Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bonfire of the Fannies

No wonder the fortunes of the newspaper industry are so bleak as of late. We hardly expect to get any impactive news from anything on newsprint - newspapers lacking both the immediacy and depth of analysis that once served them well in the past. (Yes kids, once upon a time there was more than one edition of a newspaper on any given day.) One of the few remaining functions of a major metro newspaper is to serve as a barometer of the culture. Today's cultural air pressure reading comes from a recent article in the Chicago Tribune. In the article, we are informed of the habit of gay men coming to a local bird sanctuary in order to have anonymous sex.

Birders and cruisers have found value in the same patches of land because not only do they attract scores of birds, but they also allow for partial privacy and chance encounters in a public setting.

In cruiser communities, birding areas are known to be prime hook-up spots.
The article goes on to note that cruisers are easy to pick out, as they "wander the less populated trails with deliberate gaits and searching eyes."

The piece refers to several folks who defend cruising and decry police arrests of the men involved. Chicago alderman Tom Tunney (the city's first openly gay alderman) wonders if cracking down on cruisers is "really a priority when we've got violent crime on the street?" The story also cites Yasmin Nair, a Chicago-area academic and freelance writer for the Windy City Times (WCT), suggesting that cruising allows people "to negotiate sexuality outside of the domestic and restrictive ideas of sex."

In a separate WCT article, Nair goes on to expound on the virtues of cruising.
We'd like to believe that sex only occurs in "committed" relationships. The truth is that sex is infinitely varied in its pleasures and can be quick, silent, and anonymous. Most of us have fantasized about or engaged in fleeting encounters. Cruising allows straights and queers to commingle and part, without placing constraints upon each other. Against the cold tiles of a public restroom or in the leafy enclave of a bush, who cares about sexual identity?
And what of children who may catch a couple el flagrante? While she assures us that such an event is unlikely, Nair advises that if a child does see something, we should "simply explain the circumstances," as "[c]hildren are resilient and able to make sense of complicated scenarios."

We must be clear about three things regarding all of this. First, while it is sexual in nature, this behavior has at least as much to do with the cultural mores of the men involved.
(If it were primarily about safe and responsible sex, these fellows would just get a room out of the sight of the rest of us.) These men want to be seen, or at least appreciate the risk of being caught in the act. (In her WCT piece, Nair herself asks, "what would sex look like without voyeurism?") To be sure, this is about subverting and flaunting societal norms, as these individuals seem possessed of an oppositional mindset; if anonymous public sex became part of any sort of norm, men such as these would surely have none of it. They behave in such a manner for the express purpose of offending the sensibilities of others (even as they grouse about having their own sensibilities offended.)

Secondly, if this behavior involved homosexuals who were offended by heterosexuals having anonymous sex in, let's say, a gay bathhouse, the very people who bay about "restrictive normative ideas" would become neopuritanical in their zeal to frustrate the hets who might have the temerity to impose that behavior into "their" space. The irony is that many of those who defend the right of men to cruise in public would be sorely vexed if private citizens placed Stars of David (or crucifixes or other religious symbols) in these same public spaces, citing their right not to have the religious beliefs of others imposed on them.

Third and most important, the weakest argument in support of cruising is that it is supposedly a "victimless crime," and that police should expend their precious time and resources on serious offenses. Doubtless, if a lone police office sees a a murder and a random hookup about to take place simultaneously, everyone would expect the cop to prevent the more serious crime. But to then suggest that such hookups should not be prosecuted at all is both damaging to the fabric of American jurisprudence and insulting to logic.

The idea that certain crimes are too petty to punish and a few laws are too picayune to enforce
is a corrosive fiction, particularly in this case. But the underlying failure of logic is that it conflates criminality with morality (as in a system of values and principles of conduct.) Even if society collectively decided that cruising should not be punished as a crime, it would still be morally illegitimate for precisely the reason that it represents an undue imposition of the mores of a few on the majority without their advice or consent.

As is often the case when I publish posts of this nature, I will reiterate my favorable disposition towards civil unions for gays and lesbians, as well as my support of gays openly serving in the military. As discussed elsewhere, my hope and expectation is that as Americans provide gays and lesbians opportunities to "
to take their rightful places as fully-formed adults," that they will do exactly that.

1 comment:

Readwriteblue said...

Another thought provoking post.

I have enjoyed your prose so much that I have re-activated a dormant account of mine so I can more easily communicate with you.