4/28/00: This question [of universal bisexuality] makes sense only if we assume that there are just two strictly separated genders. What about places where there are three or more genders (as in India where I am from)? Why segregate genders instead of seeing them as points on a male-to-female continuum?

5/26/00: I wonder if a discussion on Tearoom Trade would help us in matters pertaining to queer choice. Tearoom trade, for those who don't know, is impersonal sex in public places—highway truck stops, public restrooms, parks—between men (I haven't heard about women doing this). Queer theorist Michael Warner spoke on my campus last year, and he regards this practice to be a vital part of queer life; he said that gay (-identified) men had always considered it important to turn public spaces into sexual spaces. Anyway, whether Tearoom trade is good or bad is not the focus here. The focus is on how this practice intersects with identity issues.

Laud Humphreys, a doctoral student in Washington, did an ethnography called "Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places." He reports that partner selection and negotiation are all accomplished silently; no words are spoken. Sex may be dyadic or group sex. It is usually oral sex. A weird sort of community develops; the men are intimate, yet they do not know each other. A "watch queen" stands at the door of the restroom to knock on the door if anyone is approaching. The encounter is anonymous, quick and furtive (it has to be). Anyway, curiosity killed the cat for Mr. Humphreys—which made for a good book but bad ethics. He noted down the license plate numbers of the participants and followed them home, claiming to be a health researcher. He made the men and their families fill out surveys. What he found was that these avid tearoom traders were married fathers, leading double lives.

Now, if these men were married fathers, they obviously weren't queer-identified. I read an article on this topic recently that said that it was silly to demand to know if a Tearoom trader identifies as queer; answering such a demand would imply speech—which is a no-no in Tearoom trade situations. The article concluded that queer identification and sexual orientation were situational.

I had the opportunity to visit a tearoom recently (blush blush); this is a porn video arcade near my town. The hallways and booths are without light. In the booth, TV screens show ten channels of straight porn and only one channel of gay porn. Outside each door, men stand silent, like Buckingham Palace guards. If a man walks in and enters a booth, the man at the door goes in there with him. As I was in a booth, a very cute older man walked in and started fondling me. I reacted, perfectly naturally, I thought (naïve old me) and gave him a little kiss. The man got upset and left in a hurry. Why, I wondered, does this man have no problem with wanting to give me a blow job, but have a problem with a little kiss?

Friends tell me that he is probably like one of Humphreys's respondents. Married and closeted—he can get kisses from his wife. If he were out and proud, why would he be at a tearoom? I am inclined to agree; the stress in the whole space seems to be man-sex WITHOUT any assumption of a (stigmatized) queer IDENTITY for the participant. Which is why one watches straight porn all the while through the act; which is why no words are spoken; which is why men keep a scowl on their faces through it all and depart hurriedly afterwards.

Right now, I am confused—is the disavowal of queer identity through these methods just that, or does it also contain an avowal of male identity? After all, "men's men" are supposed to dissociate sex from emotion, and be able to have sex without feeling anything about their partners. One hypothesis is that tearoom trade is a retreat into adolescence, where same-sex activity can occur, but carries no associations with a queer identity as such, since the participants are not-quite-men. If this is true, then tearoom trade involves the temporary abandonment of male identity in toto, and not just a queer identity.

Our assertion that we are queer by choice seems oppositional only in an environment that posits a visible and impermeable boundary between straight and queer. Tearoom trade confounds such a boundary, as it involves grown men crossing sexual boundaries all across America, with no concern for queer identity issues, much less queer choice issues. Any thoughts on this?

Dazed and confused,


5/30/00: Maybe we shouldn't think of tearoom traders as automatically proclaiming straightness by not displaying emotion. It is possible that they aren't thus avowing that they are straight; they are avowing that they are "nothing." Nothingness is a state where identity is absent; the question of gay or straight does not arise.... Darkness, glory holes where all you see of the man is his penis—all these are not assertions of heterosexuality. They are the absence of identity altogether.

