In light of the Project Marie police sting in Etobicoke’s Marie Curtis Park, Daily Xtra is re-publishing an August 2004 piece by Vancouver’s former managing editor Gareth Kirkby, called, “Park Sex is a Good Thing.”
While the piece is Vancouver-focused, the questions it raises, and the police intrusions it challenges, certainly apply to Toronto too.
In Project Marie, Toronto Police Services sent undercover officers into Marie Curtis Park for six weeks to look for sexual activity and arrest men who allegedly solicited the officers for sex. Police charged 72 people with 89 offences.
Read Kirkby's piece below.
“Park Sex is a Good Thing”
Why some like sex among the ferns or the beach
While some straights and gays like to make out in the perfumed rainforests or under the open sky, some others wonder why. With Surrey police now harassing gay cruisers at Bear Creek Park, the question hangs unspoken in many media reports.
Below is a wee peek at the culture of park sex, in a question-and-answer format. The questions reflect a few of the comments I've heard from people who don't get why it is that some prefer bushes to mattresses.
Q: Can't we stay out of the parks?
A: Why should we? Sex is fun. Some people like sex in a bed; others prefer it in more adventurous locations. Gays often make and meet friends in parks; there's a major social component to park cruising. All consensual sex is good sex, and we all have our kink. Straights do park sex, too-there are loads of heteros making out in cars at Prospect Point and Ferguson Point and, in summer months, on the beach along English Bay and False Creek. This is good, too. Straights even write songs about it, like "I Found My Thrill on Blueberry Hill." They also invented the 'Mile High Club' for coupling in airplane washrooms. Straights call this 'making out'. When gays do it, society calls it 'public sex' and sometimes treats it as abnormal. What's up with that?
Q: Isn't park sex, like bathhouse sex, mainly about self-loathing closeted men and older out gay guys?
A: Not by a long shot. Sure, many straight-identified married men begin to deal with their same-sex desire at the parks and tubs and in washrooms-and what's wrong with that? But many out, proud and happy gay men like parks and tubs, too. My recent informal survey found that the parks this summer have a profound cross-section of ages-from 20 to 80. In the last couple of years, the number of younger users has increased. Clearly, park cruising is not on the decline. Probably because park sex can be fun and can enrich your life.
Many people go to parks because they're free: other ways of meeting friends or sex partners cost money-for example, restaurants, cafés, bars, bathhouses, phone-sex lines.
Q: Now that we have our rights recognized, won't we see people giving up this stuff? I thought it was a sign of internalized homophobia.
A: No, it's a sign that some people find it fun. Parks all around the world, in liberal countries and oppressive countries, are meeting places for gay men. I doubt if that will ever change-it's been happening for centuries. In countries where they clamp down on park sex, including places where police or death squads arrest and sometimes kill men for having sex in a park, men still go. It's a fact. We all need to deal with it.
Q: But I don't see why the cops should be expected to keep people safe when they're engaged in an illegal act.
A: We in the gay community get used to being second-class citizens; we accept a standard that others wouldn't-such as looking over our shoulders all the time before holding our lover's hand. If a straight couple was murdered by a fiend with a chainsaw at Prospect Point-or Bear Creek Park-do you think the straight community would suggest that they shouldn't have been making out at that location? Not a chance! They'd be calling for the arrest of the killer before others are killed. We have the right to feel safe wherever we are and we don't even feel safe at Davie and Burrard at night.
Police can keep us safe, while not interfering with our making out. We should stay off the roadway and other high-traffic areas while making out-that's just stupidity. Park staff should leave thick vegetative cover in gay cruising areas, instead of thinning them out and then inviting police to arrest people who have now been made visible. If the making out is kept off the trails, police should leave us alone. What's out of sight should be out of mind. We all know cops don't enforce all the laws they see violated on any one day. The anti-sex laws date back to a time when the whole Criminal Code reflected biblical principles; we've come a long way. Violence should be policed; consensual sex not.
Q: But these guys don't represent me. They embarrass me. They're not a part of the 'normal' gay community, are they?
A: Well, you don't represent them either and some of them might be embarrassed by 'Respect Queens.' Let's remember that all gays were considered abnormal just a few years ago. So, we should be the last to judge each other. Hey, it was the drag queens, leather men, public sex aficionados, hustlers and SM dykes who were the first out of the closet, building community, and fighting for our rights for a couple of decades. Our rights, by the way, to have sex our way. They won some of those rights and created the geography where other, more mainstream, gays and lesbians could feel comfortable coming out. We owe it all to these folks, not to the 'respect queens' who try to distance themselves from anything other than vanilla sex practiced by longterm couples in their own bed. We're a diverse community, and we should be supporting each other's choices about where to make love and how and with how many, rather than dividing into "good gays" and "bad gays." For that matter, a recent study found that only two percent of Vancouver's gay males are in longterm relationships of over seven years' duration. I think park sex is probably as 'normal' as any other way of relating in our community. Let's stop being mean to each other over how we make love.
Q: Doesn't anything bother you about park-sex lovers?
A: Actually, I think it's important to stay off trails. And I think gays, including park sex aficionados, need to be nicer to each other in public. We need to use condoms. We need to clean up after ourselves, not littering. We need to smile at each other more. And we need to look out for each other out there. If you hear someone yelling, grab a couple more gay people near you and run to help.
There's safety in numbers. We need lots of people using parks so that each individual cruiser is safer. If you’re a park lover, I say be careful out there, watch out for each other out there, but don’t let this stop you from living your life fully in the way you desire.