Articulating Desire, Questioning Authority: The Subversive Power of Gay Cruising Culture

Publication Date

April 2016


Laura Grappo


American Studies (AMST)


English (United States)


This project explores venues used by gay men for public sex as important social artifacts that introduced a new and unique sociality among its participants. The purpose of this project is twofold: to explore how cruising has been a phenomenon unique to gay men, and to illuminate how gay public sex operates within a separate framework than straight sex. Public sex is informed by the “shame” that straight society has placed on aspects of gay culture that do not conform to those straight societal structures. Therefore, the sex here carries a symbolic weight: it is largely resistant to heterosexual norms and heteronormative forms of policing. It is activism in disguise. I come to that conclusion by exploring how the effects of both gay cruising and the activist groups that were created during the public sex debates of the 1990s ultimately called attention to the manner in which publics – to be more precise, public spaces, public/private spheres, and/or notions of privacy/publicaness – have been constructed for the privilege of straight people. I take a sociologically multivalent approach and read public sex as the nuanced and symbolic form of resistance that it is throughout this project.

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