Normal Queers -- The Ultimate Oxymoron and a Mighty Slippery Slope

Well, there's been quite a flap going on about Senator Craig and his pee-pee dance.

I've read everything from complaints that his arrest on flimsy charges is, by its very nature, homophobic, through how comparing his T-room antics to a committed gay relationship is like comparing a child-molester to a well-adjusted, loving family, to the portrayal of his action as that of an alcoholic who "just can't help himself".

Something that I noted, however, was a pretty steady stream of "eeeeewwws" in many of the responses that I read and heard to the idea of anonymous sex in a public bathroom.

Now, granted, it's not my turn-on, and it's not something I would necessarily want to stumble in on if I was pressed for a piss in a busy airport, but, in truth, I don't have that big of an "eeewww" about it. Does that make me a pervert?


Oh, wait. I'm already a pervert. (Note to self: You are a dyke. This means that, to many, you are also a pervert.)

One of the things I didn't like about some of the coverage that I read/heard/observed was that there seemed to be a lot of "Don't make us look bad" crap going on.

This doesn't surprise me from the GOP -- the grand old party has, for the past 30 years or more, seemed to perfer that their members to march in lock-step (apparently this is one of their turn-ons).

I do get a bit uncomfortable, however, when I read some of the vociferous "Well, I would never have sex in a public restroom!" indignation from more liberal quarters, or hear from LGBT people that they wish those T-room Queers would stop making the rest of us Normal Queers "look bad".

Like I said, anonymous public sex in the airport john is not my gig. Clearly, however, it's someone's gig, since there seem to be no lack of places to find anonymous sex in public restrooms in this country, since I've personally known a fair number of dedicated tea-queens in my life, and since it seems to have developed a coded language and set of traditions all its own.

I commented about this over at Shakesville, but for those of you who missed it, I'll summarize: Amongst the tea-queens that I've discussed this with, they have all reported that part of the turn-on is the combination of anonymity and the possibility of getting caught. (I'm fascinated with what turns people on sexually in general, and I've actually had discussions with a lot of people who have different sexual proclivities, gay, straight, bi, and otherwise -- primarily because I'm also fascinated by what turns me on, or doesn't turn me on, and I want to understand this stuff.)

I tend to be fairly non-judgmental when it comes to sex between consenting adult humans. My attitude is "If it's safe and consensual for all parties involved, and everyone's enjoying themselves -- have a fabulous time."

I do have some questions as to whether public sex in an airport restroom can be wholly consensual, as there is the possibility of unwitting onlookers who have not consented to be part of the "action" -- who are simply there to answer the call of nature -- and since they may actually be a factor in the turn-on for the consenting participants (and therefore, part of the action in some way), this seems a bit dicey to me -- but I have the same questions when Jehovah's Witnesses leave a pamphlet in my mail-slot entitled "Jesus for the Jews" because I have a mezzuzah on my front door. So, that's a question about the nature of consent and participation for me, rather than a judgment on a particular sexual practice, AFAIC.

But I digress.

I get uncomfortable and begin to ask myself a lot of questions when I hear this distinction between "normal" queerness (which I think that some LGBT activists do actually capitalize on, especially in media presentations) and "perverted" queerness -- because I've seen it used too many times as a way to marginalize certain elements of the queer community. When I was working as an activist in Oregon during the fabulous "Lon Mabon" era, there came a time when some of the more "mainstream" activists wanted the drag queens, trannies, crew-cut bull-daggers, and Queer Nation folk to sit down and shut up, or at least "tone it down" until the elections were over.

The supposed logic for this was that "they" were making "us" "look bad". (Excessive quotation marks intentional.)

"They" were showing too much skin in the Gay Pride parade. "They" were cross-dressing and having sex with multiple partners and having their genitalia altered and doing things that "normal" queers (who just wanted to adopt a couple of children and have a successful career in real-estate and live happily ever after with the only person they had every had sex with) would never, ever, do.

At first, I kind of bought the argument. I fit in the more "normal" category of queerdom, at that time. I'd held jobs with the city, state, and federal government. I owned a house. I was raising kids. I was in a long-term relationship. I was a nice, white dyke who could pass as straight if I needed to. I was, in many ways, the gay-assimiliation movement's wet-dream.

The assimilationists talked very convincingly about how, if "we" just appeared normal enough right now, when the storm was raging, then later we could gain rights for the edgier queers.

The problem was, I loved those drag-queens and those bull-daggers -- I had a profound sense of gratitude for the edgy queers of the 60's and 70's whose actions had actually paved a way to the life that allowed me to be out and proud.

I cooperated for a very short time with the philosophy of "let's all try to look really normal, for the sake of the Movement".

