part of the culture

Clayton Cramer is irritated by the loss of privacy in men's rooms, caused by the removal of doors to toilet stall doors. Apparently the door removal is being mandated by governments which want to prevent homosexual conduct.

...Ladies, you may not be aware of this, but in many public men's rooms, especially in roadside rest areas, there are no doors on the stalls. Women's restrooms don't have this indignity--and for a reason.

This is a sore subject to me today. I was driving back from Bend to Boise, and nature didn't just call--but screamed--on a lonely stretch of U.S. 20 between Bend and Burns. I pulled into a roadside rest area to use the men's room.

Having to do your business sitting down in a public restroom is stressful enough already, but without even the modicum of privacy of a door that closes makes the situation even more unpleasant. And seeing the general filth of the toilet made me just endure the scream of nature until I got to Ontario. (Yes, there's not much on that road.)

And why do men's public restrooms get this additional degradation--but not women's public restrooms? Because some gay men use public restroom stalls for casual, completely anonymous sexual assignations. Senator Larry "Wide Stance" Craig (R-ID) briefly brought this whole sordid behavior to the attention of the public, but because it didn't fit the popular culture's image of homosexuality as an enlightened alternative lifestyle, the popular media did their best to spin the story as "hypocritical conservative Republican" rather than asking why this is a depressingly common part of the culture of gay men.

Sex in restrooms happens. Whether it's "part of the culture of gay men" is open to debate. There are plenty of gay men who are as turned off by the idea of having sex in a public toilet as most straight men would be. Moreover, most gay men don't need to have sex in toilets. They'll generally pick up a partner in a bar and take him home. While there are gay men who are into the illicit exhibitionistic thrill of a restroom sex encounter, I suspect they are a fairly small minority, although I don't know if studies have been done which would bear that out. The thing is, there are straight men who have sex in quasi-public places like peep shows and adult bookstores, and I have seen obvious prostitutes climbing into truck cabs at rest stops (presumably to do something other than admire the guy's rig). While women don't often enter mens rooms, the fact is that heterosexual men do sometimes enjoy illicit sex wherever they can get it. In terms of numbers, I suspect that illicit heterosexual sex is nowhere near as common among straight guys as is illicit homosexual sex is among gay guys, even if the numbers were the same, I don't think it would be fair to call it a "common part of the culture of straight men," because there is no "culture" of straight men.

Now, while there is a very vocal group of activists who lay claim to "gay culture," that does not legitimize any claim by such activists that all people of a homosexual nature belong to it. Nor does it legitimize claims by the activists' opponents that a given homosexual person belongs to any such alleged culture.

But for the umpteenth time, let me admit my bias: I abhor identity politics, and think it's unreasonable to define people by their genital conduct, much less build a culture around it.

Cramer also suspects that it isn't the majority of gay men who have sex in restrooms:

...I suspect that a majority of gay men don't have sex in public toilets. But the ones that do aren't exactly rare, and because they can't exercise enough self-control to go somewhere else for sex, they have caused this degrading loss of privacy in public restrooms--and force the rest of us exercise enormous self-control all the way from the Burns, Oregon, to Ontario, Oregon.
Have they caused the loss of privacy? Or has the government simply decided to take away privacy along the usual "prevention" lines? This reminds me of cell phones. Because some people use them in an inappropriate manner, there are laws and rules interefering with the rights of people who don't. Or pit bulls; because some people don't control theirs, the government wants to take away mine. I realize it's philosophical hair-splitting, but I think when the government resorts to preventive enforcement and treats the majority of people like children in a kindergarten (all of whom are punished for the misbehavior of one), it might be a mistake to focus on the miscreant as the "cause." Instead, I think the miscreant provides an opportunity, which the government uses to its advantage.

The next logical step, of course, would be to shut down all public restrooms. Because some people have sex in them. Does this make sense? If you're a government bureaucrat, yes. Maintenance costs go down, and revenues increase when police issue the inevitable citations for public urination. (Which can always be charged as "indecent exposure" in order to force a "deal.")

Cramer also looks at the intriguing question of what constitutes being "gay":

Over the years, I have been repeatedly told by gay activists that men who have sex with other men in public restrooms aren't necessarily gay--that they are overwhelmingly straight men. If that makes you brain start to catch fire and explode--let me explain that gay activists insist that a person's sexuality isn't defined by who they have sex with, or even who they want to have sex with--but with which sexual orientation they publicly identify themselves. So a man who is married to a woman, but cruises public restrooms for anonymous sex with another man--why, he's straight! Someone who makes an argument like that is obviously confused about more than just their sexual identity.
Well, I would never say that a man who is married to a woman who has sex with men in restrooms is straight. He would be at least bisexual, scientifically speaking. He has undeniably homosexual needs which cannot be met by his wife. The Andrew Sullivans would say that he is a closeted gay who should "come out," divorce his wife, and leave his family. Only then could he really find happiness. The rule I've never been able to understand is that people have to be either gay or straight. Perhaps that's because the gay identity politics movement has a hegemonic need to define and identify people, in order to lay claim to "a people." But people on the other side go along with it too.

