Toronto
2 min

Blowjobs & burqas

Mainstream media have taken the opportunity to explore the world of park cruising.

Aaron Webster, a gay man, was brutally murdered in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, a beautiful cruising area, on Nov 17. Details remain sketchy, but police believe Webster was attacked by three or four weapon-wielding men, and that the attack was anti-gay.



Since Webster’s murder, mainstream media have taken the opportunity to explore the world of park cruising. For the most part, the reports have been objective and expository, featuring men talking about how they cruise and lifting the lid off a subculture most straight people know little about.



The stories I’ve read are a vast improvement over those published after the Bijou raids, the last time cruising became a national curiosity. Much of that reporting was lurid and gawking, designed to shock and repel readers and lead them to the conclusion that slurp ramps are icky and therefore should be illegal.



The current crop of park cruising stories may be more straightforward, but they’re still not very good. They try to quantify an experience that defies easy categorization. I’ve read, for instance, that men who cruise in parks tend to be those who have body image problems (who doesn’t!), or men who are in the closet.



Why must it always be a problem that leads men to cruise? The truth of the matter is that cruising attracts all kinds of men in significant numbers, and for reasons that are largely positive – they gravitate towards something that gives them pleasure. It’s this qualitative aspect of cruising that is the more interesting story. Why does it have so much appeal for so many men? And what is it that they get out of the experience?



Without this perspective, an outsider is left with the impression that cruising is nothing more than a cheap thrill that doesn’t justify the risk. Why don’t we all just give it up for good?



Cruising’s allure is difficult to convey, because it defies easy comparison to anything most straight people might find familiar. Some people offer up the comparison of straight people having sex in their cars in “lover’s lanes.” But it really doesn’t do justice to the cruising tradition.



Straight couples tend to arrive together and screw in the privacy of their own cars. It’s still just conventional heterosexuality – but on wheels. The appeal of cruising lies in having intimate connections with strangers. It involves the thrills of hunting, seduction and, of course, sex, often with multiple men, in succession or all at once.



The problem of explaining homosexuality to straight people has puzzled us for eons. Some people say we’re sort of like an ethnic group, but that doesn’t really fit. Our legal activists have recently suggested that comparisons to religion might be more accurate for court purposes. It’s helpful to think of homosexuality as something that you practise instead of something that you are.



Since Sep 11, the mainstream media has made an effort to explain Islam to Western audiences. Like gay sex culture, Western audiences know little about this widespread phenomenon – Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion, and the dominant religion in oodles of countries. And like gay sex culture, Islam is largely known here as a bizarre, distasteful force which threatens mainstream Western values.



Gay people, who bear the brunt of various religions’ hateful tendencies, often fail to understand the allure of religious experience for practitioners. It’s a similar failure when people think cruising is merely a sordid way to get killed.



But at least some of the coverage of Islam makes an effort to explain its meaning and beauty in a generous spirit most journalists remain unprepared to offer to gay sex culture. Islam is unique enough to make it difficult to compare with more familiar ways of living. In the absence of easy understanding, though, there is a spirit of respect in many of the portrayals.



There’s little respect in pointing at straight people’s behaviour to justify our own. Let’s defend our culture on its own terms. Straight people may not understand, and they may not learn to respect our choices. But at least we can be clear about respecting them ourselves.