by Jesse Monteagudo
Sex and the Daytona Beach 9
Male homosexual activity in public bathrooms, for decades a fact of Gay life, became big news in 2007, thanks to the misadventures of conservative politicos like U.S. Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Florida State Representative Bob Allen (R-Merritt Island) and the (mostly unfounded) complaints of Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle. Now come the “Daytona Beach 9;” nine men who were arrested for lewd behavior during a sex sting operation at a Sears Department Store bathroom in Daytona Beach Nov. 1.
According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, the accused include “a former Daytona Beach city commissioner and a local high school teacher” who promptly resigned from his job. “The reason that we did this sting is we all go to the mall; our kids go into the bathroom,” said Police Chief Mike Chitwood, who could hardly contain his disgust. “That they could be susceptible to this type of behavior is absolutely a disgrace.” (Please note that I refuse to name the Daytona Beach 9. In my opinion, these men have suffered enough already.)
Public sex, especially sex in public toilets or “tearooms,” has always been controversial, even within our GLBT community. Almost without exception, bathroom sex is male masturbatory or male homosexual, proof perhaps of the male’s greater sex drive. (It is not my intent, in writing this article, to condone bathroom sex. In fact, due to its health, safety and legal hazards, I do not recommend it.) There are many reasons why a man would want to have sex in a public restroom. For some men, bathroom sex is a step in the coming out process; a relatively easy way for them to discover the joys of male love before moving on to Gay social networks, commercial institutions, or even a life partner. For other men, tearoom trade is their main or only form of sexual expression. Many of these are repressed “closet cases;” men who can not or will not accept their homo- or Bisexuality. For them, a quickie in a toilet satisfies their sexual needs but does not require them to be publicly “branded” as queer, which would be the case if they went to a Gay bar, sex club, community center, church, etc. This was apparently the case with Sen. Craig, Rep. Allen, and at least some of the “Daytona Beach 9.”
What makes a public bathroom a hotspot for tearoom sex? Though opinions differ, a bathroom’s location often makes it a favored place for sexual activity. College campuses are ideal tearoom locations, if only because colleges are full of testosterone-charged young men who still question their sexuality. Public parks are also popular (ask George Michael) as well as libraries and department stores (like the Sears in Daytona Beach). Once a place gets a “reputation” there is no telling what might happen. A good example is a Home Depot store in Oakland Park, Florida, which in its heyday was notorious for its men’s room activity. How did that Home Depot become so cruisy? Certainly the store’s butch image attracted a certain type of Gay man. Perhaps two guys hit it off at the paint section, went off to do their business in the bathroom, and then told their friends. And the rest is history.
Male homosexual activity, especially in public places, threatens a lot of people, which is why the media have a field day with sex stings like the recent one in Daytona Beach. The Daytona Beach News-Journal‘s excited coverage of the Nov. 1 arrests is a case in point. The day after the arrests were made the paper (and its Web site) published an article (“Ex Daytona commissioner, teacher charged in sex sting”) which not only published the names, ages and professions of the accused but also their mug shots. The next day the News-Journal ran a second article (“Mall bathroom sex sting spotlights subculture”) that tried to analyze “a subculture in which adult men meet for sex in restrooms designated online as hot spots, almost in plain view of unsuspecting patrons.” In fact, the only explanation of this “subculture” came from police Sgt. Jeff Hoffman, who talked about “coughing, grunting, sharp zipper noises, … tapping on shoes” and other “signals” used by men to attract sex partners. Though the accused limited their sexual activities to masturbation, they were nevertheless arrested “because a bathroom stall doesn’t completely conceal a person” and, thus, “he has no expectation of privacy, making any sexual behavior unlawful.”
As if that was not enough, the paper followed this tidbit with a third article (“Activists say arrests a setback for Gay community”) that claimed that “the entire local Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community is going to have a harder time than ever gaining equality and convincing people that only a tiny fraction among them is interested in sex with strangers in public places.” That’s a lot of responsibility to be placed on the shoulders of nine formerly closeted men. Not surprisingly, the News-Journal’s coverage of the arrests “generated more than 120,000 page views and hundreds of comments on the News-Journal’s Web site Friday. That’s more traffic than the entire site gets on a normal day.” Needless to say, most of the comments were even worse than the cops’.
The media justify their lurid reports by protesting that bathroom sex threatens the well-being of “innocent” bystanders, especially children. Leaving aside the question of whether or not witnessing sexual activity is more traumatic than watching a traffic pileup or a Fort Lauderdale City Commission hearing, the fact remains that an unsuspecting child is more likely to be hit by a bolt of lightning or win the lottery than run into sexual activity in a public john (unless he’s looking for it). As any vice cop could tell you, catching men having sex in restrooms is difficult, which is why they often have to resort to entrapment or other extralegal subterfuges. A sting operation like the one in Daytona Beach is newsworthy because it is so unusual.
The media will also deny that they are conducting a witch-hunt against gay or bisexual men. But a witch-hunt it is, and many of our brothers have paid the price for it. Thirty years ago, reporters used hidden cameras to catch men who gathered in gay bars. Today, the media use similar tactics to catch men having sex in public parks or public bathrooms. In fact, today’s accused have it even worse, for they are branded for life thanks to sex offender laws and the Internet. One does not have to condone public sex to agree that media coverage of sex sting operations is often sleazier than any crimes that the stings seek to prevent. We can feel sorry for the accused, which is why we agree with the Rev. Beau McDaniels of Hope Metropolitan Community Church, who “said she can understand why some local Gay and Bisexual people go underground. It’s a conservative area where people’s sexual preferences can ruin their careers, she said.”
“If people would learn to accept people as God accepts them, we wouldn’t have this issue,” Rev. McDaniels said. “When you’re told it’s wrong and bad, you hide. This will drive us deeper underground.”
I welcome your comments. You may reach me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.