A very short time indeed -- because, as I took my first tentative steps down that slope of loose shale, it wasn't long before I had fellow activists demanding: "Don't say this," and "Don't say that," and "Don't appear in a photo-op with this queer or that queer -- they're too radical," -- and I found that the very thing that I was trying to counteract (the suppression of queer-ness) was alive, well, and living in the LGBT movement itself.

I learned very quickly that this is not helpful.

It's not like it doesn't come up for me, now -- the whole concept of solidarity vs. basic ethics.

There have been many times when I've taken a deep breath when an "ally" says something that seems fallacious, or specious, or completely fucking fucked up . . . . and I've asked myself the question: "Should I confront them on this in a public forum, or should I just keep my mouth shut for the sake of the appearance of solidarity?"

This came up for me this week.

I was reading a thread about the whole Craig thing, and I felt myself torn: On the one hand, I didn't want my comments to be taken as a demonization of the whole t-room phenom, or the gay men who partake of it, but on the other hand, I really believed that, from my experience and discussions with actual people, there was a valid point to be made that the risk of potential discovery and consequence was at least part of the erotic aspect for the participants, and a risk that those participants took, consciously.

It felt like a delicate moment for me. I realized that a lot of the readers of my comments might not have any real background into t-room culture, and while I didn't want to go into a long dissertation about my own explorations and understandings of it, I also didn't want to put something out there that simply portrayed my t-queen brothers in a way that would tend to allow others to dismiss them as "perverts".

I also didn't want to put something out there that would just stir the shit.

I recognize that these internal struggles arise for me, however momentarily, on a great number of discussions that I have, online, or in person, regardless of the topic at hand: Is it important that I speak? Is it important that I refrain from speaking?

I also recognize that such internal struggles (if I don't really go all spartan-wrestling on them, and approach them with naked critical thought) can be destructive to my basic ethics and principles, and my knowledge that any real movement for change has enough strength to encompass diversity of opinion and being-ness.

If I stay silent for the purpose of simply exhibiting solidarity, I'm still staying silent, and I know from harsh experience that silence can be construed as consent. If I do that, I'm doing exactly what I despise in the monolithic right wing.

If I stay silent for the purpose of not wanting to become a "lightning rod" in a discussion, I'm doing exactly what I despise in Democratic Congress-folk who won't stand up and be counted, for fear of losing an election.

If I stay silent for the purpose of hiding myself in some false sense of safety, and make some flip, ambiguous statement instead of what I really want to say, I'm Senator Craig, tapping my foot and passing my hand under the stall divider, hoping I'll get what I want without revealing myself.

Now, when I think of that, I actually do have a big "eeeeewwww".

Posted byPortlyDyke at 10:24 PM  


Sara said... August 31, 2007 at 3:50 PM

I have clip from Barney Frank on Bill Maher's show you might like in light of this post.

I think what you have said here is pretty much one of my favorite assertions - I don't want to be "normal", I want everyone to recognize their inner queerness.

I belong to a sexual minority, in that I am a femme who partners with butches. I am invisible as queer alone and visible only with my partner --who is recognizable as queer with or without me. And mainstream queers (whatever the fuck that means, right?) would like us to just go away.

My theory is because we wear our desire openly. We don't fit on HRC mailing lists, because our desire is visible, our sex can be seen - and this is what is threatening to striaghts about gays- that we name and own our sexual desire as something that we cannot function without- where they pretend it doesn't really matter or doesn't exist. This is the game I hate... that makes me crazy, the idea that our relationship must be devoid of visible passion and sexual desire to amde palatable, and I don't want to be made palatable to straight people- I just want to exist without being interfered with.



PortlyDyke said... August 31, 2007 at 9:22 PM  

Tx for the clip -- loved it.

Vokz said... September 1, 2007 at 9:05 AM  

It isn’t a question of being normal .. it is whether or not you have a social conscience.

When gay men start using tea rooms / cottages you also start getting all the accumulation of used condoms, lube tubes etc which they then expect other people to clear up for them.

Making spaces unusable for the purposes for which they are intended is just plain selfish and antisocial and forces their behaviour on other people .. and that, I suggest, is offensive to most people of any sexual orientation.

I just had an email today from one of the London AIDS charities asking if I would be willing to volunteer three hours of my time tomorrow to help clean up ‘gay debris’ from two of London’s Parks .. rubber gloves provided.

Rightly or wrongly, some things just make me ashamed to be gay and get me sick and tired of being judged by the actions of an inconsiderate minority who think that gay rights / equality mean the freedom pollute my environment and break EVERY social norm.

NameChanged said... September 1, 2007 at 10:11 AM  


If I'm hearing you correctly, your point is that "edgy" or "queerer" gays make others uncomfortable because they make their sexuality visible.

