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Tearoom: Too busy sucking on a ding-dong
February 9, 2012 6:51 AM   Subscribe

In 1962, the Mansfield (Ohio) Police Department stationed officers armed with a movie camera behind a two-way mirror in a public restroom known for its "cruisy" atmosphere. With the help of the footage shot, dozens of men were arrested, prosecuted, and convicted on sodomy charges, which at the time carried mandatory minimum sentences of a year in prison. In 2007, the original surveillance footage was obtained by filmmaker William E. Jones. He's screened the unedited 56 minute film as Tearoom at festivals and museums the world over, providing a clandestine look at the scrutiny small-town Midwestern gay men faced in the 1960's. [warning: explicit, NSFW material lies beyond most links]

A 9 minute clip is on youtube, presumably passing censoring because the text is in Japanese. The entire film, found footage which may fall under public ownership, is available as a 409 mb Mediafire file linked via the blog Psychotic States - it's under the "Swallow the pill" link. PS has this to say about Tearoom:

"Shot without sound, in grainy color 16 mm, it's a stunning document. The men range in age from their 20s to their 60s. They are white and black, fat and thin, in a banker's suit or name-patched mechanic's uniform. Faces humorless, eyes on the door, they masturbate, give handjobs and blowjobs, and perform anal sex; a few exchange money."

The "about" section on Jones' Tearoom page carries a wealth of reviews, write-ups, articles, and interviews with the filmmaker, where he offers the following: "Some audiences are very angry when they see the footage, and I try to deal with these situations as calmly as possible. They are angry at having to confront such blunt images of oppression. Other audiences are very polite and seem to appreciate the footage. It’s really a broad spectrum of reactions."
posted by item (82 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
In case I didn't make it clear in the post, nothing about any of the links should be considered safe for work. Or toddlers - toddlers shouldn't look at it either.
posted by item at 6:54 AM on February 9, 2012


Great post. BUT: "too busy sucking on a ding-dong"? Am I missing a reference here or what.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:56 AM on February 9, 2012


It's from Sister Ray by the Velvet Underground. But in the song, "she's too busy..." so I don't know what the connection is other that prurient.
posted by jdfan at 7:02 AM on February 9, 2012


(Arsenio), that's just like "Sister Ray" said.
posted by Joey Bagels at 7:02 AM on February 9, 2012


Per Wikipedia, "The situation [in "Sister Ray"] is a bunch of drag queens taking some sailors home with them, shooting up on smack and having this orgy when the police appear." Don't mean to derail.
posted by Joey Bagels at 7:03 AM on February 9, 2012


Thanks, yinz.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:03 AM on February 9, 2012


But would the audience be cheering instead if some wacky conservative with a wide-stance and anti-gay views was caught on film and dragged to jail ?
posted by k5.user at 7:06 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


But would the audience be cheering instead if some wacky conservative with a wide-stance and anti-gay views was caught on film and dragged to jail ?

Probably not. Why would they want them to go to jail for engaging in a private sexual act?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:09 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Except for the year in jail, don't these kinds of stings still happen? The behavior certainly still happens, if xtube is any indication.
posted by desjardins at 7:10 AM on February 9, 2012


I don't know what possessed me to drop the VU lyric up there - I think I felt that my overall tone was a bit too cold or serious, which upon reflection is probably the proper tone for a serious topic like this.
posted by item at 7:10 AM on February 9, 2012


I love the mid-century's sense of style, elegance, and optimism. I'd love to vacation there, but stuff like this is why I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to live there.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:11 AM on February 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Grim repressed passion splashed across the screen!
posted by The Whelk at 7:11 AM on February 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


surveillance cameras in restrooms were/are legal?
posted by nathancaswell at 7:12 AM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


desjardins, yeah, still happen.
posted by item at 7:12 AM on February 9, 2012


Why would they want them to go to jail for engaging in a private sexual act?

Because that's what the wacky conservative with the wide stance would want?
posted by DU at 7:13 AM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Because that's what the wacky conservative with the wide stance would want?

But we're not talking about an audience of wacky conservatives with wide stances?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:16 AM on February 9, 2012


In the early 90s, they cut down all of the bushes at one of the (Milwaukee) lakefront parks and locked the bathroom doors because there was so much activity going on. Of course, it just moved to other parks. A birdie told me that the east side bike path is the place to be.
posted by desjardins at 7:16 AM on February 9, 2012


>Probably not. Why would they want them to go to jail for engaging in a private sexual act?

In a PUBLIC restroom ?
posted by k5.user at 7:19 AM on February 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am in my early 20s and so profoundly grateful that I've never felt the need to do anything like this or been at risk for being exposed in any way similar. Thank you gay elders and thank god for the internet.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:20 AM on February 9, 2012 [20 favorites]


surveillance cameras in restrooms were/are legal?

