Friday, August 31, 2007

"Tearoom trade"

Off the Larry Craig scandal (it just keeps going! and going! and), an interesting short piece on the etiology of bathroom cruising at the L.A. Times.

On June 28, 1969, when New York's far-from-fashionable Stonewall Inn was raided, the patrons responded by fighting the cops. Although gays and lesbians had resisted before (often right here in Los Angeles), this Manhattan uprising served to jump-start the modern phase of the gay rights movement.

That movement, with its defiant insistence on being free to be as gay as all-get-out, quickly left the likes of Walter Jenkins and, if the cops were right, Larry Craig in the dust. They're part of a subculture within a subculture that was memorably identified by the daring sociologist Laud Humphreys in a landmark sociological study titled "Tearoom Trade."

Taking his cue from Kinsey, Humphreys was fascinated with married-with-children men who didn't self-identify as gay or bisexual, yet still sought clandestine sex with other men on the side. Humphreys, when he began his research, was one of these I'm-not-gay(s) himself, though he eventually came out.

Published in 1970, "Tearoom Trade" is full of useful information about foot tapping, shoe touching, hand signaling and all the other rituals those so inclined use to make contact with one another in such places. Clearly no media outlet should be without a copy -- especially, whose editors revealed their cluelessness on the subject this week in a "real time conversation" rife with unintentional hilarity: "I can't believe it's a crime to tap your foot." "Can someone explain the mechanics of how two people are supposed to commit a sex act in a stall where legs are visible from the knee down?"

As for the less blinkered among us, in the age of Ellen DeGeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, "Brokeback Mountain" and the smooching gay teens on "As the World Turns," bathroom cruisers seem almost antique. Today's gays want to get married, and an airport men's room is no place to propose.

Moreover, if what you're "proposing" falls well short of marriage, there's always the Internet. Larry Craig, meet Craigslist. In short, never has the admonition "Get a room!" seemed more apropos. It's up to the I'm-not-gay(s) to discover the real freedoms fought for and won by the people they so fiercely claim they're not.

h/t Todd and in Charge, via a comment at fastlad.


Well, it's a -bit- apples and oranges there; not everyone does want to get married, and while sure, "there's always the Internet," Craigslist isn't necessarily any safer or even more "private" than the good ol'fashioned backroom. ("You: blue shirt, in the phone booth at the corner, sucking my cock. Fifteen minutes.") It is a bit more straightforward, to be sure; but see the trouble with being a Public Figure is that it's -dangerous- to be too straightforward. You never know who'll track you down from that personal ad; and as for gay marriage, why, Craig is happily--happily, I say--married to his wife; he's hardly for gay marriage. In fact, he's strongly agin' it:

Strongly Opposes topic 3:
Same-sex domestic partnership benefits

YES on prohibiting same-sex marriage
NO on prohibiting job discrimination by sexual orientation
NO on expanding hate crimes to include sexual orientation
NO on adding sexual orientation to definition of hate crimes:
YES on constitutional ban of same-sex marriage

Good thing the guy in the next stall didn't decide to beat the crap out of him; or, well, hey, I'm sure if he -had- been gay-bashed as well as humilated, had Craig, it would've all been okay: either the guy would've put down the broken beer bottle or baseball bat and backed off, saying, "why, I recognize you! YOU'RE not gay! You're a straight upstanding pillar of the community! 'Scuse me, my apologies, good day to you, sir;" or else Craig would've suffered his lumps and accepted whatever punishment the State cared to dole out to the other gentleman who was just, well, what was it, defending himself from the creepy pervert.

You know, Mera Terrha Pakistan brought up the question of internalized homophobia recently--specifically, whether it was still relevant for those of us in the U.S. (among others). I'd say this is a textbook example of--well, don't take my word for it:


So we're left with a gay man who was picked up for soliciting public sex. The whole thing is sad - from the fact that he has spent a lifetime with his wife trying to maintain a public image of heterosexuality, including voting for anti-gay legislation, to the internalized homophobia that fueled his guilt and guilty plea instead of trying to fight the system, to the fact that he has a criminal record and might just lose his family, a family who I'm sure he loves, because of our fucked up culture that imagines swarms of men having sex in public, no, forcing men, not just men but children as well, to have sex in public so much so that the police is instructed to go into those public spaces, encourage that type of behavior, and then divine someone's motivations from a few gestures. If I were a bigger person, I might stop making fun of him.

commenters at PrideDepot, focusing on the peculiar institution that is Log Cabin Republicans (openly gay members of the more conservative of the two main U.S. political parties, i.e. Craig's party):

by: Alan

"...but what is it then that makes someone work for and support a group of people that revile them?"

