| Guttural Mind: Why don’t we do it in the road?

A look into the heteronormative values of public space

Hey asshole, here’s a good rule of thumb: if you stumble upon two girls doing it in a public space, and you’re not invited, the most appropriate response is to leave. That’s right, get out. It is not: hang around, tell everyone what you just saw, make rude comments, or take pictures. Did your mother teach you nothing?

You’d be surprised at how many people don’t get this concept. The first time the lady and I ever hooked up was at a high school party. Some fortunate soul stumbled upon us, and instead of leaving, the response was something along the lines of, “Hey, I’m gonna watch this for a while and then tell everyone at the party that there is lesbian sex going on upstairs so they can come and take a gander.” I’m not sure how many people witnessed the consummation of our relationship, but that bedroom certainly seemed to employ an open-door policy that night. That night gave way to two major themes of our coupledom: great sex alongside some non-consensual voyeurism.

In the years since that fateful night, I’ve looked up from a street corner make-out session to: cat calling, guys asking if they can join, people telling us “not to stop,” grandmother’s gaping, and – on one particularly memorable occasion – a group of bros in a car videotaping us with their cellphone camera. Real classy, guys. I haven’t exactly compiled the data, but I’m pretty sure this doesn’t happen to straight couples. At least not with the same regularity.

While anyone doing their business in public should expect a rude aside or two from passersby, I feel like this kind of spectator sport is reserved for queer public displays of affection – particularly the lesbian kind. After all, guys watching girls kissing is the makings of a really good beer commercial.

The whole cultural acceptance of guys thinking lesbians are hot is a homophobic one. It’s a way for the patriarchy to assert control over something it has no place in: women-only sexuality. By appropriating these displays for men, lesbian sexual expression is once again safely contained in a heterosexual domain. When a guy catcalls my lesbian PDA, he’s inserting himself into my sexual experience. But buddy, this shit ain’t for you, it’s for us. What’s more, such reactions reestablish public space as heteronormative.

Physical space is not some weird apolitical twilight zone. It is actually inscribed with cultural values that everything around us – from architecture to design to our moral codes of conduct – serves to reinforce. This could mean something obvious, like the fact that stairs restrict wheelchair users from accessing a building; or it could mean that our normative values code the majority of public space as heterosexual. Of course, this demarcation is invisible. Heterosexuality is generally considered the dominant and naturalized form of sexuality in our culture, which means that it often gets a free pass. Thus, heterosexuality can flit through cafés and parks unscathed. It is only when our friendly heterosexual space is disrupted by a queer act that the heterosexuality of public space becomes apparent. For instance, just last May, a lesbian couple was asked to refrain from kissing at a Seattle Mariner’s Game because some mother complained that “there were children around.” Honey, those kids are downing corn dogs filled with toxins and who knows what percentage of rat remains, and you’re concerned about some same-sex tongue-on-tongue? Get your priorities straight.

What exactly is so harmful about the meeting of sex and public space anyway? Sure there are real dangers to sex – such as STIs or throwing out your back – but there are also real dangers to that “fork in the eye” magic trick where you put a creamer close to your eye and stab it with a fork and then you pretend that you stabbed your eye….yeah, that shit’s weird. Anyway, I digress. Public sex laws, designed to protect unsuspecting citizens from the danger that created them, often specifically target queer sex. Yet, the fact is that queers have a historical alignment with public sex. Before urban gaybourhoods were created, cruising grounds were often situated in public spaces such as cemeteries, parks and, most famously, bathrooms. As recently as 1998, George Michael was arrested for giving the cock-eye to a police officer’s private parts in a Beverly Hills bathroom. Sure, straight couples get arrested for having public sex, but I’ve never heard of a guy getting arrested for staring at a girl’s chest. Public sex is queer sex – in every meaning of the word. Sex, in its conventional definition, is private. Moreover, the gradients of acceptable public displays of affection for straight and queer couples diverge in the fact that queer acts cross over into the realm of exhibitionism much more readily than hetero ones. Exhibitionism is akin to fetishsm, and, in my book, fetishes are covered under that big umbrella term of queerdom.

What we’re really saying when we talk about moral decency and public sex, is that we want to maintain public space as heteronormative. It comes own to our culturally ingrained need to keep all these disruptive queer acts of girls kissing girls and George Michael ogling a fellow’s privates away from the public sphere, where they may make passersby question the norms and values written on the space. As such, public sex of any kind should be regarded as a political act. It’s certainly still a dangerous one. In 2005, a lesbian couple kissing on the corner of St. Denis and Mont-Royal were gay bashed in broad daylight.

I think it’s time we all answered the Beatles’ age-old question “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?” by taking our sexuality to the streets in order to redefine public space as a safe one for everyone.

Guttural Mind will be back with more mind-blowing norm-bashing next week in the Mind&Body section.