Is a good question that can be answered by the following line of reasoning:

>Probably not. Why would they want them to go to jail for engaging in a private sexual act?

In a PUBLIC restroom ?


Also, k5.user, I'm just curious as to who you're directing your ire at. Who is the "audience" or the "they" in your comments? Hypocritical "liberals"? Or the Whitney Biennial audience? Maybe I'm misinterpreting your point.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:24 AM on February 9, 2012


Man, that's some depressing viewing, though oddly enough, watching it while playing Sister Ray actually makes it a little easier.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:25 AM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


But we're not talking about an audience of wacky conservatives with wide stances?

People other than wacky conservatives believe in the golden rule.
posted by DU at 7:26 AM on February 9, 2012


When this came out I was conflicted whether to see it. The thought of it was depressing and it felt like I'd be participating in an act of privacy invasion even as a sympathetic and angry (at the lack of justice) witness.

Even now I can't bring myself to watch it and I'm torn as to whether I should.
posted by artof.mulata at 7:31 AM on February 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's just as grim and depressing as you expect, with the added bonus of everyone looking like they spent a week sleeping in a drainage ditch.
posted by The Whelk at 7:36 AM on February 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


The audience mentioned in the quote at the bottom, the ones outraged at oppression ? You introduced a 'they', I was specific about the audiences the director previously referred to.

Filming in a public restroom is wrong. Yet having sexual hookups in a public restroom is equally, if not more, wrong.
posted by k5.user at 7:42 AM on February 9, 2012


But would the audience be cheering instead if some wacky conservative with a wide-stance and anti-gay views was caught on film and dragged to jail ?

I think people enjoy when homophobic conservatives are embroiled in gay scandal not because it's good to catch queers, but because it's good to catch hypocrites.
posted by entropone at 7:42 AM on February 9, 2012 [22 favorites]


The audience mentioned in the quote at the bottom, the ones outraged at oppression ? You introduced a 'they', I was specific about the audiences the director previously referred to.

Okay. I suppose I'm just curious why they would cheer someone going to jail for breaking sodomy laws. That seems like something conservatives would do, not the audience mentioned in the post.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:45 AM on February 9, 2012


Or, what entropone said.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:45 AM on February 9, 2012


Saw like 5 seconds of one of the links. It seems like an invasion of privacy to look at it. But still - a really interesting post. Thanks
posted by mumimor at 7:46 AM on February 9, 2012


Yet having sexual hookups in a public restroom is equally, if not more, wrong.
Wrong, or obscene? This dance has been going on for a very long time.
posted by PapaLobo at 7:49 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Isn't that a one-way mirror? A two-way mirror seems like it would defeat the purpose.
posted by Evilspork at 7:50 AM on February 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


It seems like an invasion of privacy to look at it.

Yeah, I can't click through to any of the links at the moment but presumably some of these people are still alive. Doesn't Jones need their consent?
posted by ninebelow at 7:52 AM on February 9, 2012


Filming in a public restroom is wrong. Yet having sexual hookups in a public restroom is equally, if not more, wrong.

I'm pretty sure you have that backwards. Maybe one person stumbles in on the hookup, sees something they certainly shouldn't have to see. Filming in a restroom gives you the power to shame someone to everyone, forever. It seems rather disproportionate.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:54 AM on February 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


Filming in a public restroom is wrong. Yet having sexual hookups in a public restroom is equally, if not more, wrong.

This was in small-town America, seven years before Stonewall.

These men couldn't pursue the relationships they desired in the open because they were a) illegal and b) socially unaccepted. The tearooms were one of few outlets they had to express their sexuality, and the police filmed them without their knowledge or consent and released the footage as a training film.

I'd say one of the actions here has a pretty large set of extenuating circumstances, and the other qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment.
posted by spitefulcrow at 7:58 AM on February 9, 2012 [14 favorites]


Yet having sexual hookups in a public restroom is equally, if not more, wrong.

And yet it feels so right.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:00 AM on February 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


I fail to see the ancient logic of arresting a bunch of men who are having consensual sex, and locking them in jail, alone, with....a bunch of men.

Is the next step only hilariously obvious to modern folk? If they wanted to stop consensual adult men from having sex with other men perhaps not locking them up together would have been a start.

Proof that homophobes have never been very bright.
posted by taff at 8:00 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


This dance has been going on for a very long time.

Apparently so. Who was that Senator who got caught in the bathroom recently? Not even a "two-way" mirror involved in that one.

Yet having sexual hookups in a public restroom is equally, if not more, wrong.

