The Showtime television series United States of Tara recently featured an episode where Marshall, Tara’s gay teenage son, was introduced to the world of park cruising. Upon entering the park Marshall runs into Ted, a gay family friend, servicing another man. Ted spots Marshall and immediately takes him home.
"Wouldn't you rather fall in love, Marshall?" asks Ted, "Wouldn't you rather be sixteen and in love? I marched in Washington and shopped on Christopher Street so you'd have the choice to do that, instead of going to that park and getting off and servicing strangers."
Many young gay men today may, in fact, agree with Ted’s character. Younger queer culture has largely moved past the days of cruising parks; and many in our community may view this behavior as an unhealthy and unnecessary relic of times gone by when stigma, shame and secrecy about queer identity forced men into clandestine connections.(Ted would call it "shanger")
Our role is certainly not to judge how, or even where, any person in our community chooses to hook up. It is important to realize, however, that similar threats can exist for anyone engaged in the cruising game---whether online or in the parks and other public places. So let’s talk briefly about the risks one should consider:
First of all, anytime you’re having sex with a casual partner, whether in the parks, the bath-house or the bedroom, you may be putting yourself at risk HIV and/or other STD’s. It is important to protect yourself and your partners. This can take many forms---talking to potential partners about their STD and/or testing history, using safer sex practices like using condoms and not exchanging body fluids (i.e. blood or semen) with partners, or making the decision to only engage in less risky forms of sex (i.e. oral vs. anal sex).
Protection is about a lot more than just condoms and STDs though. Whenever you’re having casual or anonymous sex, there may be things you don’t know about the specific partner(s) with whom you find yourself. This can lead to threats to your physical safety. There HAVE been reports (including here in Rochester) of people being robbed, physically attacked, or even killed by strangers they hook up with. Cruising parks have also often been the sites of gay bashing incidents.
According to a May 5 press release from the GAGV, The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) has recently tracked an increase in pick-up violence targeting LGBTQ people. It is very important to be aware of your surroundings. Whenever possible make sure someone you trust knows where you are or that you have a way to contact help if necessary. Do your best not to put yourself in unsafe environments or situations.
Finally, sex in parks or other public places is against the law! Specifically it’s illegal to have your genitals exposed and/or to be engaged in a sex act in public. If you are having sex in the parks, you CAN be arrested! (Note: Frequently arrests occur when there are undercover cops in the park---specifically looking for men engaging in unlawful and/or lewd behavior.)
These arrests can have serious implications on your life including attention in the media, criminal charges, legal sanctions and other outcomes that can seriously impact your professional & social life---outcomes that one might suggest far outweigh the momentary thrill and/or release of a quick public sexual encounter.
The best advice here is probably to avoid using the parks as a sexual venue altogether. If you can’t/won’t do that, however, certainly be on your guard…and maybe even consider not actually HAVING sex in the park (i.e. it isn’t illegal to meet a guy in the park, chat him up and take him home with you).
Ultimately, whether or not you choose to play in the parks or anywhere else is YOUR decision…but you should understand both sides of the issue, know the risks, and do everything you can to keep yourself safe and healthy!