Live and Let Live – In Defence of Gay Cruising

It’s healthier, non-commercialised and mostly safe, discreet and lots of fun.

By Peter Tatchell, gay human rights campaigner

Evening Standard – London, 19 October 2005


The tragic murder of Jody Dobrowski on Clapham Common has got every Tom, Dick and Harriet pontificating about the rights and wrongs of gay cruising: the phenomenon of gay men going to parks and woods – usually after dark – in search of fun, enjoyable sexual experiences.

It’s so dangerous, they say. Nonsense. Ninety-nine per cent gay cruising ends pleasurably and safely, with no one being bashed. Gay men are more likely to be attacked on their doorstep, leaving a gay bar and travelling home on a night bus.

Prudes ask: why do gay men need to go cruising? Aren’t there plenty of gay clubs? The answer is simple: cruising is a great thrill and adventure. We all know the special excitement of a first sexual encounter with a new partner. Cruising offers that excitement every time you do it.

Besides, cruising in the fresh air is much healthier than smoky, noisy and overcrowded bars. It is also possibly safer. In a bar, men are more likely to get drunk and therefore more likely to have unsafe sex.

Lots of us are fed up with the way rip-off merchants have commercialised gay culture. We don’t want to pay £10 to get into a club that charges over-the-top prices for drinks. Some gays are too young or poor to afford the pink pound lifestyle. We like the fact that outdoor cruising areas are commercial-free zones.

Critics depict cruising as cold and heartless. Not necessarily. It can be quite romantic to cruise in the woods on a summer’s night under the moon and stars. Sometimes the sex isn’t quick and anonymous. It can lead to long term relationships. I know. I met one of my lovers in a park at 1am. We are still good friends ten years later.

Many older, disabled and not-so-handsome gay men feel alienated by the ‘body fascism’ of gay bars, where the young and the beautiful rule the roost. In contrast, cruising areas tend to be more egalitarian and open to all.

Some people go cruising because they are not open about their homosexuality and fear someone might discover their secret if they go to a gay venue. These tend to be married men, young teens and men who come from strongly homophobic cultures: white working class council estates, and parts of the Muslim and Afro-Caribbean communities. Al fresco sex is their only outlet.

Gay cruising areas are similar to lover’s lanes, where heterosexual couples rendezvous for sexual liaisons. There is also the new straight craze of ‘dogging’, which involves men and women meeting up for sex at designated motorway lay-bys and forests.

No one should have sex in places where members of the public might witness them and take offence. But providing the sex is discreet, I don’t see a problem. While some people may not approve of such behaviour, my plea is this: if no one is being harmed, live and let live.