As a gay man who came out during the Internet era, when there was a relative acceptance of gay men, I've mostly restricted my sexual experiences to men I was involved in relationships with or men I 'cruised' in Internet chat rooms. I've read about the cruising that takes place in certain public restrooms, and while a no-strings-attached encounter with a guy sounds thrilling, I worry about the consequences. I don't want to be the next victim of entrapment by an undercover policeman, like what happened to George Michael. Is it legal to cruise in a public restroom and arrange a tryst in a hotel room or some other private spot? Or could one be charged with solicitation? It doesn't seem like it would be very different from meeting someone over the celery at the supermarket, but maybe it is. Can a stall be considered a private location? What are the dos and don'ts of cruising a tea room?
Earl: Ah, there's nothing quite like a cup of tea to heighten the senses, warm the cockles. What? You don't mean that kind of tea, those kind of cockles? Okay, then. For what it's worth, I've always considered it a lovely euphemism, even if the 'tea' in 'tea room' probably comes from the 't' in 'toilet.' The British call them cottages, which is even cozier. One is said to go cottaging, by which one means visiting a public toilet known for its assignations, then assignating with one or more parties. Righto! The only problem, of course, is that it's against the law ' assignating in public, I mean. Personally, I wish there were public places specifically set aside for people who want to have sex with strangers. I think it would solve a lot of the world's problems. Alas, there is no such place, so we must continue to skip to the loo, my darlings.
As we have been doing since time immemorial. It's commonly believed that tea rooms are an urban phenomenon, coincident with the rise of the metropolis, but I wonder. Now, with the spread of suburbia, they've branched out, from restrooms to rest areas ' sexual oases offering sips of water along the parched pavement of our nation's interstate-highway system. Don't get me wrong: I'm not endorsing men having sex in a bathroom stall while a 10-year-old kid's over at the sink washes the Popsicle goo off his hands. I'm simply acknowledging that some of us have a deep-seated need for casual encounters, a need that, if not met, leads to not-so-casual encounters. Gay men had to hide from the public for so long that, paradoxically, the public sphere was their private sphere. Where else could they go? There was no Lover's Lane for gays and lesbians.
Okay, so how to behave during High Tea? Well, I would start by reminding you, Earl, that George Michael didn't just stand around waiting to be asked to dinner and a movie. Egged on by what turned out to be an undercover cop, he started flogging the proverbial chicken. Unfortunately, one man's meat is another man's lewd and lascivious behavior, for which Michael received an $810 fine and 80 hours of community service. Now, had he merely proposed something, rather than exposed something, he may not have broken the law at all. Then again, he might have. And here's where I'd like to turn things over to my dear, dear readers, especially those who've been involved in this kind of encounter, on one side of the law or the other. Help me out, people: Where does the private sphere end and the public sphere begin?
Is one man's excitement another man's enticement?
To wake me up before you go-go to the bathroom, write to: MR. RIGHT, ISTHMUS, 101 KING ST., MADISON, WI 53703. OR CALL 251-1206, EXT. 152. OR E-MAIL MRRIGHT@ISTHMUS.COM.