ask George Michael - as well as libraries and department stores.
Once a place gets a "reputation", there is no telling what might happen.
A case in point is the Home Depot on Oakland Park Boulevard in Broward
County, which only opened a year ago and is already notorious for its bathroom
How did the Home Depot become
so cruisy? Certainly the store's butch atmosphere attracts a certain type
of gay man. Perhaps two guys hit it off at the paint section, went to do
their business in the men's room, and told their friends. And the rest
is gay history.
Male homosexuality activity,
especially in public places, threatens a lot of people. Tabloid television
takes advantage of public panics, especially the fear, held by many straight
fathers, that their sons might turn queer.
That is why media "exposes"
of sex "crimes" tend to deal with male homosexuality, to the exclusion
of heterosexuality or even lesbianism, and its effects on the health and
welfare of underage boys. Thus, when a TV station did a story about pedophiles
who lure kids through the Internet, it concentrated on little boys, not
mentioning the fact that little girls are also in danger.
By the same token, tabloid
stories about public sex never mention all the heterosexual activity that
goes on in public parks, drive-in theaters, and the like.
Tabloid television justifies
its lurid reports by alleging that bathroom sex threatens the well-being
of "innocent" bystanders, especially little boys. Leaving aside the question
of whether or not witnessing sexual activity is more traumatic than watching
automobile accidents or Miami City Commission meetings, the fact remains
that an unsuspecting youth or man is more likely to be hit by a bolt of
lightning (or win the lottery) than run into sexual activity in a public
john (unless he's looking for it).
As any vice cop could tell
you, catching men having sex in restrooms is difficult, which is why they
have to resort to entrapment or other extralegal subterfuges. The fact
that reporters had to use hidden cameras to catch their men just proves
Representatives from TV stations
deny that they were conducting a witch-hunt against gay and bisexual men.
But a witch-hunt it is, and many of our brothers are paying the price for
it. Thirty years ago, television stations used hidden cameras to catch
men gathering in gay bars.
Today, tabloid TV uses the
same tactics to catch men having sex in public parks and toilets. Though
venues change, the effects are the same, and men's lives and careers are
ruined by this form of media bashing.
According to Howard Kurtz,
writing for the Washington Post, "Charlotte's WSOC-TV turned over its tapes
to the local vice squad, which made nearly a dozen arrests. Miami's WPLG-TV
offered its tape to city authorities, but they weren't interested." Perhaps
the Miami Police Department had more serious criminals to deal with - like
While not condoning tearoom
trade, gay activists were quick to condemn the media's trip to the toilet.
To Richard Goldstein, writing in the Village Voice, TV's sleazy attacks
on restroom sex is entrapment, pure and simple: "They did the thing that
caused the behavior, and then they filmed it. ... They're presenting it
as a clear and present danger to children. By doing that, they deflect
attention away from the question of sensationalism and intruding on privacy
and present it as having an overriding social purpose."
Both the Gay and Lesbian
Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist
Association (NLGJA), hardly bastions of sexual radicalism, condemned tabloid
television's attacks on gay men. GLAAD called the exposes "gay-baiting
and sleazy journalism" while the NLGJA folks "deplore this kind of voyeuristic
Whatever you might think
of tearoom sex, the fact remains that tabloid TV is guilty of aiding and
abetting the current sex panic against gay men, and of taking advantage
of the public's fear of male homosexuality gone rampant. Lesbian, gay,
bisexual and transgender activist groups must stand as one and condemn
Jesse Monteagudo welcomes
your comments. You may reach him via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org