This was 1962 in a small town in Ohio. I don't imagine there were too many options available for gay men to meet other gay men. The "more wrong" is the society that forced these men into the sordid shadows. And then arrested them.

on preview what spitefulcrow said
posted by three blind mice at 8:05 AM on February 9, 2012


Woah, that is graphic, but more because of the intimacy (if that is the right word for anonymous sexual encounters) than because of the sex. I presume that there are people who will see this and recognize grandpa, which would be weird.
posted by Forktine at 8:08 AM on February 9, 2012


I've thought for years that someone should open a huge gay outdoor theme park, with forested paths, atriums, gazebos, alcoves, benches, washrooms, secret little glens, whatever floats your secretive iliicit boat. Lots of little care stations with condoms, napkins and lube, a few security guards wandering around to make sure everything stays consensual. Huge chainlink fence with blind webbing. No cameras allowed, leave your iPhones in lockup at the entrance. Charge twenty bucks to get in and stay all day if you want.

I've accidentally come across daytime circle jerks when I cycle off the paved path (and felt terribly guilty ruining their fun), and been propositioned while resting during a hot summer night ride. Heterosexual activity in public parks occurs as well, and is equally problematic for accidental witnesses, but isn't nearly as prevalent because it's not anonymous - they were a couple before they entered.
posted by CynicalKnight at 8:15 AM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


If they wanted to stop consensual adult men from having sex with other men perhaps not locking them up together would have been a start.

I can't speak from experience, but I doubt that prison is quite the fun gay sex-romp you're imagining.
posted by General Tonic at 8:16 AM on February 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


CynicalKnight, Holland and to a lesser extent Germany have legally required signs and condom stations marking off " sex areas" indoors, at least.
posted by The Whelk at 8:16 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not going to watch this at work -- but I remember seeing a police training film about 'perversion' some years back that might have used the same footage. Mansfield sounds familiar. I'm certain it would have been before 2007, so I don't think it's the same film.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 8:19 AM on February 9, 2012


Ah, actually just found reference to it on IMDB: "Camera Surveillance - 1964".
posted by sevenyearlurk at 8:20 AM on February 9, 2012


The film surveillance was initiated by the arrest of Jerral Ray Howell, an 18-year-old who'd molested and murdered two young girls (ages 7 and 9). Their bodies were found near Mansfield Park and Howell, after confessing, told police "This ain't nothin', you should see what goes on in the men's room". The film The Child Molester was based on the Howell case, and shows the actual bodies of the two victims in a scene at the end.
posted by Oriole Adams at 8:20 AM on February 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


ThreeBlndMice, you're referring to FORMER Senator Larry Craig, I believe...

From a gay man, public sex has always been an issue in the homosexual (and heterosexual) community. I've had encounters with both women and men in public areas, simply because of either timing or lack of space (As I got older, it REALLY got to be too much work, and the overall thrill wore off...)

Something also crosses my mind along the lines of sevenyearlurk's comment-a public service video from the '50s, shown in high schools to boys, regarding "Dangerous Men." I know I saw it on my Roku on the Pub-something-something channel...now I'm gonna have to look for it.
posted by BeastMan78 at 8:23 AM on February 9, 2012


I found a link to "The Child Molester" while I was searching, actually.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 8:23 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Facinating document. Like finding a fossil. The identity and mindset of these men no longer exists. This is an extinct form of sexuality. Our contemporary discourse on homosexuality was nonexistent. Were these guys straight? Gay? Categories were differed back then. You can perform these same acts today, but never in this same context.
posted by shushufindi at 8:24 AM on February 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ah, here it is.....Boys Beware
(It's been chopped up for time, but I'm sure you can find the full version somewhere on YouTube...)

Note how Homosexuality is referred to as a "sickness of the mind."
posted by BeastMan78 at 8:32 AM on February 9, 2012


Clicking through to that sodomy link is a history of the ways in which Ohio (like many other places in the United States) criminalized and pathologized homosexuality.

Lest anybody think that this is about anything other than persecuting queer folk.
posted by entropone at 8:33 AM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also notice in " Boys Beware" how homosexuals cruise basketball courts in full tuxedo jackets and lure young boys in with promises of fishing and ribald tales.
posted by The Whelk at 8:38 AM on February 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's hard to believe this has been posted on YouTube. Holy shit.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:58 AM on February 9, 2012


Doesn't releasing (on YouTube of all places) just continue the gross invasion of privacy originally perpetrated by the cops? How is this o.k.? It's not like this is so long ago that no one in the film would still be alive.
posted by yoink at 9:04 AM on February 9, 2012


re: two-way mirror. I've heard the same thing be referred to as both a one-way and two-way mirror, and wikipedia has my back on this one:

"A one-way mirror, also known as a two-way mirror, one-way glass, or two-way glass is a mirror which is partially reflective and partially transparent."

