On any given night, so the story goes, the bushes outside Carnivore function as gardens of earthly delight. My sister (who does not read this blog, for which I am quite grateful), has mentioned intimate encounters in close quarters. Euphemism for bathroom sex. I am indulging in the childish “you do it too” argument so beloved by those who believe the term “hypocrite” carries more weight than it does. I find it inadequate. And infantilizing. And moralistic. Not to mention, it denies complexity and often refuses to accept change: one is always judged by a history one may no longer embrace.
Larry Craig, a congressman from Idaho, was caught trying to solicit sex in an airport bathroom by an undercover cop. Much has been made over his status as a conservative republican and his well-publicized opposition to homosexuality. I will not belabor the point, merely point out that many happy racists are quite comfortable having sex with—or raping—groups they consider sub-human. The illogic of desire is such that it circumvents political posturing.
I am more interested in what we call the “discourse” generated by the event—the ways in which various constituencies are positioning themselves and, indeed, understanding themselves. First, in a move that seems familiar from sexology, we have the “this is what gay men do” accounts that explain how “cottaging” really works. Blow by blow (pun intended) descriptions of how a typical encounter might occur, accompanied by some psychological speculations: it’s the thrill of the forbidden; it’s a sign of pathology; it’s related to the psychology of the closet. Take your pick. Explaining gay men to everyone else. Tedious.
Next, we have the tedious “good gay” and “bad gay” arguments. Good gays are largely proclaiming their opposition to “bathroom sex,” claiming that bathrooms are “dirty,” “nasty,” “uncomfortable,” “undignified,” worrying about what such actions “say about homosexuals.” Our “good name” is “sullied” when “irresponsible” thrill-chasers indulge in public displays of affection. (I have stored in my mind a long rant about the meaning of “public affection” across the sexuality line. What might “closeted” heterosexuality look like? Why might it be difficult, if not impossible, to imagine?)
Of course, part of what remains unspoken, though always implicit, is that all gay sex is “bathroom sex.” Space—the spaces of the body and the spaces bodies occupy—collapse in claims that “gays are okay; except they have public, bathroom sex.” Denouncements of the spaces in which “gays,” or my favorite new phrasing “the gays,” have sex cannot be absolutely separated from denouncements of “the gays.”
Part of what remains interesting for me are the ways we seem unable, at least in popular discussions, to think more imaginatively about sex and space. The ways, that is, space is the background in which sex might take place, but adds nothing to the encounter. Such that, given the option between a lavishly appointed apartment and a public bathroom, one would choose the apartment. We might think, instead, of how an encounter may start in one space and move to the other, a movement between and within spaces, that is.
It’s important to pay attention to the way politics and sex are coming together in this encounter, if only so we can register the ways hetero/homonormativity become complicit—we denounce hypocrisy even as we denounce deviant homosexuality. The gays learn, once again, that we are acceptable in our asexual, closeted (as private, if out) selves, but not in any way that disrupts the sanctity of normative space—even when that space is the bathroom.