The way some sections of the gay press carry on, you'd think a fundamental civil liberty was under threat - Life and Style - The Independent

The way some sections of the gay press carry on, you'd think a fundamental civil liberty was under threat

You know gay summer has officially begun when Hampstead Heath is raided again. This summer, every summer ... The weather turns nice and the wildlife, you should pardon the expression, comes out. Hampstead locals taking their progeny for a little sun and air find both heels and buggy wheels sticking to discarded condoms and empty tubs of Crisco - those traditional, tell-tale signs that you have fairies at the bottom of your communal garden. Night and day, but especially night, there's the cackle of mating calls, beating-off around the bushes and a constant stream of furtive trade riding through the glen, occasionally stopping, the little Tinkerbells - so residents claim - to light a fire and verbally abuse those vicious homophobes who have the nerve to object. "I say, would you chaps mind awfully ..." when they turn a corner of woodland to find the Bum Boy Three going at it like the clappers against a mighty oak.

Complaints inevitably follow (no!), the police arrive en masse, invariably in the wee small hours, hundreds of gay men scatter, crying "Brutality!" and "Who's seen my Calvins?" and our annual uproar is guaranteed; the long-suffering Ham and High is once more reduced to asking - each year less and less in anger and more and more in bewilderment - "Don't these people have homes to go to?"

Ah, there's the rub, rub, rub. As BBC2's documentary series It's Not Unusual makes clear, there was a twilight time when getting back to nature was about all a gay man could do, the odd underground club excepted. Mostly, there were only public toilets, parks and not-too-open spaces for sexual contact, though that contact could carry a terrible penalty: arrest, exposure, a fine, possible imprisonment, probable ruin. It was heterosexuals' lowest, enforced estimation of the homosexual - dirty perverts lurking about the bogs and neglected shrubberies - and something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, also: you were crudely reduced to furtive physical acts in sordid surroundings, when you might have been looking for love and a measure of paradise.

That was then. This is now. Those still stumbling about in the gloom of the closet or living outside major urban areas can justifiably argue that they don't have an option, that their reason for "cottaging" and alfresco sex is a necessity. But otherwise, to pick up where the Ham and High left off, not only has the bedroom been invented; so has the back room, the gay pub, the gay club, the gay classifieds, the gay escort, the gay sauna, the gay restaurant, the gay shopping mall, the gay phone line and walking home from work and making beady eye contact with Mr Right Now. Joining the world, not hiding from it. If you want to get laid in (relative) safety, you're spoilt for choice.

Yet the way certain head-banging sections of the gay press report the Heath, the uninformed would be forgiven for thinking that - insultingly - no progress, change or even commercial expansion of gay life had occurred in the past 40 years and, furthermore, that some fundamental gay civil liberty was under provocative threat.

Check this headline: "Met raids Heath to clear 'illegal activity'". Now ask yourself: why quotation marks around "illegal activity"? Is there any lingering doubt in law that shagging in possible plain sight of the public is a definite no-no? It's not as if gay men are being particularly picked on. The dull fact is that a certain minimal level of propriety is expected from us all. Indecent behaviour, or behaviour liable to cause a breach of the peace, is equally illegal if heterosexuals are the offending parties, though it should be noted that straights who do the dirty in the rhododendrons tend to be duly warned, while gay men run a higher risk of being charged.

Risk, of course, undoubtedly has more to do with it than any automatic defence of sexual politics, though you can always count on Outrage! to describe Westminster Council's decision to cut away the undergrowth in Russell Square as "a serious attack on gay men" - who should, of course, be allowed to do it any way they want to do it, smack dab in the centre of London. Isn't that what we've been fighting for?

The correspondent who wrote to one gay weekly declaring his basic right to "have sex when I want, with who I want, where I want" is thus encouraged to believe he's articulating an ideology, though what's more clearly heard is the deluded voice of the addict. He isn't arguing an agenda, but maybe exhibiting a minority compulsion, recent studies showing that the role of public sex is falling increasing from gay favour. Well, why court the dangers earlier generations dreaded, if you're not in thrall to the thrill of perhaps being caught? What's the difference between defiant and self- destructive? Come on to the wrong stranger in a cottage - let's say the charmless sort, who's just popped in for a slash - and you could find yourself nursing a black eye, a ruptured spleen and a broken jaw. Not that even this will be enough to drive some to think. To think that what you want, what you really, really want, isn't perhaps sex per se but the threat of punishment, and that rather than curse the cops out for moving you on, they ought to be thanked for obviously obliging you.

And if that sort of blindness to your own behaviour appears impossible, consider this: 16 years after the Aids era dawned, Rubberstuffers still haunt Hampstead Heath handing out condoms, which could either be viewed as a waste of money (the charitable view) or an implicit admission of a continuing irresponsibility too staggering for either righteous right or worthy cant adequately to camouflagen

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

    Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

    Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

    £26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

    Retail Business Analyst

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week