Is there a gay counterpart to the "man who is married to a woman, but cruises public restrooms for anonymous sex with another man"? Actually, I have known bisexual men who would have preferred women who nonetheless have functioned as lovers to gay men. I once employed an openly gay man whose lover did prefer women and who found gratification in heterosexual pornography. It was a constant struggle for the gay guy to cope with this and he was constantly worried that his lover would leave him for a woman. This is not common, but it does happen, and the otherwise "straight" guys who do this are referred to as "trade." Some gay men are immensely turned on by the whole phenomenon, and while it isn't discussed much (and is fraught with obvious contradictions) it does exist. These men are clearly not "straight" though, and they would have to be called bisexual. The relationships tend not to work out very well, and the guys I've known who have been into that run through one "straight" lover after another, usually because the initial turn-on was occasioned by the partner being "straight" -- and obviously, the more it continues, the less "straight" he becomes. (Either that or the guy finds a woman.) So the built-in half life is very short.

The reason I raised this point about "trade" was not merely to posit a counterpart to Cramer's hypothetical, but because I have noticed over the years that these "straight" men willing to have sex with gays are precisely what many of the gay men who are into restroom sex are looking for. Whether they're straight or not, the fact is that restrooms by their nature enable these men to have a furtive type of contact that they would never otherwise allow themselves to have. These types won't dare go to a gay bars and look openly for sex because that would be like admitting they're gay, and they don't want to do that. So they sit there passively in the stalls, waiting and hoping for attention. Whether they're closeted gays, occasional dabblers in bisexuality, or some strange unidentified new sexual minority is an interesting topic for debate.

Cramer wonders why this sort of conduct is still going on:

Idaho Democratic bloggers like to claim that there's something unhealthy or weird about "obssessing" about homosexuality. I'm actually obssessing about the loss of privacy. If gay men want to signal to other gay men (excuse me, "straight men who like to have random, anonymous sex with other straight men") to go somewhere in private for their actions, we wouldn't have lost the bathroom stall doors!

In 1960, or 1970, or even 1980, when homosexuality was illegal in most states, or even socially octracized in the other states, I could somewhat see the argument for why this behavior was being done in this anonymous and degrading way. But today? Or, for that matter, any time in the last ten years?

Do what you want in private. But do it in private. I want the bathroom stall doors back.

Good point, and fascinating analysis.

I don't think talking about this constitutes "obsessing about homosexuality," because the subject received national attention with the Larry Craig case. Craig is still married and still denies being gay. As to what he is, far be it from me to say.

However, I don't think public restrooms have much appeal to your garden variety gay man who wants to pick up another garden variety gay man. While there's probably a small amount of that, I think much of the appeal exists among those we would call "in the closet" and among those into both sides of what has long been called "trade." The fact that homosexuality is legal and there are openly gay pickup places is completely lost on such people.

As to "privacy," in what I think is an ironic twist, many of those who seek sex in restrooms do so precisely because see the restrooms as offering privacy. By privacy, I mean privacy of the mind -- the sort that is not offered by gay bars, and which is lost when a man becomes openly identified as gay. Restrooms offer anonymity, and anonymity is seen as privacy.

Like it or not, there are men who have sex with men who do not want the "gay" label, because penalties attach.

Don't blame me; I don't make these "rules."

I can't even make sense out of them.

posted by Eric on 11.22.08 at 02:36 PM


It looks to me like we need a "Leave Us Alone" Party now more than ever.

M. Simon   ·  November 22, 2008 10:02 PM

As a straight (only slightly twisted) female, I avoid rest-stop bathrooms because of the ick factor.

If the women's rooms are that filthy, my prejudice leads me to believe the men's rooms are much worse.

It's always been my impression that one of the partners in any rest-stop sex was a hooker. Why would 'orientation' change that?

Donna B.   ·  November 23, 2008 12:10 PM

I remember way back in boot camp (over 40 years ago) there were guys who just couldn't go for the first week (or more) because of the lined up partitionless commodes. They got over it eventually because they had to, but the lack of any privacy during the most basic of bodily functions was less than pleasant for all of us. I sympathize with Mr. Cramer.