If a queer man has sex in a tearoom, is he defined as queer in the situation? Does he care if his partner is queer-identified, or if the act defines the partner as queer or straight? People aren't straight or queer in a tearoom. They are nothing; just bodies attached to penises. It doesn't matter if the body is black, white, asian, good looking, bad looking, straight, gay, or a killer whale. It just has to have a penis. On the other hand, if the same queer man marches in a parade with a sign saying "I am queer," his identity becomes visible and present and relevant.

ALL men want to have sex with each other. The reason why all men don't do it, or tell themselves they wouldn't like it, is because it would bring on them a stigmatized queer identity. Tearoom traders strike a compromise by having sex with men but by rejecting any implications of a queer identity. Plus, there is the matter of the "internal governor," superego, internalized patriarchal norms. Tearoom traders are men like other men, and they are homophobic too. Putting on drag and kissing other men is therefore a lot higher in the hierarchy of sins than just quick, furtive sex.

Even if we assume that tearoom traders are in a minority, they might be more numerous than we think. There is stuff going on in public spaces all the time; US society is drenched in man-sex, as any observation of washrooms, picnic areas and video arcades will reveal.

5/30/00: Actually this aspect of same-sex institutions producing a larger number of queer identified graduates is, I feel, an anti-queerbychoice argument. Some will argue that because certain men and women were placed in these "unnatural" environments where the opposite sex was absent, the "perversion" of queerness festered in them in spite of themselves.

I went to a militaristic all-boys boarding school, and the circumstances there would have never let me make my queer choice—all that hazing and marching. In other words, masculinity at its worst.

5/31/00: I argue that tearoom trade is not "radically at odds" with heterosexual identity. This is where queer identity has an advantage over straight identity (or it could be the other way round?). Queerness is stigma—a watertight sealed compartment from which there is no escape. Once you are queer, you are queer, period. Straightness, on the other hand, is more permeable. A straight man can afford tearoom trade once in a while—in fact that is all he can afford—going to a gay bar would seem to much like an acceptance of stigma, a declaration. The reason for this is that straight identity is not as secure or stable as queer identity; straight men are in a constant quest to fortify their manliness. They are constantly trying to prove their manliness, to avoid falling into the state of castration called queerness. This liminality makes occasional and limited man-sex more permissible. Queers are aware of their identities as castrated, hence their presence in tearooms, where they can regain a straight identity temporarily while experiencing a certain pleasure, however limited.

Though not radically at odds with their queer identity, what [queer-identified men in tearooms] do, according to León's description of his friend shows that they actively seek to be not perceived as queer. Two men, who are openly queer outside the tearoom, fulfill each other's fantasies of doing it with straight guys once inside the tearoom. What I have been trying to do thus far is to show that male-male sex is not totally at odds with straight male identity. In fact—and I am trying to get this statement patented—"Straight masculinity is not an identity at all—it is liminality." Straight men are in a delicate position—always in danger of not appearing "man enough." They are always trying to reach that mythical goal of having finally become men. Thir liminal state makes tearoom forays less damaging to their identity. Queer men know this; they also know about their castrated identity as less-than-men. For them, the foray into the tearoom serves as a temporary upgrade from a stigmatized to a liminal identity....

You need the whole "Pride" thing only because of the stigma that comes with queer identity. The stress on "Pride" has unfortunately reinforced the stigma that rests upon the hard-and-fast gay vs. straight distinction. (Biphobia is one by-product of this.) Maybe the queer movement could have done better by not reinforcing the dominant society's cut-and-dried classification of people into two safe compartments; instead, it could have focused on "reconstructing our bodies," and that means everyone's bodies, not straight or gay bodies. Say not "Gay Pride," say "Full-body erotic pride." Replace "We're queer, we're here, so get used to it," with "My anus is here, I like to get fucked, I cherish my anus, and it demands attention..."

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