Whatever the case, James chose to call it a two-way mirror in his official description of the film (see the "about" section), so that's the road I trotted down as well.
posted by item at 9:14 AM on February 9, 2012


Is there some reason in this day and age (ie, now) why men feel compelled to go into the bushes to have sex? There's actually a section of woods in our large and beautiful civic park that is famous for cruising, so much so that the city actually put up flexible fencing to keep people out (it was all in the name of reclaiming the woodland, apparently).

Still, these days, when there are so many other options for meeting people to have sex, why choose a public park?
posted by KokuRyu at 9:17 AM on February 9, 2012


Wow, it starts off with the same film stock as those educational films we watched in elementary school. I expected to hear that 'skipping to school' background music and announcer start talking about Billy and Susie.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:23 AM on February 9, 2012


Fantastic post, thank you. I had no idea this video existed. I love the idea the Mansfield Ohio police created an hour long porno film. Shame they didn't get the consent of the actors.

Tearoom sex still goes on. A lot. Although judging from what I read it's mostly moved to outdoor areas; public restrooms are much less common and more frequently designed to prevent sex. For all the hand wringing above about "it's in a public place!" rest assured the last thing the men visiting these places want is to be in public. Cruising areas are usually picked for being private and unused and offering easy concealment.

As for why men still cruise like this, it's simple. They're horny. And a lot of the men who cruise don't think of themselves as gay. Anonymous sex in a tearoom or park is very uncomplicated. Contrast, say, Craigslist or Grindr or Mandate, where there's also a huge raft of "straight" men looking for some quick NSA sex. It works, but they have to negotiate a more complicated social relationship and have to frequent an identified gay environment.
posted by Nelson at 9:27 AM on February 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yeah this kind of public cruising is where straight men go to have sex with each other.
posted by The Whelk at 9:33 AM on February 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


Not just straight men.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 9:46 AM on February 9, 2012


I hadn't heard about the Ohio raids, thank you for this. But I have an opinion that queer rights started in the Midwest before they started on the coasts, for a bunch of reasons, but mostly settling around the idea that the Boise scandals in the late 1950s gave main stream America it's first post war queer sex scandal, and how that scandal convinced men who have sex with men into a kind of identity formation.

That kind of transformation happens quite rarely, and I wonder what happened to these boys after they were caught.

Also, one of the things that the critic and SF writer Delaney notes in his memoirs of NYC in the 60s and 70s--is that this kind of anon. fucking is completely democratic, for places where races, and classes really did not mingle, this became a place where those lines pretty much completely collapsed--with the possible exception of the hustler role--but even then, it was reveresed--this was a place where working class hustlers had more power then the bankers they were fucking.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:55 AM on February 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Still, these days, when there are so many other options for meeting people to have sex, why choose a public park?
Because it's just too fucking hot at Burning Man.
posted by PapaLobo at 9:57 AM on February 9, 2012


In 1960, my great uncle Henry got nabbed in a Baltimore restroom in flagrante delicto.

The family crashed and burned, with my great aunt fleeing to New York in shame and my cousin Carson coming to live with my grandmother's family like a second son. In blue-collar Baltimore, that sort of thing was the end of the world, and it wasn't long before Henry stuck his head in an oven to wrap up the last details of a shame so deep people couldn't even bring themselves to talk about, and can't seem to separate from the real crimes against being human.

My grandmother did her best with Carson, but he was marked, too, all lit up in ruination from the inside like a jack-o-lantern. He left the city and drifted on the currents and breezes wafting in from the lesser distilleries of the world, eventually materializing here and there claiming to be a Vietnam veteran, despite having never served a day. When he died, cirrhotic and forgotten, no one had much good to say.

My aunt lived in the rarefied world of New York back when it meant something, or at least in one of its bohemian raptures, and worked as an artist, comingling with greats I will not name, for fear of giving in to the sin of name droppery, but one fine suitor, an official in a French museum, tried to win her favor with a pair of buttons stolen off one of Napoleon's garments. Those buttons rest in a box in the dresser drawer where my mother keeps her stockings, pomander balls, and several pair of long white gloves that she hasn't worn since the sixties. France will not get those back, alas—spoils of war and all.

My mother became an artist because of that aunt, and worked as a prolific commercial artist before the advent of the computer convinced everyone that they were also commercial artists, or graphic designers, as they call themselves now. The Kiwi shoe polish can was one of hers, at least until she retired from the field. I heard many stories about her aunt, and about her refinement and her joyous nature, and much of her work survives, though my favorites are a painting of a nude woman who looks exactly like Patricia Hearst and a rough painting of my cousin Carson from before.

