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Has The Gay Rights Movement Forgotten Its 'Gritty, Dirty' Sexual Past?

Gay-sex-in-the-70s-006Acceptance of gay people and support for their rights has reached an all-time high in this country. For the first time in history, a majority of Americans support same-sex couples' right to marry. We even have the expressed support of the first sitting president. Yet, as LGBT people delve deeper into the American mainstream, some argue that gays in America have abandoned some of the more seedy, sexual aspects of their past. 

Such is the subject of Robert A. Schanke's book Queer Theatre and the Legacy of Cal Yeomans, as well as his recent HuffPostGay piece "The Gay Sexual Explosion That Has Been Nearly Forgotten". In his piece, Schanke chronicles some of his earlier exploits in New York City during the mid-1970's, specifically touching on such old haunts as The Anvil, The Spike, The Mineshaft, and the previously-abandoned warehouse district near the Hudson River. Much to his dismay, none of the places he describes in his piece are characteristic of their former selves. He opines...

"Today, in part because of AIDS, very few of those popular gay cruising sites still exist. In our current desire to acquire civil rights equal to the straight community, we have chosen to assimilate and to clean up our act. When I recently explored some of my old haunts, I was amused. The Anvil is now a gentrified, chic restaurant, complete with white linen tablecloths and candles. The waterfront along the Hudson River has become the lovely, serene High Line public park."

Gay sex in the 70s 7According to him, "for over a decade after Stonewall, a gay man could have sex in New York almost anywhere, anytime, 24/7." As to whether or not that is still the case could certainly be the subject of debate. While gay cruising and hookup culture has almost certainly changed over the years, just because it is different doesn't necessarily mean that it doesn't exist. One quick sweep of smartphone apps such as Grindr, Scruff, and GuySpy (just to name a few), or sites like Adam4Adam,, or even Craigslist (again, just to name a few), and one could certainly find plenty of willing sexual partners at any time of day, in virtually any city in the country. Thus, perhaps the contemporary gay movement hasn't done away with its sexual nature entirely. Instead, technology has allowed for cruisers to browse potential partners in the comfort of their own home. 

Then again, minority groups have always had to endure a bit of watering down when entering into the American mainstream. Malcolm X continues to be a difficult subject to teach in schools, due to some of his more radical teachings. Very often, those teaching about Helen Keller will conveniently gloss over her Socialist past. Such "cleaning up" is, to a certain extent, necessary when grade school teachers have to start teaching their students about the LGBT rights movement (something that this native FLoridian never got the chance to learn about until college). Thus, it will be the duty of scholars like Schanke to keep the more sexual aspects of the gay rights legacy alive. 

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  1. Jesus. Yet another old queen crying about gay men not sucking cock in an alley anymore? He does realize the the Internet has simply moved the playing field, right? We're still men with the same appetite. One day a guy my age will write a tome about Grindr.

    Posted by: Mike | Jul 24, 2013 7:19:59 AM

  2. Well - it lives on in Berlin, somewhat. Let's see how long it lasts there ...

    Posted by: HarryB | Jul 24, 2013 7:42:41 AM

  3. I find it an ironic juxtaposition of this post's title and the previous post, wherein, faced with an alarming example of contemporary Western society's demonization of sex, you merely remarked, "[PM] Cameron needs to ensure that LGBT individuals in the country, and especially LGBT youth, have access to internet resources on sexual health and sexuality." It's pretty obvious that the LGBT mainstream has joined the finger-wagging, sex-negative, normalizing culture at large.

    Posted by: Arthur | Jul 24, 2013 7:43:31 AM

  4. This is the price of admission. Individuals may choose otherwise but as a movement there isn't a choice.

    Posted by: Mastik8 | Jul 24, 2013 7:45:25 AM

  5. "sex-negative" culture? what planet are you on?

    Posted by: Paul | Jul 24, 2013 7:46:41 AM

  6. I always get so grossed out reading about old gay guys complaining about how they can't have sleazy sex in dirty public places anymore lol like yeah it's really sad how we've lost so many things in our assimilation to heteronormativity but cruising isn't one of them

    Posted by: JMC | Jul 24, 2013 7:48:41 AM

  7. " ... some argue that gays in America have abandoned some of the more seedy, sexual aspects of their past." ?

    Well, there's still New Orleans .....

    Posted by: Adam | Jul 24, 2013 7:49:15 AM

  8. The gay community is not and never will be the straight community. Also, people overestimate just how accepted we as a community, but that's another argument. If we were truly accepted without condition (we're getting there but not there yet), then you'd see the lines blurred a lot more than they are currently.

    Assimilation comes with a price but the gay world and the straight world aren't the same worlds. There's still a distinct gay culture, it's just less insular and less driven by fear and shame. And given that's the case, you're going to see more same-sex couples having children and you're going to see less sex in bathrooms. There's more openness. But that doesn't mean we've turned completely heteronormative.

    Posted by: Francis #1 | Jul 24, 2013 8:00:50 AM

  9. Sorry but the vast majority of gay men of that generation never went to The Anvil, The Spike, The Mineshaft. And didn't care to go there in the mid-1970's. In reality most gay men are more vanilla than not.

    That does not mean they are anti-sex.

    Posted by: Gus | Jul 24, 2013 8:02:13 AM

  10. Don't worry, there are plenty of guys who still think it's the 1970s and want to have quickie sex in places like locker rooms. The rest of them have actually grown up.

