Thursday, 21 June 2012

Spaces of Contention: Vapourising Cruising Objections

Twitter followers will have seen in the last few days that I was fascinated by a  story concerning the Occupy movement in London.  Pink News reported that Occupy had responded to criticisms of their site on Hampstead Heath (a well known cruising site) by suggesting that their presence could 'vaporise' gay cruising.  It was a clear example of two sub-cultures fighting over constructions, the queering, of space.

In much the same way that we see conflict between a 'boy-racer', 'chav' culture and the sub-cultural practice of dogging, once again we were apparently seeing a space in conflict.  This was the all the more fascinating for the Occupy movement has sought to position itself as a leftist group, far more in line with radical queer approaches than conservative conceptions of space.  It was - put simply - a bit rich for a group which appears to defecate on a public space to object to ephemeral consensual encounters with typically no lasting trace.

However, the story didn't end there.  Pink News has revised the story, now making clear that the 'Occupy London' comments were from one individual - Timothy Sullivan - and didn't represent the Occupy movement.

Ronan McNern, member of the Occupy London press team and co-founder of the LGBTQI anti-cuts collective Queer Resistance, told this afternoon: “I was furious when I saw these comments, which are not representative of Occupy London, and against our own Safer Spaces Policy, which is very clear: ‘Racism, as well as ageism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia, ableism or prejudice based on ethnicity, nationality, class, gender, gender presentation, language ability, asylum status or religious affiliation is unacceptable and will be challenged.’ “These comments are not representative of Occupy London. Occupy is made up of individuals and these are the comments of an individual – comments that run contrary to positions decided by Occupy in its very earliest days and remain at the core of how we relate to and show respect for one another."

Although Sullivan now appears to have been side-lined, he spoke an essential truth.  His presence, and that of his fellow Occupy folks transforms the space, and their permanent presence will inevitably disrupt cruising behaviour within that space.

Although the response from Occupy is to highlight their own policies and their opposition to homophobia, it's unclear whether opposition to cruising per se amounts to homophobia.  If that were the case, then some gay men - such as the author Paul Burston - who have condemned contemporary cruising, are themselves homophobic.  Moreover, it pre-supposes that men who engage in cruising are gay - a very non-queer perspective on public sex behaviour from a groups that describes itself as 'Queer'.

I don't however think that his comments were motivated by malice.  Rather, I suspect he was trying to be a little clever and it backfired.  If you assume that the same socially conservative group who object to  cruising also object to Occupy, then his argument can offer something of a moral 'short-circuiting' - would you rather have men splashing their semen about the place or a few people rustling up vegan sausages in a morning? The alternative is that he was just an idiot.  A conclusion which one can not dismiss.

The story also highlights the problems with these social stands.  If you favour x, you must also favour y.  Just as this story suggest (shock horror) that not all lefty anti-capitalists support public sex, public sex advocates do not always support lefty anti-capitalists.  It might seem simple to suggest that these positions are not mutually exclusive and yet, we often do make these very assumptions.

Of course, whether we are discussing public sex or Occupy, we are talking about the 'ownership' of public sex and conflicts of legitimate use.  That debate will continue to run.

Read the full story here.

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