Idaho what it is is their economic insulation protects them from the actual people who revile them. These are not generally the people they meet in the course of their daily lives. The people they meet are socially, economically and probably even religiously copies of themselves. People who they think of as friends, colleagues and equals [the ones who disappear when the knocking on doors begins]. Unless they're into rough trade they don't generally run into people who are not like them.

Another problem here is that we all paint with too broad a brush. There are millions of moderate Republicans who do not revile homosexuals. Many in the libertarian branch of the party fully support gay rights and even gay marriage.

Unfortunately the Republican Party hierarchy has decided to suck up to that portion of the party that does revile us - something that comes from a lack of education, which the LCRs have in spades, and because of the very existence of the LCRs - they don't ever have to be in the company of those who revile them at party meetings because they have separate meetings. Consequently it's a question of their considering the revilers as an other, not their kind of Republican - the kind that lives for tax cuts so they can keep their wealth and doesn't think bad things will happen to them because they "happen" to be gay.


by: Idaho Queer

Well said Alan. The thing LCR's say is that they are trying to change the system from within. Bullshit! Why not do that from within Democratic Party with issues that are typically conservative republican. That would be an easier swim upstream than gay acceptance from right wing neo-cons. This has always seemed rather masochistic to me.

In my humble opinion, what we are really talking about here is huge denial mixed in with self loathing and internalized homophobia acting out the need to accepted by those who revile us.

Perhaps our Republican Queers should start first by working out and resolving within themselves their issues of acceptance within their own families of origin. This is WAY more complex that just about fiscal responsibility, family values and gun laws.

However in the meantime while gay republicans are, or are not, figuring this out, they are helping the homophobes use us for political purposes and exposing HATE, making it harder, not better, for the rest of us. How could anyone support such an agenda and be in their right mind.

In many ways it is not much different than a Jew working for Hitler.

by: Alan

As I have said many times to the former head of the local Log Cabin Republicans - when they coming knocking at your door screaming "Hey Faggot" they won't care about your party affiliation. Gay Republican is not an oxymoron - just an ordinary moron, usually with enough money that they think they will be somehow protected.

the Liberty Post, with a slightly different take:

I'm sure as the press digests the Craig scandal, you'll hear a lot about "hypocrisy," "repressed homosexuality" and "internalized homophobia." Good enough, I suppose, for making a somewhat cheap political point and sweeping these undeniably creepy, tragic guys back into the Brokeback Mountain days from whence they apparently came. But I wonder if the GOP's burgeoning "bathroom problem" isn't reflective of something larger than just a bunch of conservative dudes who couldn't come out of the closet. There's something palpably sad to me about what happened to Allen and Craig too, something oddly touching about their misplaced faith in the fading world of secret, anonymous gay sex. That world--once found in bathrooms, parks, piers and adult bookstores; the furtive refuges of adventuresome queers, married men, the curious--has been swept away by so many police raids, privatization schemes, quality of life campaigns and internet dating services. But mostly, it's fallen away as gays have become increasingly integrated into the mainstream, and also, paradoxically, more marked than ever. "You're either gay or you're not" seems to be the equation.

Until someone like Craig, Allen, Mark Foley, Ted Haggard or Jim McGreevey shows up to ripple momentarily the waters of public discourse on sex. These guys have problems, no doubt. But we might also pause to wonder if there's some cultural knot that gay liberation--despite its original and best intentions--has left in place. At the very least the link between public power and domestic heterosexuality--with all the fetishistic displays of family life that entails--has yet to be completely severed. Just ask Rudy Guiliani, or Hillary Clinton! Moreover, that knot, perhaps best described as sexual propriety, is what fuels the moral campaigns against homosexuality that have become one of the Republican Party's identifying causes--loyally supported by the likes of Craig, Haggard, Foley, et. al. It's also what leads Bob Allen to the stunning and revealing calculation that it would be better to be seen in the public eye as an avowed racist than as someone who likes to have sex with men sometimes.


Which opens up an interesting set of questions: if one has indeed "internalized homophobia," what is it, exactly, that one has internalized?

x-posted at Big Queer Blog


R. Mildred said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

allison Take a piece of me