    Posted by: Jack M | Jul 24, 2013 8:02:53 AM

  11. Yea, as a college guy, I do tire of these sorts of pinings for the supposedly hedonistic days of the '70s, early '80s. And then the next post is about remembering AIDS victims from exactly that time period.

    The reason people aren't f*cking in the street all the time like the
    good 'ol days" is because they started DYING.

    Posted by: scott | Jul 24, 2013 8:24:24 AM

  12. Um, yes, AIDS had something to do with the changes in his old haunts, and maybe assimilation plays as role as well, but there's also something called the NYC real Estate market. Did he imagine the meat packing district was going to be set in amber circa 1977? Can you honestly fault landlords for renting their spaces to restauranteurs instead of sex club operators? Did he think the Hudson river waterfront was going to remain a district of dilapidated, rat infested piers indefinitely?

    Posted by: Leo | Jul 24, 2013 8:26:16 AM

  13. As a 54-year-old veteran of the 70s and 80s, I personally think it's FANTASTIC that a new generation has cleaned up the gay act.

    Please put me down as one of the older gay men who think that the type of article above is nothing short of some old perv who is sad that sex isn't something he can find in a alley or a park any longer.

    I absolutely hate the word "heteronormative" because it implies that heteros are the only norm. Gay people have a norm too and thankfully, it is no longer sleaze. It's healthy, in-the-open attitudes about monogamous relationships and low-risk sex and there is no longer a place for secret alleyway and park hook-ups with as many men as possible with no protection.

    Those days are OVER and so is the attitude that it's OK. It's not OK and never was.

    "Gritty, dirty sex" is sad, dangerous and risky. If that's some kind of kinky turn-on for some, don't paint the rest of my generation with that brush. Too many died in that way for it to be a good thing.

    Posted by: johnny | Jul 24, 2013 8:42:59 AM

  14. Sorry that I choose not to have sex in the alleyway. I care about my boyfriend.

    Posted by: Joey Y | Jul 24, 2013 8:49:55 AM

  15. If Schanke thinks that Gays are not having sex anymore, then he is clearly mistaken.
    He is also fooling himself if he thinks that Gay rights could have been achieved without moving the conversation away from sex acts toward showing that we are well rounded people with full lives outside the bedroom, or the dirty West Side alley.
    I wish that the Roxy was still open, but things change and that's the nature of the Universe. Sexy bars and clubs in the 1970s may have brought Gay men together, but not all of us have been interested in the kind of promiscuity that ultimately proved devastating to our community. I understand and respect their place in our history and may have even enjoyed partaking in them from time to time, but, frankly I don't care to be represented by a leather bar or a sex club.

    Posted by: abie | Jul 24, 2013 8:50:16 AM

  16. @Johnny I just have to echo what you say as a 48 year old and I also think it is a much better place for the younger generation. However I think knowing our history is key

    Posted by: hotbeef801 | Jul 24, 2013 8:59:27 AM

  17. "Yet another old queen crying about gay men not sucking cock in an alley anymore? He does realize the the Internet has simply moved the playing field, right?"

    Spot on. And furthermore, the Internet and the sheer number of out men has enabled gays to be more choosy. They're still have dirty, nasty, gutterbutt sex. Just not with him.

    Posted by: ripper | Jul 24, 2013 9:08:51 AM

  18. Times change, roll with it. Men are still having anonymous sex with strangers who are older and look far worse than we imagined, they're just doing it on grindr. Plus, they aren't risking a head bashing or arrest to do it. Nothing stays the same forever. For any of us. Let it go.

    Posted by: Michaelandfred | Jul 24, 2013 9:18:31 AM

  19. LOVE the collective tone of these responses. Y'all are right. There was a long period where sleazy bars, clubs, bath houses and cruising joints were the ONLY place to meet one another. I'm proud of the fact that today, from high school GSA's to knitting clubs to LGBT athletic groups, we're meeting one another by daylight. Proudly.

    If you haven't seen the excellent documentary "Gay Sex in the 70's," do. It'll give you a great understanding of our recent history. I agree that younger gays should learn about this stuff, but they shouldn't ever have to re-live it.

    Posted by: GMB | Jul 24, 2013 9:32:31 AM

  20. Wow, what a trite article.

    Posted by: Fenrox | Jul 24, 2013 9:59:52 AM

  21. Gay men are mostly judgmental bitter queens. I guess that's still the same. It would great if the younger generation would change that negative aspect of the gay community.

    Posted by: Joe | Jul 24, 2013 10:24:19 AM

  22. Gentlemen,

    We have historical past that dosen't seem to want to be discussed. It is part of our past and is important to our history. It is these figures from our past that have brought us to where we are today. The author happens to be a great friend and an excellent writer. Just because someone is past the so called gay prime does not make them a bitter old queen. Grow up boys!

    Posted by: randyalways | Jul 24, 2013 10:33:38 AM

  23. What? Things change? Values evolve? Crazy talk!

    Posted by: Darwood | Jul 24, 2013 10:36:05 AM

  24. "Though nothing can bring back splendor in the grass or the glory in the flower..."

    ...but frankly folks, we HAD to evolve.

    Posted by: Max | Jul 24, 2013 10:52:31 AM

  25. @ Johnny: I am an older gay man too and I couldn't have said it better than you did!!!

    Posted by: andrew | Jul 24, 2013 10:53:11 AM

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