︎ SUCK MY COCK EVERYNIGHT HERE 8PM ︎
By Government definition according to the Graffiti Control Act 2008 No 100, a public place is meant to be used. It’s a place (whether or not covered by water), free of class, barriers and not limited to a group of persons. It would be fair to assume this equal access included freedom of use including sex, yet cruising in public remains enforced by external legal and internal cultural definitions of what queer sexuality looks like in public. Public queer desire is often conflated with depravity, disgust and defilement. I look at the maligned culture of cruising and the politics of the pissoir as embodiments of my own internalised fears surrounding perceived depravity.
Whilst beats are somewhat anachronistic reminders of an era of prejudice and discrimination, they’ve been a part of Australia’s social landscape since the late 19th Century. The activation of the public bathroom for queer utility is linked with the criminal status of ‘sodomy’ inherited through British anti-homosexuality laws including the Buggery Act of 1533, which up until 1890, considered sodomy (anal or oral) a capital crime punishable by death.
Homosexual acts were partially decriminalised in 1984 in NSW and to this day no specific law criminalises sexual intercourse or nudity in public. Individuals do however, remain liable for criminal convictions of ‘Offensive conduct’ and ‘Obscene exposure’ under the Summary Offenses Act of 1988 (Johnson, P 2008, p. 157). Laws complicate notions of what sex is seen as acceptable and what is depraved by falling under definitions of heterosexual ‘decency’.
As contemporary sex-on-premises venues take the role of beats, those who continue to participate in cruise culture commonly operate within the male-only bathroom and its immediate surrounds. Once chosen not for its publicness but rather for its privacy - it is often the law and its enforcement, that transforms what might otherwise be private encounter into publicly visible ones. Today, the beat remains a nuanced social site associated with inherently fixed codes of masculinity and ability. Unclean, unkempt, these spaces often lack disabled access, safe sharps disposal with limited opening hours frequented by plain-clothed police, continuing to place limits on who can safely access public spaces to cruise.
Contemplating these barriers, I try to reimagine any bathroom I visit as a potential pleshka/beat/pissoir/cottage, transforming them into “space[s] of simultaneous presence and absence, hidden and visible, impossible and possible” (Fiks, E 2014). Yet the depraved potential remains simultaneously confined to the limitations of what the four walls of a toilet cubicle can afford me and how it can be utilised.
Architectural barriers: stall partitions, stainless steel toilets, metal barricades, mesh gates, single entry doorways, breeze-block ventilation, sensor lights, CCTV, proximity to parks and playgrounds and daylight opening hours are all conscious barriers contributing to increased external publicity and internal privacy of the user. It makes me think what the ideal beat would look like.
Beyond architectural fittings, accessing these spaces has always come down to economics and politics. In the 1830s, NSW Governor Richard Bourke made it clear to surveyors that new towns “must not include public squares as [they] could promote rebellion”. Urban planning has long existed for the purposes of “exercising authority, as well as challenging [it], celebrating and mourning; and [for] casual recreational activity.” (Margo, A 2017). Sex is exercise Richard, let me fuck at Top Ryde Piazza.
Thankfully Centrelink can support my cruising and ability to shop at Top Ryde. My ability to drive between places at discretion was inherently linked to my socioeconomic status and shared access to a private vehicle. My physical proximity to these bathrooms in public parks, whilst reduced by the car, became dictated and limited by geographical, political and bureaucratic boundaries of my electorate, made ever more present in the wake of the stay-at-home orders in Sydney. In the neighbouring Local Government Areas of Parramatta, Campbelltown, Georges River, Canterbury-Bankstown, Fairfield, Liverpool, Blacktown and Cumberland, people cannot leave their council area. Living in the City of Ryde, under current COVID restrictions I can still travel within a 10km radius for exercise, yet I remain bounded by the M2 Motorway to my North, Lane Cove River to my East, Parramatta River to my South and A6 to my West. Aaron Betsky talks of cruising spaces as “one of escape into a material reality.
It finds the places in the city where such experiences are possible. This usually means parks, the places we reserve as a respite from urban reality within the city itself, or the cracks within the fabric itself” (Betsky, A 1997). During lockdown unfortunately the cis het public has, too rediscovered the park as this recreational oasis. Bummer.
Escape has always been a fantasy, like the fantasy of enacting new sexual encounters within each public toilet I visit. It also is a temporal notion to me. To escape only ever inferred a return; to home, to a relatively comfortable life, to Bennelong (a conservative liberal stronghold since 1949, voting 50.2% against the same-sex marriage in 2017 and a politically safe seat held by former PM and homophobe John Howard.) After any sexual encounter, waiting for me at home was an intergenerational family where sexual exploration was confined to an Internet connection, private browser and an efficient use of hashtags across Tumblr and Twitter.
Whilst cruising affords queer visibility, presence and identity in public through the practice of shared rituals, homo-normativity takes over within the beat as there remains a need to negotiate the “association of homosexuality with shame and deviancy, undergirded by a powerful hetero-/homosexual binary” (Qian, J 2104).
The fact remains that gay male sex or sex by men who have sex with men (MSM) is often framed as abnormal yet operates contextually situated within constructs of mainstream heteronormativity. In the process of exoticizing and eroticising public spaces as radical sites of action, how radical can this be when ‘abnormality’ in the sense that an action does not follow the intended use of a space, remains performed and participates within the spectacle of hetero abnormality and depravity.
Foucault (1984) wrote on heterotopias of ritual and purification in relation to sites of othering or difference. Worlds within worlds, mirroring yet upsetting what is outside, these spaces are both isolated and penetrable yet not freely accessible like a public place. Where entry is compulsory or requiring special rituals or gestures, the heterotopia is where things are different. The heterotopia was where a collectives gathered, whose members have few or no intelligible connections to one another.
The anonymity afforded by these places allows new meanings and interactions between clientele, yet conversely the public bathroom exists within a site of bureaucratic, architectural similarity and structural sameness. Whilst access is free to an extent, and visitors and gestures are familiar. Are beats an embodiment of the homotopia? (Cole, R 2018) As sites of sameness, same actions, same bodies, same homos.
By transforming sites of casual heterosexual recreation into sites of rebellious homosexual procreation, questions linger whether homo/gay/queer/faggy desires must continue to sublimate and situate itself within the colon(ial) sites of the majority.
Across these disparate feelings I remain a flâneur - sauntering, wandering, wondering... Detached yet attuned towards my surroundings as a voyeur, my passion and profession are, as Charles Baudelaire notes, “to become one flesh with the crowd”. I want to become flesh, absolved into an amorphous body. Under my facemask I am made anonymous, yet I remain visible, walking alongside one’s peers entirely removed, distant in another world, listening to people fuck in the stall beside me.
I still want to fuck in the third place. Intimately, privately, passionately, cognizant yet incognito.
Let the hot breath of intimacy soak and ooze under fibreglass panels and concrete breeze blocks for the fellow flâneur to enjoy. Let the neighbouring cottager feel the warmth of a body pressed against their cheeks as they wait silently on the cold metal seat, scrolling Grindr for their next acquaintance.
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