Foot Tapping and Bathroom Cruising

FOOT TAPPING AND BATHROOM CRUISING….Yesterday one of my readers emailed to say he was annoyed by all the ignorant blog commentary emanating from straight young whippersnappers on the subject of Larry Craig’s restroom shenanigans in Minnesota:

Here’s what set me off: Craig’s actions have been considered ample grounds for arrest for decades. Tens of thousands of gay men have gotten permanent records (quite often a fourth or fifth-degree felony), frequently losing jobs and going onto “sex offender” lists. Gay rights advocates have been furious about this for a long time.

If lefty bloggers feel the Minnesota police behaved outrageously, why haven’t they said anything before? If Craig’s arrest marks their introduction to this heinous practice, where’s the outrage for all the victims? Writing “I don’t see how he broke any laws,” without understanding that society criminalized those actions long ago sounds naive. Do they really think no one has ever come to that conclusion before — or tried to change the practice and failed?

Today, non-whippersnapper blogger and cultural critic David Ehrenstein writes in the LA Times to provide a bit of related historical background. In 1964, LBJ aide Walter Jenkins was arrested for soliciting sex in the men’s room of a Washington D.C. YMCA in what was then one of the few ways gay men could hook up. Five years later the Stonewall riots kicked off the gay rights movement:

That movement, with its defiant insistence on being free to be as gay as all-get-out, quickly left the likes of Walter Jenkins and, if the cops were right, Larry Craig in the dust. They’re part of a subculture within a subculture that was memorably identified by the daring sociologist Laud Humphreys in a landmark sociological study titled “Tearoom Trade.”

Taking his cue from Kinsey, Humphreys was fascinated with married-with-children men who didn’t self-identify as gay or bisexual, yet still sought clandestine sex with other men on the side. Humphreys, when he began his research, was one of these I’m-not-gay(s) himself, though he eventually came out.

Published in 1970, “Tearoom Trade” is full of useful information about foot tapping, shoe touching, hand signaling and all the other rituals those so inclined use to make contact with one another in such places. Clearly no media outlet should be without a copy — especially Slate.com, whose editors revealed their cluelessness on the subject this week in a “real time conversation” rife with unintentional hilarity: “I can’t believe it’s a crime to tap your foot.” “Can someone explain the mechanics of how two people are supposed to commit a sex act in a stall where legs are visible from the knee down?”

Who knows? Maybe the Larry Craig incident will have a silver lining, prompting states to begin questioning all their solicitation laws. And if not that, maybe at least the stupider and most antique ones. A guy can dream.

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