Photo of men cruising a Berlin public toilet, copyright Marc Martin
A few months ago, a reader left a comment: “can I email you?” I replied with a “what’s up” and he explained his therapist had encouraged him to drop me a line (which he thought was funny as he rarely did what his therapist told him to do.)
He talked about being stuck in boring presentations at work, his mind on which toilets he could cruise afterwards. But also of feeling ashamed and dirty, hoping he could speak to someone who did the same as him. About feeling “so fucking alien and abhorrent all the time”.
And he asked a question which I extend to all readers of this blog: do you wonder whether you are the only one who feels shame when cruising? That the other guys are “happy go lucky, cock swinging, cum swallowing free spirits?”
I’ve been thinking about a blog post on this subject since then. Him and I have chatted over email in the meantime and I have to apologise A. for taking so long to reply to you! But I think I finally found your answer, and it’s thanks to an exhibition currently taking place in Berlin.
A new exhibition at Berlin’s Schwules* Museum explores the history of toilet cruising through photos, historical objects, and oral histories. The exhibition Fenster Zum Klo [Window to the Toilet]: Public Toilets, Private Affairs is by the French photographer Marc Martin.
The exhibition’s page talks about how “such activities are, even today, more synonymous with shame than with gay pride. And yet, these public toilets, whose history is intertwined with the lives and adventures of many gays, trans people, escorts, libertines, are also unlikely bastions of freedom.”
I haven’t seen the exhibition so can’t comment on it specifically, but the images I’ve seen online as well as reviews in some websites seem positive. Marc Martin’s point seems to be that these places, far from being focal points for shame, were the places where men met when they couldn’t go anywhere else, when paper ads and hook up apps didn’t exist. In a way, gay cruising is part of the process in the 20th century of bringing out into the open gay men’s sexuality, even if it was a (not always) secretive act.
VICE has two articles on the exhibition. The first is an interview with Marc Martin. Marc talks about how “these so-called squalid, gloomy and stinking places were incredible places of social mixing: gays and straights of all social strata, men of all ages, cultural and religious backgrounds came together there.”
One interesting point from the interview is that there’s a whole history of lesbians using public toilets also for hookups, which is still unknown to the greater culture.
The other VICE article is by Jeff Leavell, who talks about the freedom and beauty he found cruising for sex. It’s interesting to hear his first experiences as a teenager in New York, and I agree with him when he says that “cruising can bring together people from wildly different paths in life, and that’s part of its magic.” I can relate to this – I’ve hooked up and met guys from so many different cultures, ages and backgrounds – as has been documented in this blog!
Some people think cruising is dying (public toilets are certainly shutting down) and this might be the result of gay hookup apps. But I disagree there’s no longer an interest. I think there’s something in the mystery of “who am I gonna find there?” of cruising that’s more appealing than looking at photos on your mobile phone. The cruising spots that are still open in London are so filled with guys you sometimes can’t even move.
Some guys like the element of risk, or the chance of running into a straight guy who wants to experiment. For many gay guys, this is their first encounter with other gay men. It’s all valid, and all good in my opinion. But to answer the reader’s original questions, I think there are guys who feel shameful and dirty about cruising in toilets – Marc Martin talks about in his interview about an older man who cried at the exhibition as nobody knew he’d met his long term partner (who had recently passed away) in a cruisy toilet. They were too ashamed to tell others.
I wish I could visit Marc Martin’s exhibition before it closes in February 2018. Here’s to hoping it’s a great success and ends up travelling to Britain. 😉
Please share your thoughts in the comments section. Would love to hear about your first time in a toilet, or maybe why you’ve never cruised one. Let’s share more, let’s learn more from each other and, above all else, let’s not feel ashamed of ourselves. I personally feel really lucky to be a gay guy, to be part of this group of men in the world that are so diverse and beautiful, and I hope you feel the same (or are on your way to feeling it.)