BY James Kirchick
October 08 2009 9:00 AM ET
Is George Michael right? Is anonymous sex in public parks and restrooms an integral part of gay culture? Is it what “gay men do”? Cruising for sex in public areas is a considerable and formative part of the gay male historical experience, but only in the sense that a substantial number of gay men of a certain era partook; it was certainly more pervasive in the 1950s than it is today. I can only make this assertion based on anecdotal evidence, but it’s reasonable to assume that successive generations of gay men have felt less of a need for public cruising, due both to the increasing acceptance of homosexuality in this country as well as the proliferation of legal methods to meet other men for sex and companionship. (None of this should be read as an endorsement of entrapment, in which police officers arrest men merely for showing interest in a sexual encounter, regardless of their intent to carry it on elsewhere. Throughout history, law enforcement has used the existence of public sex as a pretext for the widespread arrest of gay people or merely those perceived as gay.)
Some might argue that the availability of gay bars, nightclubs, and social organizations for seeking out sex is a luxury available to men only in metropolitan areas and that the highway rest stop or state park is the only option for the isolated and misbegotten homosexual in rural America. But as long as one has an Internet connection, it’s only a mouse click to enormously popular websites like Adam4Adam, Manhunt, and Gay.com. Crutchley tells me that his website is highly trafficked in sparsely populated areas of the country: “Thank God for rural America,” he says, touting both the monetary and kinship value of the site. “We help build a community where they have a hard time finding each other.” When he started Manhunt eight years ago, Crutchley and his colleagues had “bad assumptions” about how popular the site would be in places not exactly known for their vibrant gay scene. Yet he has been pleasantly surprised. “They love us. Maine, New Hampshire, they love us,” he says.
While gay organizations don’t celebrate public cruising, they don’t seem to discourage it either. Take, for instance, the case of television commentator Tucker Carlson, who, chatting about the Craig scandal on MSNBC, recounted a childhood incident at a public restroom wherein the man bestriding the urinal next to him made an overt sexual advance. In shock, Carlson ran outside, recruited a friend, and returned to the bathroom where the culprit was still located, presumably waiting for another object of his unwanted affections to walk through the door. Carlson, at this point laughing, told how he and his friend physically subdued the man until police arrived to apprehend him.