I'm sitting with my legs crossed on a bench outside of a restroom in Holiday Park, screaming for sodomy.
There's a way you're supposed to look if you're trying to get laid in a public park, and I've got it down: I'm 24, tall and gangly, blond by choice. I'm wearing a little too much lipstick and just the right amount of eyeliner, tight blue jeans, and a light-green, little girl's T-shirt with a cartoon of a flying cat emblazoned with the words SUPER PUSSY!
The knowing smirks at passing joggers, the come-hither winks at geezers in white Caddys: Despite my years in this city as an out homosexual, this is all very new to me. I didn't think things were even done this way anymore.
The mayor begs to differ. On July 4, Mayor Jim Naugle revealed his plan to put a $250,000, one-stall toilet in the parking lot at Sebastian Beach. This was necessary, he said, to thwart the gay sex going down in Fort Lauderdale's public bathrooms. Naugle knew that Sebastian Beach is frequented by gay folks. He said he feared that anonymous gay sex in its bathrooms would traumatize any straight family unlucky enough to stumble upon it.
Naugle has actually made some good policy decisions during his slog across the Fort Lauderdale political scene, but his primary contribution has always been his genius for saying exactly the wrong thing. Even by Naugle's standards, this john debacle was a doozy — and then he eagerly compounded it by protesting the move of the gay and lesbian Stonewall Library to city space at ArtServe, in Holiday Park. Still not satisfied, he held a July 23 news conference on the steps of City Hall and apologized — for having underestimated the incidence of anonymous gay sex in Fort Lauderdale.
If you're gay and you were alive in the 1970s, you may have happy memories of bathhouse craziness and backroom banging. You may even have a glory-hole story to share, or a dozen. Are those days gone now? Are there no more studs with moustaches and hairy chests stalking the wilds beyond monogamy and convention? The gay community used to be Athens. Has it become Weston so quickly?
Not if you believe Naugle. And not if you get your cues from gay entertainment, especially gay cinema. Examine the roadside pickups of L.I.E., the sluttiness of The Edge of Seventeen, the relentless hookups of Latter Days, the sex-obsessed Another Gay Movie and it seems as though the filmmakers have conspired with Naugle to paint the gay community as one continuous orgy. Get Real, a lovely depiction of the lonely gay teen experience, is full of anonymous bathroom sex involving a 16-year-old boy. Ditto Todd Stephens' Gypsy '83. The gay community appears perfectly happy with this image of itself, so long as conservative Christians have nothing to say about it. But is it accurate?
It is if you read Damron, the popular gay travel guide. Published annually since 1964, Damron began life as an underground publication. Now it's sold at Barnes & Noble. It lists gay-friendly clubs, restaurants, cafés, boutiques, and accommodations, and it also offers tips on "cruisy" places. Damron advises readers to visit such places at their own risk and warns about vice cops. In the 2007 edition of the Damron Men's Travel Guide, five cruisy places are listed near Naugle's domain, and two are the same places Naugle has singled out for concern: Sebastian Beach and Holiday Park.
So I went to Sebastian Beach. I stood in the parking lot in my dark-brown Jocko swim shorts and pursed my lips at passersby, and nobody said a thing. I walked up and down the beach, looking as slutty as possible, bending over in the surf and wetting my hair, careful of the eyeliner. Still, nobody said a thing.
So I came to Holiday Park on this gray evening, in my SUPER PUSSY! shirt, still in search of the anonymous sex that Damron and Naugle have promised me. I'm near a sports field now, sitting on a bench outside a bathroom.
Beside the bathroom entrance, a sign says "No Loitering." I am not loitering. I'm reading. Specifically, I am reading Handjobs Presents: Dad's Bedtime Tales, Volume 5. I'm holding the book at eye level, its cover pointed toward the road.
I've been sitting and posing like this for about 45 minutes when a man rises from one of the other benches and winks at me. He's short, with black hair and a deep tan, perhaps 40 years old.
He walks toward me. This is it.
No, it's not. He passes and keeps walking.
"Excuse me!" I call out. "Do you have a light?"
I proffer my cigarette. He lights it.
"Dreary weather tonight, isn't it?" I say.
"Yup," he says. "See you around." And he walks off.
A minivan pulls up. Children get out to use the restroom. I hide my book and slouch, hoping they can't read my shirt.
Twenty minutes later, I am reading about Wess the Bricklayer when a jogger passes by. A moment later, he passes by again. I look up and smile, making moony eyes. He smiles back. When he passes again, I say "Good afternoon."
He returns the sentiment.
This is it.
He stands by the bathroom, stretching. He's about 50, I'd guess. I keep looking at him, and he returns my smiles. Just as I'm about to say something, he's joined by another jogger. They speak in low voices. Then another jogger joins them. They laugh. They sound gay.
Then another jogger joins them, and another. This is it: They're about to enter that bathroom and have a big Athenian orgy.
I walk toward the bathroom. As I get closer to the men, I can hear them talking. They're talking about... real estate.
They are jogging buddies. In the real-estate business.
I go into the bathroom so as not to look like an even bigger idiot. The floor is hideous. A mysterious noise is coming from one of the stalls...
An orgy! Yes!
No. There is something wrong with the toilet.
Screw this. Naugle has completely misled me.
But I know something he doesn't: I head to Northeast Fifth Terrace, by the Searstown Plaza, behind the Pride Factory and the Cubby Hole. Standing against a telephone pole near a Dumpster, I make eyes at the men who cruise by. A few look back. I wink at them.
After half an hour, a man pulls up in a green minivan. "Did I see you earlier?" he asks.
"You saw me when you drove by a moment ago."
"I didn't see you... earlier?"
"Nope," I say, sticking my upper body through his passenger-side window and offering my hand. "I'm Brandon. Nice to meet you."
"I'm Jim," he says. "So." Deep breath. "You hustling?"
"Are you looking?"
Look at Jim: his shiny forehead, his eager eyes. He could be married. He could be a Republican. He could be a politician.
"I'm actually a writer for New Times," I say, "and I was hoping I could ask you a few questions about the scene in this place." I show him my digital recorder.
"Oh no," he says, and the minivan begins to pull away, my body still half in it.
"Sir, if we could just talk for a moment — "
"Nope. Nope. Nope." The minivan accelerates.
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This has not been a good week for anonymous sex. In a city as gay as Fort Lauderdale, with libidos redlining anywhere near as much as Naugle supposes, it should not be this hard for the other Jim to score. In the city Damron touts, and on the evidence of gay cinema, blond 24-year-olds in SUPER PUSSY! T-shirts should have all the loo love they can handle.
But in the real Fort Lauderdale, where real gay people meet at Stork's Café, the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, and in homes for dinners with friends, these things are seldom endorsed or discussed. Four years ago, I met a man who claimed he cruised the Greyhound station downtown. Even now, that's the closest I've ever come to witnessing the action of Get Real and Naugle's fantasy.
Very little is certain about human nature, but people do tend to believe what they hear, and their actions often are dictated by emotion as much as intellect. That's why Naugle is so quick to swallow the myth that gays propagate.
In films, on the Internet, in clubs and magazines, we flout conventional morality at every turn. We are sexual pioneers, Toms of Finland bound for illicit glory. And Naugle's willingness to believe that lets us inhabit yet another potent myth: that we are rebels fighting a system that is out to get us, rather than a valued demographic in an open city, dealing with a mayor who is increasingly isolated. And that's why the gays who flock to Sebastian Beach still don't have a bathroom of their own.