I agree. Since I've become pregnant, I have realized that so many people are uncomfortable with the act that resulted in the "miracle" they want to touch. (Don't get me started.) If I mention that my current condition is a result of a sexual encounter, it freaks people out. And I am considered "normal." Straight, married, pregnant. But the thought of how this all happens makes people freak out.

Most are denying what makes us human, and while I cannot say that my temporary condition is anything on the same level as what you have experienced, I do see how "sex in the open" makes people uncomfortable. At first it just makes me laugh, but then it makes me sad, for all of us.

Sorry about the ramble. :)

konagod said... September 1, 2007 at 2:33 PM  

I am also fascinated that there is a long tradition to this public restroom activity with an evolving code of communication.

I remember when I was about 14 at a mall with my parents, I felt the need to pop into a toilet stall and have a quick wank. My activity was brought to a standstill when someone entered the restroom and came into the stall next to mine.

As I was sitting there with my heart pounding wondering whether to wait it out or just get up and leave, I looked down and the guy actually had his head under the fucking partition looking up at me.

I was obviously startled and he backed away. As I reached down to grab my pants and pull them up, I noticed he slid something under the stall.

My vision at the time wasn't very good -- I was in desperate need of glasses -- and I had no idea what this was being slid into my personal space. I was afraid it might be a small bomb or something to eliminate the nasty restroom masterbaters. (Wow, my thinking was WAY ahead of its time!)

It was only later when I came to the conclusion that it was a piece of tissue and a pen.

It's funny how naive I was. I had NO idea you could actually get sex in a restroom.

Brian said... September 2, 2007 at 7:10 PM  

Everything you wrote could just as easily be applied to het couples who get off on public sex--and they are legion, let me tell you--but it's never been considered as big a deal because het sex is "normal sex," and while the priggish might not want the kiddies seeing it, they don't think it would be as harmful as seeing gay sex. Make your argument about the social conscience and the public spaces if you must, but leave sexual orientation out of it. If momma can get knocked up in the back seat of her daddy's Hummer, then her brother ought to be able to get a hummer in there too.

Vokz said... September 3, 2007 at 12:06 AM  


Kindly don’t tell me what to leave out of my arguments.

To say that everything I say can equally be applied to het couples who get off on public sex is true t the extent that there are het couples who do … just a hell of a lot less of them.

It has bugger all to do with being prudish - or priggish - … it forcing something on others that you should not be forcing on others.

The fact that you have to bring children into the equation in order to defend the behaviour of the antisocial just shows how bankrupt you own argument is. The point is the NOONE should have public sex shoved in their face just because some pervert gets off on it.

What still reamins is that I am NOT judged by the behaviour of a ridiculously small percentage heterosexual couples. I am judged by the inconsiderate behaviour of a significantly higher proportion of gay men.

PortlyDyke said... September 3, 2007 at 8:29 AM  

Brian -- I'm not completely certain the the "momma getting hers in daddy's hummer" metaphor holds entirely true for me, when I compare it to gay t-room culture and behavior.

Do I think a random straight couple observed having sex in the back of a car in a public place is less likely to be reported to the police than a random gay couple doing the same thing? Emphatically, yes -- in most places, I think that gay sex would be more likely to be reported and pursued by the cops. Homophobia still exists, and I would never deny that.

However, if, say, a specific Walmart parking lot became well-known as a place for straight people to make an anonymous pickup, and have sex in their cars with all the windows open, -- and if there were a number of publicly-available websites dedicated to identifying just such meeting places -- I think that this would probably be reported to and pursued by police.

However, it's unlikely that people in search of truly anonymous sexual encounters with others (gay or straight) would resort to "car sex" (because they could be identified by their car's license number).

There are ways to have anonymous sex outside of public spaces that have a low likelihood of non-participating pass-through traffic (bookstores, clubs, etc.). I know people who engage in this type of sex.

So, I have to assume that in a t-room or public park, at least a small part of the kink is the likelihood of being observed by someone who is not part of the scene.

So, gay or straight, if someone gets caught engaging in this kind of public sex, I don't feel sorry for them, any more than I would feel sorry for a consensual practitioner of SM/Bondage who played with an unknown partner and got rope burns . . . in my opinion, it's part of the risk.

That said, Vokz, I think there may actually be two issues in your comment:

1) I think that it is true that among homophobic people who don't know they know LGBT people, I am judged by the actions of some of the most visible queers covered by the media -- but I think that this is probably the fault of the MSM, and homophobia in the society, rather than the fault of some men (however plentiful) in the park. I don't think they can make me "look bad" -- I think the media chooses to focus on them, and to portray them as "what gay is", and refuses, for the most part, to cover the diversity of queer life and issues.

2) I think part of the issue you are stating is just about "pick up after yourself". For me, this is an issue that spans orientations.

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