His face is shaped by the kind of optimism you have when you're a boy, before things start to unravel. He looks a bit like I did at his age, down to the messy hair.

My great aunt died of lung cancer just before I was born. My grandmother traveled the world to disperse her ashes, but was beset by unexpected comedy.

"Joe-B," she said, describing the process of shaking out a hankerchief of ashes from the rail of a cruise ship. "I didn't know that the wind blows up the side of the ship, so I read my poem and leaned out to say 'goodbye,' and ended up with her in my hair and eyes!"

Like so many great tragedies, context makes for comedy, and I always laughed with her, imagining her beehive hairdo covered with ashes as she took off her catseye sunglasses to rub ground bone out of her eyes. In Bermuda, she was knocked down by a wave in mid-poem, and ended up swallowing some fraction of her sister.

I heard so many of the stories, but there were huge, unexplained gaps.

"Why did Aunt Anne get divorced?"

"These things just happen sometimes."

I only knew Henry from the recordings. Before the advent of tape, a certain breed of playful gadgeteer owned things like record cutters—suitcase-sized semi-professional equipment used to make recordings on expensive metal records that you could play on any record player. Henry was one of those gadgeteers, and a playful sort of guy in general, who took advantage of the fact that one of our family's names is Hoare to enjoy an easy pun.

Scritch...scritch...scritch...the record would start, and then—

"Well, here we are in Richmond, Viriginia," he said in a voice that sounded kind and generous. "Anne and Carson decorated for Christmas, and we're hoping to have a big time this year. Anne's making dinner, and we're just waiting for the Hoares to arrive so the fun can begin!"

The Hoares. I've always loved that little record.

The others appear and speak. A little stack of those records survives, all that's left of Henry, and mostly what's left of Carson, other than bad debts and a string of bastard children spread across the country. Anne lives on in my mother's sophistication, but there's just that.

My school outed me in the eighties, an administrator calling my parents to gleefully say, "You won't believe what Joe's telling everyone now!"

"Oh no," my mother said. "He's not telling him he's from another planet again, is he?"

Of course, the real thing was worse than that.

My father sat me down and coached me.

"Don't ever tell your grandmother," he said, and finally told me the whole story about Henry.

I was shocked. For one thing, I've never understood the whole thing with public restrooms, other than that they're full of other men with their dicks out. People are shitting in bathrooms, for fuck's sake. Bathrooms stink. People come into bathrooms, and people can hear you in bathrooms, and—well, some things are beside the point.

Things worked out, stories got told, questions were asked, and time slid by. Things were fine. I never did tell my grandmother, though I always thought she must have wondered why I brought the same friend around so often. By the time the speck of cancer from a suspicious mole escaped the surgeon's knife and worked its way through her body and up into her brain, I didn't even think of it anymore. The light in her eyes went dull and she asked the same things, over and over and over and over and over, as her days wore away.

She called me "Charlie" much of the time, and occasionally "Carson," mixing me into the whirl and blend of brain cells being torn apart by disease, but we all just lived with it, and with her, as my mother tended to her in the last stretch. Before she ended up catatonic in the hospital, we were out one afternoon, and sat down for lunch at a local diner.

"Charlie, have you seen Heidi? I haven't seen that dog all day and I think she must have gotten out."

"No, I think Heidi is down in the basement." It was a lie, as Heidi was long-dead, but it was easier that way.

"Anne," she asked, getting my mother's attention, "Is Charlie telling me the truth?"

"Yes, mother."

"Mother? I'm not your mother!"

"Joe, I'm going to pay the check and use the restroom," my mother said. Her exhaustion was pretty clear, but she did her best. I sat in the booth, watching my grandmother looking around the room like she was trying to figure out exactly where she was, and suddenly, her hand shot out, strong as a hawk's talons, and gripped me by the wrist.

"Joe-B?" she asked, and the light was back in her eyes. It was the first time she'd said my name in a year. The grip was firm, almost enough to hurt, or at least hold me there with her. "Joe-B, can I ask you something?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Are you happy?"

"Of course I'm happy," I said. I was confused, but you got used to the counterchatter.

"No, really. Are you happy?"

All the air disappeared from the room. I just worked my mouth, but nothing came out.

"Are you happy?"

She knows. She has always known.

"Yes, Mama Gee. I'm very happy," I said. My throat hurt from the lump.

"Then I'm happy, too," she said, with a definitive tone, and gave me a squeeze.

The grip relented. The light in her eyes dulled and went out again. My mother returned and we got up to leave.