Charlie   ·  November 23, 2008 5:23 PM

So why not put the doors back on but make sure they don't extend all the way down to the floor? WaWa does this. That way a semblance of privacy is restored and everyone can see if two pairs of shoes are in the same stall which should discourage this kind of thing. Of course, I hate public bathrooms anyways because of cleanliness issues and only use them when I'm forced to. I do share Clymer's pain though: the last thing I want when I have to use them is someone looking to get randy. If folks get caught in the naughty act in these bathrooms, arrest them.

John   ·  November 23, 2008 7:47 PM

All the ruminating here reminded me of a tale of a New Yorker who picked up a hitchhiking cowboy in Wyoming. After they had a shag the cowboy told him "The difference between us is that we do this because we're horny, you guys do it because you're sick."

Michael Lonie   ·  November 24, 2008 1:31 AM

How small of a subculture is this? From the Advocate:

Results for the following question: Caught having sex in a London park, George Michael told a reporter, "This is my culture! I'm not doing anything illegal. The police don't even come up here any more. I'm a free man, I can do whatever I want. I'm not harming anyone." Do you agree with George?




Total Votes: 2792

Anonymous   ·  November 24, 2008 9:53 AM

What surprises me is not that 53% of 2792 anonymous online voters think it's OK for George Michael to have sex in the bushes, but that 41.9% do not.

From this data, there's no way to know how many of these 1500 or so people actually engage in sex outdoors. Supporting the right to do something does not mean doing it. Those who support legalized heroin or lowering the age of consent are not necessarily junkies or pedophiles.

While my post was not about outdoor sex, now that I think about it, what standard should apply? George Michael did it in the bushes (at least, he was seen coming out of the bushes). Would it be different if he had done it in a tent? And what about the context and size of the park? Is there a difference, say, between sex in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park and sex in Yosemite National Park? How about sex in the everglades?

When I was a teenager, the (straight) kids used to do it in the dunes at the Jersey shore and under the boardwalk. I never gave it much thought as to whether I approved, but now I'm wondering about the size of "their" subculture.

Eric Scheie   ·  November 24, 2008 12:38 PM

The difference between sex in Fairmount Park and sex in Yosemite National Park is bears. Everglades difference is crocodiles. Or is it alligators living there?

In East Texas, it's fire ants. It's not *my* culture I'm worried about!

Donna B.   ·  November 24, 2008 8:12 PM

don't do it in the kiddie play park.

don't do it on the street and scare the horses (or the horseless carriage drivers.)

don't let the government interfere with your doing it wherever you do it.

Has it occurred to the bureaucrats that just providing sealable booths so that people next to you aren't bothered is as good as removing the doors? Or perphaps putting in a couple of "rest cubicles" You know... for when you're extra tired. No of course not, because the idea that people are having sex without their imprimatur is just infuriating. "But... they're having sex on public property" seems to be the issue.

Eh. Of course, personally it would never occur to me to do it in bathrooms because as mentioned above -- ew. (After all, I developed a raging uti in highschool from refusing to go into the filthy bathroom.) I also wouldn't do it anywhere semi-public, but then most of the available places are cramped/too hot/too cold and I LIKE being comfortable. I find beds are wonderful things. Particularly soft beds with an excess of pillows. And a door that locks. And music and strategic lighting and... uh... never mind. Got sidetracked there a moment :)

Seriously, I know several heterosexual couples -- close enough friends to talk to me -- who get off on doing it where they might be caught. Many of them are married couples.

I don't if this is a gay issue, or even a primarily gay issue or a human issue and gays just are more open about the sex thing and hetero, even married people lie a lot.

My sister who is a doctor and works emergency doesn't seem to see any difference in the number of "injuries due to bloody stupid and frankly icky sexual behavior" between gay and straight people.

Anyway "Government out of the restrooms" sounds fine to me. Of course, I'm a libertarian. Perhaps we need private, pay-per-use restrooms. And perhaps owners will have those "rest cubicules." For a price they might even provide other conveniences and keep stuff clean. Who knows?

Portia   ·  November 24, 2008 8:58 PM

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Susan   ·  November 24, 2008 10:15 PM

They removed all the stall doors in both mens restrooms at the Sears where I work about 5 years ago due mostly to vandelism and grafitti. By law, the women are required to have doors no matter how bad the vandelism problem is. I'm used to customers and co-workers watching me shit and wipe my ass, but I never feel comfortable watching a log drop out of the store managers ass into the bowl. He just creeps us out, as it seems he really enjoys guys watching him wipe his ass.

Brian   ·  December 5, 2008 3:29 AM

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