Gay Sex Out of Doors is Neither Shameful Nor Disrespectful

When George Michael got himself arrested yet again for cottaging, this time in possession of cannabis and crack cocaine, I figured the media would for the most part just be as exasperated as I was to hear this broken record coming around again, and for the most part leave him and the subject alone. And oddly the tabloids have mostly let him be – it’s barely news, and is mostly just tiresome. It was instead one broadsheet which decided George was representative of all gay men, and I’d like to break down Deborah Orr’s ‘Independent’ op-ed piece to demonstrate just how wrong-minded her opinions are

Maybe it is only the drugs that Michael is apologising for. But maybe he, and some other gay men, ought to start thinking again about the way in which they conduct their sexual lives also. Until recently, there were good reasons why men met in the dark, in sheltered public spaces, in secret, to have illegal encounters, and many people felt sympathy with what was rightly seen as a desperate plight.

Why? Why should some gay men be told how to conduct their sex lives? I’m not supporting or attacking cottaging, but I’m curious why Ms Orr thinks gay men having sex outdoors or in public spaces was ever a result of social disapproval of gay relationships. Does she understand there is a full spectrum of sexual behaviour common to both sexual orientations, and that straight people also have anonymous sex outdoors and in toilet cubicles, and that that hasn’t been a result of social disapproval of straight relationships? For that matter what is the problem with anyone having sexual relations in the dark or in secluded public places? If I remember rightly George was arrested in this cottage in the middle of the night – whose morals or safety could he possibly have offended (or indeed had he offended)?

Now, after years of fighting for gay equality, men and women can marry others of their own gender and live happily ever after. They can pay, if they wish to, to go to clubs or spas where they know that not very discreet sex is on the agenda. They can advertise in the papers, in magazines, or on the internet. They are free to indulge in what Father Ted Crilly once called “the rough and tumble of homosexual life”. But there appears to be no decline in clandestine activity.

Ms Orr needs to realise that sex and marriage are not an exclusive arrangement for either sexual orientation, nor should they be. There appears to be no decline in ‘clandestine activity’ eh? By what measure, and causing what damage? If two (or more) gay men were having sexual relations in a shopping centre cubicle in the middle of the day I can see how this would offend – it’s illegal, and at the very least inconvenient and inconsiderate. That’s not what George did (on either occasion) however.

And what is so wrong about having sex out of doors for that matter? Is she just not aware that straight people do it as much as gay people, and that for example the ‘gay area’ of Hampstead Heath became that historically for the sake of safety (through its seclusion) and discretion rather than selfishness?

In Stoke Newington cemetery, earlier this summer, a dance company, Nonsuch, gave a free performance at the foot of a little ruined castle. Families had gathered in the sunshine to listen to the singing and join in the dancing. The festivities flushed out another group, and a gang of sweaty, mostly leather-clad, young men stumbled out from the undergrowth to see what was going on. Two of them came over and took some pictures on their mobiles, talking loudly, so that they could be heard above the live opera.

Why should one example of rudeness taint ‘some’ (ie. all) gay men? This isn’t actually what most of us get up to, but even so why think ill of people who behave discreetly and lead happy lives, because of the actions of an even tinier minority? I just don’t get it.

“Look at this!” one exclaimed, in a thick foreign accent. “Only in Britain!”

I’m afraid we all felt somewhat chagrined to be considered eccentric objects of bemused pity by people who spent their Saturday afternoons monopolising graveyards so that they could have sex in them. Green space is a precious commodity in London, and it’s annoying that there are so many places where one can’t go. When I moaned about this to a friend, she snorted. She’d found herself rinsing human excrement out of her dog’s beard, after she’d been foolish enough to walk him near the spot on Clapham Common that is the unofficial dogging zone for gay humans.

Now we’re getting into excess and hysteria. So many places one can’t go eh? Where exactly? And when? Missed out on a deckchair in St James’ Park? Couldn’t walk the dog in Hampstead Heath? What about Russell Square, which got rid of its cruising ground?

I also can’t believe that she’s accusing a gay man who may have been cruising on Clapham Common of taking a shit (not your standard behaviour when out looking for sex with other men) on the grass. How does she know it was human? How does she know it was done by a gay man who was out cruising? How does she even know the story is true? I really don’t understand. This is homophobic dross, plain and simple, by someone who takes sex very seriously indeed. Fortunately not everyone does. I’ll be the first to stand up and condemn gay men who frequent cruising grounds and who just discard used condoms on the ground, but that’s a case of the rudeness of a few selfish individuals, and doesn’t define a whole community.

One does begin to wonder why gay men are quite so keen to retain their special status, as people who have a weird dispensation to have sex al fresco in places requisitioned as suitable for the purpose. If heterosexuals began carving up common land in every town so that they could shag each other with no strings attached, no one would consider it a great idea.

See what I meant earlier? The argument has moved from ‘some’ gay men to an implied ‘all’, and attributed a particular arrogance to all of us which hasn’t even been articulated. Having sex outdoors requires a ‘weird dispensation’ eh? Has Ms Orr perhaps considered that, I repeat, a minority of gay men continue to attend historical cruising grounds to be discreet, and to provide safety in numbers for an activity which both sexual orientations engage in, yet only one has historically been beaten up for? Straight people don’t create their own ‘dogging’ grounds because they don’t need to – they’re not going to get beaten up for it wherever they go for a shag, and in terms of sheer numbers there are far more of them doing it than us anyway. So why the article?

I’m all for equality, but perplexed as to why there’s so little sign that it might cut both ways. Maybe old habits die hard. But maybe, some members of the gay community have obsessed about their own rights for so long now that they’ve forgotten that anyone else’s might be deserving of respect as well.

‘I’m all for equality…but…’ says it all really. She’s created a new, imaginary right for herself, not to have to encounter the subject of gay men having sex in public. What is this right? Is she aware that the 2003 Sexual Offences Act allows outdoor sex as long as it’s discreet? Maybe it doesn’t matter to her, because she’s conflating cruising and cottaging (which is now formally illegal), in her blinkered belief that everyone should conduct their sex lives as conventionally and stereotypically as each other. Gay people however are for the most part far more able than our straight counterparts to discuss our sex lives openly, and make sense of them in a far more flexible and honest way. Deborah Orr could do with learning about and from our example.

3 responses to “Gay Sex Out of Doors is Neither Shameful Nor Disrespectful

  1. I’m not homophobic, but gay people are dirty and should do it in their bedrooms with the curtains closed and soundproofing, mmmkay?

  2. I am a gay man who does not go cottaging. None of my gay friends do, either. We all wish that those who do, would grow up.

  3. As I said, if you’re talking about a busy, public area then I completely agree. But what if we’re talking about a location and time where you’re pretty unlikely to get anyone intruding? Many’s the time I’ve been in a gay bar and needed to use a cubicle when nature called, and found none free – that’s just selfish behaviour. But George Michael’s latest incident?

    It’s not something which has ever appealed to me, but it’s not as if it isn’t something which straight people don’t do in similar numbers. So aren’t we just talking about selfish people v considerate people, all of whom may be getting up to sexual practices which don’t interest us?

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