Ah yes, Senator Larry Craig.
(As I write this, Craig is still in the headlines, but Americans' notoriously short historical memory necessitates, perhaps, a recap. So: Larry Craig, Idaho senator, busted in airport restroom for playing footsies with an undercover cop, pleads guilty, then protests innocence, claiming he just had a "too-wide stance." Remember now?)
I recently read a conservative columnist’s complaint that some misguided folks thought the outcry against Craig's lustful little lavatory excursions was homophobic. Well, that applies to noprogayanybody I know. Nope, I'd venture to say that most of us queer guys view with glee the downfall of yet another screwed-up family-values hypocrite, as well we should. Good ol' Lar was, in fact, busted in that Minneapolis men's room on my birthday, thereby providing a spiffy get-the-GOP gift all tied up in randy ribbons.
On the other foot—er, hand—I'm betting that there are some respectable queer shaftsuckers out there who do in fact punctiliously believe that this latest brouhaha over bathroom cruising is indeed Bad for the Gays. "We're not all like that," they say. "And besides, restroom sex is just a hangover from the bad old days of oppression." That is, though, not my admittedly penis-centric view. My problem is that Idaho Senator Creepy Craig gives the noble practice of furtive sex in public toilets a bad name.
It wasn't till I was in my mid-20s that I took the leap, and got down on my knees in a tearoom. (And yes, as Newsweek will gleefully inform you, “tearoom” is American slang for men's room. The Limeys, ever suckers for quaintness, call them "cottages.") It wasn't that I'd believed that a sexual relationship should always be meaningful, or even that you had to know a guy's name before you screwed him. It was just that I, a nice, well-brought-up Jewish boy, didn't think that sex in a public restroom was quite right for me. Until, that is, I tried it.
I was studying graphic design at a well-known local institution of almost-higher learning. (This was way back in the era of the X-acto knife and hot wax, just to date things.) Following the prior instructions of my ever-helpful boyfriend—it was, and still is, an open relationship—I sat there, tapping my feet just like the august Senator Craig was to do in the farflung future, until a lean blond boy in a (and I still remember this) white fisherman's knit sweater just like Mom used to make for me, came along. I peeked under the partition, he peeked back, and soon enough I was sucking him off.
That was the beginning of an ongoing affair of sorts, and eventually he and I went so far as to romantically, if furtively, share a stall on occasion. But there were other tearoom tricks, too…closet cases with wedding bands on the hands they slid under the stained partitions; homeboys whose hard, dark meat was visible through gloryholes improbably drilled through steel; queens with perfumed crotches; just plain hot, horny guys—a cast of sucking thousands.
Often I didn’t see anything above the waist, other times there was just a glimpse of an upside-down, blood-flushed face. And that was fine. A tearoom stall was like Forrest Gump’s clichéd box of chocolates, only with plumbing—I never quite knew what would end up in my mouth. Sometimes it was a delicious soft center, sometimes a nut or chew. The randomness of the boy buffet was, in fact, one of its many pleasures. And—because I fall in love so easily—I ended up with plenty of ten-minute crushes. A partner’s merest show of transient tenderness left me feeling that life was good, that the lust that surges between queer men is akin to a jizz-soaked blessing. It was all quite enough to keep a student from his classes…which might explain why I'm a poor pornwriter now, rather than a rich graphic artiste.
There were some baroque variations, like floor-spanning three-ways that sprawled from stall to stall to stall. And I took my cruising off-campus, too, to other choice spots…though nowhere I figured I'd get busted. Unlike certain married Republicans, I'm just not that desperate.
(Though there was that scary time when, exiting a well-known university tearoom, I was confronted by campus police. There’d been, I was told, a complaint that a man in a black leather jacket had been loitering in the vicinity. Well, yeah, I wanted to say, …dozens. And, making a years-later pilgrimage to the first restroom I’d ever had sex in, I’d discovered that the damn doors had been taken off their hinges. I suppose that one big downside of tearoom tricking: that the sex police won’t even let folks take a dump in private.)
