Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Public sex has a long and proud tradition and I, for one, am pleased to see that one of our Senators is engaging in it. Instead of decrying Senator Craig’s actions or speculating about his sexuality or “alleged homosexuality,” I think the more rational response is to affirm and celebrate public sex. The truth is people – all kinds of people including senators – engage public sex as a part of their sexual expression and fulfillment at different times in their lives. There’s nothing wrong with public sex; in fact, it can be a positive and healthy component of adult sexuality.

Public sex, which I’d like to define as sex between two people in a public space that offers a modicum of privacy while simultaneously carrying with it the danger of discovery, is a sexual practice of all human beings. In and of itself, public sex is neither harmful nor an anathema to civil society. When heterosexual people have or think about or fetishize public sex, we giggle and culturally reify it. Think about sex on airplanes. Erica Jong made her career writing about Fear of Flying. Most recently sex in an airline restroom was featured in the film Snakes on a Plane. More than one film about heterosexual people includes a conversation about the “kinkiest” or “most daring” place that the characters have had sex. Often the responses are descriptions of public sex. Watching these films, heterosexual people may be titillated or exchange knowing glances. Public sex is a part of human sexuality and people – straight and queer – are having it.

Yet, when public sex is heterosexual we do not call for surveillance and criminalization. Snakes on a Plane did not result in federal regulations for cameras in airline restrooms. Heterosexual teenagers caught in public parks in flagrante delicto are sent home with stern warnings or, at worst, curfew violations. The wiff of two men having sex in a public restroom, however, causes public outrage and calls for monitoring, police stings and arrests. It’s both homophobia and sexphobia.

Parents will counter that they don’t want their children in the course of using public restrooms to encounter people having sex, particularly two men having sex. I can understand that, I don’t want to unintentionally encounter two men or two women or a man and a woman having sex when I just want to urinate, but I have and it wasn’t traumatic. The fact of the matter is, while people want the possibility of getting caught while having sex, they don’t want to get caught. So when I walk into the rest room or a child does, most people have the capacity to pause for the few minutes it takes me to relieve myself, wash my hands, and move on with my life. Besides if we were to extend the argument about fear of children encountering two people having sex, wouldn’t we mandate that parents must not have sex if their children are in the house? After all, children are more likely to have their first glimpse of adult human sexuality running into their parents bedroom to tell them that visitors are here or they need breakfast or had a bad dream than running into a public bathroom to take a pee.

We need to speak out as a community about the homophobia and sexphobia that surrounds these public sex scandals. If it is truly OK to be gay, then it must be by extension OK for two people of the same-sex to have erotic encounters in semi-public spaces that carry the possibility of being caught—and being caught must not be more likely than it is for heterosexual people and the consequences of being caught must be the same for same-sex public sex partners as for opposite-sex public sex partners.

While we’re speaking out, we could also say that there is nothing particularly wrong with public sex, in fact, for some it’s a perfectly acceptable expression of sexuality. Who knows maybe in the process of speaking honestly about human sexuality we will liberate ourselves and even our heterosexual counterparts.

Julie R. Enszer is a writer and poet who lives in University Park, MD. You can read more of her work, including her blog, at www.JulieREnszer.com.

This is column #11 dated September 18, 2007 in the series, CIVILesbianIZATION.

Word Count: 677

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Sometimes there are moments of great tragedy when gay and lesbian inequality is made visible. These moments are painful and profoundly disturbing. I think of the murder of Matthew Shepherd and the murder of Sargeant Allen Schindler. Two brutal murders motivated by hatred for gay and lesbian people. There is wide-spread agreement in the United States that murdering people because they are gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender is wrong. It is a public tragedy that diminishes all of us.

By and large, however, gay and lesbian people live peaceable lives. The vast majority of us live without being targeted for discrimination, harassment, or murder. Yet, regularly, we obscure this reality. We perform a victimized status for the American public and for our legislators in an attempt to pass laws. This performance and these laws emanate from a civil rights paradigm that is a close, but not quite fit for the queer community. It’s time for a change.

We in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community—the queer community— are not going to achieve equal rights through the demonstration of hardship, or victimization, to the American people. Not because that hardship isn’t there; it is. It can be found and performed as we have just seen in the performance for the passage of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007. We can find and tell individual stories of brutality and harassment for the benefit of Congress and the public. We can even put it together to create a pattern. The reality is, however, that the pattern of violence and abuse of gay and lesbian people in contemporary culture does not rise to the level of the reality that was experience by the African-American community during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s which lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

On one hand we could argue that nothing should ever rise to that level again. We could argue that we should learn from our past and take action earlier to smite injustice and strive for equality. In fact, I think that is the respectful framework that our queer civil rights organizations have adopted, but the time for that has now passed. It is time to reframe the debate.

For us queers to present our experiences in this country within the civil rights paradigm now and in the future is a strategic error. First, our experiences do not rise to the level of intensity or repulsion for most Americans as the experiences of African-Americans did during the 1960s. People recognize this fact; they know it. We must acknowledge it through a change in strategy. Second, a focus on violence and brutal repression has a different impact on the American people today in 2007 than it did in 1967. If we were still sensitive to violence and death, would we be in Iraq?

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are not going to achieve rights by asserting victimization. Our story, while compelling to us is an adequate parallel. What we should do instead of seeking to honor the civil rights movement by mimicking it, is to craft new messages. They may emerge from the history of the civil rights movement, but we must transform them to make them our own.

Our messages are not about violence, victimization, and harassment. Our messages are about the ordinary and the everyday. We will achieve equality by demonstrating the ordinariness of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender life. The banality of our lives, the everyday similarities of our lives to our heterosexual counterparts, is the message that people will understand and believe. It is the message or ordinariness and dailiness that will help us secure equality.

We need to turn up the volume and energy on these messages. Certainly, we stand on the shoulders of all who have worked for justice and equality in the past. We must honor their work, but when standing on the shoulders of greatness, we are most able to keep our balance by looking forward or looking upward than by looking downward or backward. To have a vibrant contemporary queer movement, we need to reach to the future, not the past.

Julie R. Enszer is a writer and poet who lives in University Park, MD. You can read more of her work, including her blog, at www.JulieREnszer.com.

This is column #10 dated September 4, 2007 in the series, CIVILesbianIZATION.

Word Count: 694