Long before internet chat rooms and geo-social networking apps like Grindr redefined cruising for many queers, the thrill of the random hookup was mostly tied to public places. Everything from city parks to washrooms to library stacks doubled as erotic hotspots where desire and the thrill of anonymity could mix with the more traditional uses of space.
And while it continues to occur in sanctioned spots like bars, clubs and bathhouses, more public types of cruising have become far less common due to technology, concerns over safety and more convenient opportunities for finding casual sex in the city.
Nonetheless, many feel that the practice shouldn’t be ignored or relegated to the dustbin of queer history. “It’s important to remind people that [public cruising] is a part of our identity,” says Michael Erickson, co-owner of Glad Day Bookshop. “It needs to be celebrated.”
On Sept 20, Glad Day Bookshop will be doing just that by holding its first-ever cruising event at the store. They’ll dim the lights, fire up a newly installed sound system, bring in DJ Cozmic Cat to provide a soundtrack for the evening, and transform the shop into a cruise-friendly zone where customers will be encouraged to flirt and rub shoulders with like-minded people while browsing the shelves.
In contrast to other cruising spaces in the city, this one will be free of alcohol and open to all genders. “We wanted to acknowledge and celebrate the long history of the store as a cruising spot while providing a safe and friendly sex-positive space for all people to come in and know that it is okay to flirt,” Erickson says.
With many independent booksellers around the city struggling to stay afloat in an increasingly difficult marketplace, the event is also an opportunity to continue the ongoing revitalization of the store. Since changing ownership earlier this year, Glad Day has made a number of drastic shifts to its business model, including opening up rented space above the shop and hosting events and workshops as a means to more actively engage with the community.
Yet even as the store has worked to diversify its clientele by bringing in more children’s books and catering to neighbourhood families, the current owners remain invested in maintaining a sex-positive environment and hosting adult-oriented events that emphasize the important relationship between queer sexuality and literacy. “Having events like this that bring people into the store is crucial. We wanted to make bookstores sexy again and show that we haven’t lost the sexy fun.”
If all goes well, Erickson hopes to make the event a monthly affair. “We want to be known as a place where people can come in and cruise each other and look at books. And besides, people who read are hot, and this will be a way to bring them all together.”
Cruisin’ the Stacks, a free event, takes place tonight, Sept 20, from 7 to 9pm.