"Anne, have you seen Heidi?"

"No, mother."

Over the years, I've teased out more of the story, and explored more of what life was like in 1960, when all it took to bring an entire family down was one moment of surrendering to what you feel even though everyone and everything in a fucked-up, posturing, moralistic society tells you that you're a monster. My poor uncle, my poor aunt, my poor cousin, and my grandmother, trying to pull it all back together somehow when you couldn't even talk about it, or think about it, or really even just be sad that something bad happened to someone who loved and was loved—I get so angry, but that's why I feel like I need to talk about it, to make sure my nieces and nephews know how things used to be. We plunge forward into the future, but we have to remember, so it meant something, so it wasn't something we all lost for naught.

When the haters hate, when the bigoted politicos try to drag us back there, when the warped logic and the lies and the bullshit starts to fly, it's worth remembering an uncle I never knew, and the moment when he knelt on the floor of his apartment, opened the door of the oven, and leaned in.

"Well, here we are in Richmond, Viriginia. Anne and Carson decorated for Christmas, and we're hoping to have a big time this year. Anne's making dinner, and we're just waiting for the Hoares to arrive so the fun can begin! This is going to be the best Christmas ever, isn't it, Anne?"
posted by sonascope at 10:10 AM on February 9, 2012 [172 favorites]


@sonascope: That's a powerful story. Thank you.
posted by word_virus at 10:34 AM on February 9, 2012


Thanks sonascope, for an amazing post.
posted by mumimor at 10:49 AM on February 9, 2012


The linked Youtube video is sort of a sexy highlights reel, but the full video (400MB AVI) is much more fascinating. It includes a lot of non-sexual imagery, just the men washing their hands, adjusting their belts, looking in the mirror (and consequently, the camera). The camera was often operated live, btw, the lens moves around quite a bit.

What's striking is how there's no joy in the movie. I made a gallery of stills from the video: all images 100% safe for work, just face shots. Only one of the men in the video ever even smiles. Mostly it's basically neutral expressions, maybe a bit thoughtful. It made me sad. A stark contrast to yesterday's Kevin Goes to Kink Camp post which goes on and on about how all the kinky people are laughing and smiling all weekend.
posted by Nelson at 12:46 PM on February 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


For all the hand wringing above about "it's in a public place!" rest assured the last thing the men visiting these places want is to be in public.

Heh. In 1962 maybe. That's not *entirely* true now. In liberal gay cities, public gay sex is still very common and the public aspect of it has been somewhat fetishized. Indeed, there's a popular website called Squirt dedicated to arranging cottage/tearoom/abandoned warehouse/park hookups among comfortably out gay men who have easy access to more private venues.

Of course, another reason men still have sex in public in the age of Grindr is that it's convenient, and doesn't require a change of sheets.
posted by dontjumplarry at 1:20 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can anyone pinpoint the Foucault reference in the interview with the filmmaker? I'm assuming it's a vague gesture to History of Sexuality, though it could also be related to this interview, though the interview doesn't quite articulate the same thoughts.

Michel Foucault was writing in his book about friendship that it’s not the sex between men which is confusing or dangerous for the society, it’s the things which might come out of it: networks, friendships, groups for action...
posted by mek at 1:23 PM on February 9, 2012


What's striking is how there's no joy in the movie

Serious Sex Face is pretty much SOP for this scenario; doesn't mean dudes weren't having a blast.
posted by dontjumplarry at 1:33 PM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Heh. In 1962 maybe. That's not *entirely* true now. In liberal gay cities, public gay sex is still very common and the public aspect of it has been somewhat fetishized. Indeed, there's a popular website called Squirt dedicated to arranging cottage/tearoom/abandoned warehouse/park hookups among comfortably out gay men who have easy access to more private venues.

I bet you'd find more public sex in cities that aren't 'gay' or 'liberal.' As someone has said earlier in the thread, a lot of men having public sex identify as straight. If you have sex in a park by the highway in the middle of the day, you can tell yourself on the way there that you're just going for a walk.

A lot of guys having public sex are gay men on a total self-hate trip. They have eroticized the shame and danger associated with public sex. They are so accustomed to feeling shame and danger when they think of sex, that they find it hard to separate the act from these feelings.

Some men are having public sex because they have very poor impulse control. There is a high correlation between HIV infection and mental illnesses that affect impulse control. There is also a high correlation between HIV infection and public sex environments.

I'm sure there are also guys who are doing this 'as a fetish,' but I think these guys are in the minority. From what I gather, it's a grim scene. People in these places are desperate, and look the part. Remember that to have sex in public puts you at risk for all sorts of dangers you won't encounter if you just have sex at home. You can get arrested, or beaten up, to name a few.

If you read 'squirt.com' (does it still exist? I'm at work so I can't check), it's clear from the descriptions of these places that they are total BS written by guys who are super horny and isolated. The descriptions of places they give are totally off, as well. There are descriptions online of this scummy adult video store I drive by that describe it like it's some kind of Public Sex Studio 54.

I'm not saying there aren't happy, healthy men having happy, healthy public sex. They are out there too, but it really irks me to think that people associate sex in the bushes in a sketchy park on the outskirts of town with decadent, liberal gays. Very often, the forces that are driving people into these places are the same forces that really hurt gay men.
posted by shushufindi at 1:40 PM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I used to go for runs around the Back Bay Fens (in Boston). There are tall phragmites reeds at the river's edge, and people use them for all sorts of furtive acts, including gay sex. One time out for a run I passed by a guy who was standing just at the edges of the reeds, with crossed arms and looking fairly serious. He was posed in front of an opening broken through the reeds, rather like a bower bird.

After running past him the fifth or sixth time (it's a short circuit), I succumbed to that social need-to-acknowledge you feel when you keep running in to the same complete stranger again and again, and gave him a short, sharp nod of my head. He responded with a slow, negative shake of his.

I was probably fifty feet further down the trail before I figured out what he had meant and broke out laughing.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:17 PM on February 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


> Great post. BUT: "too busy sucking on a ding-dong"? Am I missing a reference here or what.
> posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:56 AM on February 9 [+] [!]

Oh no you didn't!
posted by ding-dong at 2:34 PM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not saying there aren't happy, healthy men having happy, healthy public sex.

Obviously, furtive, anonymous bathroom sex is a symptom of a homophobic surveillance society, especially in its prominence and aggressive policing in 20th century America. Of course there is also some baseline level of anonymous sex that I hope is occurring in any society. I agree that public sex is on the decline, and I see that as liberal trends making it less necessary as an outlet. But for many, it is still a necessary outlet. We also cannot confuse public sex now post-AIDS and post-Internet with public sex in the 60s and 70s, as they are two totally different beasts.

Speaking of the present, in Vancouver I can name a couple regular "public sex" venues which really have a mixed clientele... there are regular homosexuals who fetishize it, yes, but there are also lots of closeted bisexuals (aka 90% of bisexuals) or self-identified "straight" men who don't mind who they get a blowjob from, or explicitly get off on inverting power roles, eg. anonymously fucking / being fucked by older men. Of course, this all varies by venue. A dog walking trail in a suburban area has a lot of married men discretely getting off, while a washroom on campus has a diverse bunch. Married men are a huge, huge element in the suburbs. Public sex is a viable mechanism where they can hook up with some high school twink and engage in some father-son man-boy love with virtually no chance of being caught. (This goes both ways... if you're a horny teenager with no release and you hear you can go to this bathroom over there and get off, well, there's only so much willpower available to you. And maybe you find out you're really into older men and go there on a regular basis.) There are also safe, anonymous bathhouses in those "liberal gay cities," so if you're still engaging in public sex, it's more likely that you're getting off on it specifically, either due to venue or the types of sexual partner you find there.

But the internet as hookup technology is a double-edged sword; sites like Squirt can hide as much as they reveal. While hookup sites certainly exist and are used by many, they also hide other aspects of the homosexual experience. For many actively "hooking up" on the internet is anathema, but the anonymous nature of public sex allows for some level of denial, certainly. The internet's false sense of total representation also has a false egalitarianism to it, while actually permitting a whole new level of being able to screen sexual partners which was is not available before. And there is still a huge bar hookup culture which views internet sex as pathetic / lower-class / desperate, and to be avoided. The bar is both more "genuine" as an interaction but also a more heavily policed social space where you will only have to interact with certain types of man, and won't have to worry about liars, drug addicts, thieves, etcetera, at least in theory.

For better or worse, the cross-class nature of the sexual encounters in this movie are definitely less available these days. The kind of shameless orgies that Delany describes in The Motion of Light in Water simply are no longer available. Anonymous cross-class hookups happen, sure, but it is easier to avoid them, if I so choose; you can go on squirt and search for only white men from 25-35 that are over 6 feet tall and within 10 miles, and then I can pick the one with the biggest dick. If you're on Grindr you know you won't meet any street kids. Etc.
posted by mek at 3:00 PM on February 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


Prison may not be a fun gay sex romp, but if you filled it with men who were arrested for having sex with men, it's a start. And I'm quite sure that not all the sex in bog standard prison is brutal rape.

I hope the poor bastards that went to prison at least found a degree of companionship and excellent fucking, in gay abandon, in prison.

What a truly terrible time and place to have lived in.
posted by taff at 4:56 PM on February 9, 2012


>Probably not. Why would they want them to go to jail for engaging in a private sexual act?

In a PUBLIC restroom ?


I think there's a confusion of two meanings of the word "public" here; public can mean "in view of everyone" and it can mean "open to the public." If somone uses the toilet in a public restroom, it would be ridiculous to say they were shitting in public. Likewise, when guys have sex in a public restroom, they are generally not having sex in public.
posted by layceepee at 5:44 PM on February 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


My dad has lived in Mansfield his whole life, and he knows more people than God. The too-nosy side of me really wants to send him this clip to see if he recognizes anyone. (I'd actually be surprised if he didn't.) But I guess I wouldn't really feel right about invading these people's privacy further by sending it around to someone who might know them.

And, I'm pretty sure my dad would kill me with his bare hands if I sent him a gay sex video anyway.

Also, thanks to Forktine, I spent the whole time watching the video half expecting to see one of my grandpas. Or more likely, one of my grandparents' friends from church.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:20 PM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've had anonymous sexual encounters in all kinds of places, from rest areas to university library bathrooms (you know, the ones up in the far corner of the least popular floor) to mall bathrooms to random hikes in the woods to parking lots between cars...

It's one of those things (or used to be) where, if you're tuned in to cruising behavior, you could just keep your radar on and pretty much find a hookup. I think the tuned skills of how to cruise and how to notice it are being lost, as I've noticed that it's mostly the men my age and older who know how to do it while the men younger than me have no clue at all.

The allure of anonymous sex of this sort is that it's just a random encounter, a body which is suddenly in the same place as you and interested in the same thing you're interested in. It's not a relationship, it's just this moment. Hard to describe, I guess, to anyone who hasn't participated in such a thing and found it interesting.

As for online hookup sites, it would be a lot more useful is 75-90% of the men that one contacts through such places weren't flakes who never show up or the kind of person who shows up but then walks away after 5 minutes either from cold feet or because you don't meet their ideal fantasy.

As far as cruising of any sort goes, whether tearoom or bar pickups or whatever, a wise man once told me, "You can't be there waiting for your ideal. You're looking for Mr. Right Now, and if you get the chance, you take it. If it wasn't what you wanted, at least you had some fun, and you can always come back and try fishing again."
posted by hippybear at 6:35 PM on February 9, 2012 [14 favorites]


sonascope, flagged as fantastic.

Dude, you can really write.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:50 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Powerful link. Reminded me of a poem Frank O'Hara wrote in 1954 (I think).
posted by en forme de poire at 12:32 AM on February 10, 2012


hippybear

thank you so much for the eloquent defense of cruising, i think that the big part of it for me, when i did it, was the accidental grace--you know the quiet ministrations in the dark, in the night, the generous kindness, the accidental sweetness that comes from two lovers.

thom gunn wrote a poem about the rambles in new york city, i cant find online--where someone had cleared out the snow, an act of service to make the sexuality easier to acheive. to help someone come for me is like eating with them or praying with them, it has a sweet and profound intimacy, and an intimacy that people find threatening, i like to remind ourselves that our history is like cleaaring the snow.

i know how easy it is to romanticise it, and the difficult of putting identity in sexuality--and i know (and thank you to sconoscope for pointing out again) the dangers of it--but the mitzvah of it is important.
posted by PinkMoose at 1:32 AM on February 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


...No cameras allowed, leave your iPhones in lockup at the entrance. Charge twenty bucks to get in and stay all day if you want.

I think in NYC we call this the men's locker room at the gym in Chelsea.
posted by Sara C. at 12:05 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


think in NYC we call this the men's locker room at the gym in Chelsea.

oh man a (quite straight) friend of mine has a great story about dozing off in the steam room of his gym in Chelsea and waking up to a circle jerk
posted by nathancaswell at 12:09 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: dozing off...and waking up to a circle jerk
posted by yoink at 12:15 PM on February 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


File under "It has gotten better."

I'm in my mid-40's, now, and I'm often stunned at the changes in societal view of queer folks during my adult life. But, my God, I can't imaging the stress of trying to be a queer woman in the early 1960's. Nevermind the added danger and pressure of being a queer man in this time of rigidly enforced masculinity. Would I have ended up as some kind of marginalized Beebo Brinker butch? A frustrated femme with long-squished dreams of freedom? Would I have lived to this age, or long since killed myself after years of being lost in depression, or maybe just ended up with a hell of a drinking problem?

It's gotten better. Not that there's not ways that things can get better still, but, yeah, it's gotten better.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:16 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


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