Thursday, October 09, 2003

When I was younger, my dad went to a funeral of one of them men at work. I later found out that the guy had killed himself after being convicted for cottaging. When I "came out" to my parents, one of the first things they warned me about was "hanging round public toilets" - the fate of the work colleague still looming large.

I have never been arrested for cottaging, but I know people who have. The brother-in-law of a gay friend was caught by the police, disgraced in front of his wife, children and neighbours. He killed himself too. Another friend told me about his arrest at the age of 18 - being hauled back home by the police, who announced to his parents that their son was both gay and under arrest for having sex with men in a toilet. The guy was clinically depressed for months. But it didn't stop him going back to the same toilets a year later.

I therefore have rather emotional and strong feelings about the subject of cottaging. I can't recommend it - I find it mildly annoying if I encounter it, but it fills me with rage that people can be arrested for something so petty - leading to ruined lives, not just their own, but those of their families.

The government are planning a new Clause (74) of their Sexual Offences Act. This actually hardens the response to men having sex in public toilets, by sending them to prison for up to two years. Two years for touching someone's cock! You don't need Annie Lennox singing "Sex Crime" to tell you how wrong and fucked up that is. And I'm sorry, but I don't want my tax money to go on putting people in prison for something like that.

With that said, I am stumped for an alternative solution. Providing more bona fide places for gay people to meet may help a little, but some people cottage because the danger and sleaze is a turn-on. Installing attendants or CCTV would be expensive, and closing the loos down wouldn't benefit people like me, who have a peanut bladder. Perhaps removing the sense of stigma associated with gay sex and public sex would make it less attractive to some people, while opening up other options. I don't think that the solution proposed by the government is the right one - it sends out the wrong message, which will lead to more stigmatisation, which will lead to fewer people coming out, which will lead to more surruptitious sexual activity in public toilets.

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