In time, the novelty wore off, Craigslist came along to similarly waste big chunks of cruising time, and, well…let's just say I can't limbo under toilet partitions quite as nimbly as I used to. But at least I'm not a goddamn hypocrite, an apostate of sleaze. If someone brings up the subject of restroom sex, I’ll readily confess that it's often frustrating, definitely dangerous, certainly unsanitary…and a whole lot of fun.
If two guys want to get it on in a place officially reserved for excretion, well, what's the harm, really? Most tearoom cruisers are discreet enough not to, as they say, frighten the horses. And if some straight guy enters a men's room to the sound of hastily rising bodies and belt buckles being scraped along tiled floors, or if he notices some lust-eyed lurker with tented jeans…well, what's the harm, I ask? Het men are ostensibly tough, right? It's like the whole queers in the military thing. A marine's supposed to be brave enough to face IEDs and Al Q'aeda, but being cruised in a shower room is apparently too much for him to bear?
Sure, if you’re into homo hygiene, you might argue that a tiled floor is rather unsanitary compared to Ralph Lauren sheets, but I’m a guy who’s stuck his tongue up dozens, hundreds, maybe even a happy thousand butts. Sex is messy, dangerous, and demeaning. At least if it’s good sex.
Semi-regrettably, it might also be argued that giving head in a public bathroom is a fairly shabby hook upon which to hang a political agenda. And if all nonmasturbatory sex is in some sense an interchange between the private and the public—which is to say, between the interiority of desire and the playground of another’s body—well, yes, it may not be too overly fastidious to cavil that some cloacal truckstop toilet is perhaps not the most glorious place from which to launch a queer insurgency. Which is to say that—in an era of melting ice caps, suicide bombings, the slow-motion collapse of American civilization, and all that—sucking anonymous shafts may well be not as monumental a world-changing act as one might, in one’s hornier, more obstreperous moments, wish. “Tearoom Tricking Now!” is, as a political program, rather gaudy and self-indulgent…though it would be a fun slogan to chant at some otherwise somnolent rally or other. Yes, junior, in the near-autumn of my years, I’ll wistfully concede that the 1970s-era dream of Sucking As An Act Of Revolution is so over.
Still and even so, dude, I celebrate the omnipresence of lust, the glorious plentitude of prick. Hooray for that democracy of dingus, the ramshackle Community of Restroom Randiness! I love the idea that sex can happen damn near anywhere, even in the men's room of the Salt Lake City Macy's. Even, I dare say, in the toilets of the SLC Mormon Temple. Yes, even there. If restroom sex isn't precisely a social good, it sure ain't evil, either, and the idea that the taxpayers are handing policemen perfectly good money to entrap guys' with stiffies…well, I hope those cops all get hemorrhoids from sitting there so long. Really bad hemorrhoids.
What is not good, though, is some rightwing piece of crap like Larry Craig ruining it for the rest of us. We men's room mavens, past, present, and future, are mostly like homosexual hobbits (if that's not redundant). We simply want to go peaceably about our ball-draining business in the bathrooms of the Shire. You need not be ashamed of something to want to keep it quiet. Laura Bush does not need to know the intimate details of cruising toilets…which is to say, what her hubby might well have done in his Skull-and-Boners days. And I will not gladly have unattractive late-night comics making jokes about a practice responsible for any number of my orgasms.
No, these days, I may no longer sit there, lazily jacking off while I reread graffiti and wait for Mr. Right-from-the ankles-down. But neither will I become some born-again nonslut, regretting, like Saint Augustine, the supposed errors of my youth. So screw you, Senator Larry Gutless Sauron Craig and your Republican recantations. Unlike you, I'm proud of the time I've spent on my knees.
I'm happily guilty as charged: I am now, and have ever been, a card-carrying homo.
And you, Too-Wide Craig? You're just plain guilty.
copyright 2009, Simon Sheppard