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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
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

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

    Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

    Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

    salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower