Joshua Badge
10.02.22
Stimulation

In the Garden of Earthly Delights: The Queer Tradition of Cruising

‘Which way to the beat?’ I asked.


My friend tilted his head.


I sauntered down the nude beach, white trainers in hand, buoyed by the confessional freedom that comes with public nakedness. Older patrons sported picturesque straw hats and haphazardly flipped through novels with practised nonchalance. Young day-trippers chatted, their conversations punctuated by occasional laughter, skin glistening in the light. The chatter receded as I clambered over a rocky outcrop, exposing to view an anticlimactically vacant expanse of sand. The beat was not in evidence, though the coastline stretched into the unsure distance. There was only the voice of the ocean, the warmth of the shore on the soles of my feet and the impenetrable scrub which jealously guarded the interior against the sea.

Beats are, by their nature, hidden to outsiders and newcomers since we tend not to leave signs. They exist above and underneath regular space on the plane of experience.

I looked back to the rocky point and into the vanishing point ahead of me several times with a corrugated brow. Beats are, by their nature, hidden to outsiders and newcomers since we tend not to leave signs. They exist above and underneath regular space on the plane of experience. We initiates share a beats’ location, its habitués, hours of operation and other subcultural knowledge with one another in sacred trust. I deliberated the embarrassment of returning to ask for more specific directions when skin flashed in the undergrowth and then vanished, a mirage in the mid-afternoon. The coastal beard heath and wattles stood erect, and the beach abutted a slight rise, creating an illusory wall of green as high as two people stacked on top of one another. The thicket grew through a chain-link fence, gnarled and browned with rust, where the sand surrendered to the suggestion of soil. A break in the fence served as a gateway to paths inside the brush, the entrance to a fabled city that you had to know about to find.


I crossed the threshold and promenaded between brambles as if searching for a diversion from some inconvenient appointment. We sometimes choose sites for their natural features, namely privacy, and other times we carve out refuge where none existed. The beat’s many visitors had worn in its narrow tracks, the traces of their footsteps guiding my own. My eyes scanned for movement first and then the subtleties of body language, gesture, movement, posture, and touch, the grammar that communicates availability and interest. A man turned the corner ahead of me and shot me a cool look. He exuded an air of gentleness, but the moment lacked the dynamism which confirms a compatible suitor. He brushed my arm as if by accident when we passed and held my gaze for longer than would typically be polite. I shook my head to a barely perceptible degree, concluding our negotiation without a word ever having crossed the boundary of our mouths. He smiled at me and I smiled back, and that was enough.


I think of cruising as a way we reclaim the world. The practice of seeking partners for casual and typically anonymous sex resists the process of accumulation where capital portions the earth into ever smaller pieces, owned by ever fewer people. When we realise our sex in public, outside the home, it unbinds intercourse from the suffocating private sphere, the nuptial bed and state control over reproduction. As a tradition it is uniquely ours, one that allows us to craft lives of beauty that we measure by our own standards. In the summer, dozens gather at my local beat in the feverish afterglow of the day. We keep up the pretence of being out for a walk, a comically improbable ruse when the beat is busy, though we are ever vigilant for a stray jogger or police shining torches where they are unwelcome. Still, the experience is there for all to enjoy: the good fortune of eluding insect bites after a stroll by the stream, the perfume of ripe vegetation as it hangs in the humid air, the latex sheen of eyes illuminated by lamplight.

When we realise our sex in public, outside the home, it unbinds intercourse from the suffocating private sphere, the nuptial bed and state control over reproduction.

Cruising requires no justification and I make no apology for my culture. I do not need to defend our pursuit of pleasure, but I cannot help that our little acts of care arouse a profound sense of empathy. For me, at least, cruising escapes the poverty of what ‘love’ means in English. In ancient Greek, the noun for sexual love sounds like the verb which means ‘to ask questions’, an association that is, to my mind, of considerable significance. My dalliance in a public convenience or chance meeting in a park consists of what Plato called ἔρως (sexual passion) and φιλία (virtuous affection). I cruise to satisfy a hunger for animal gratification but in an open way, a stranger among strangers who are nonetheless my equals. In this way, cruising expresses my peaceful connection to others and, by extension, all of humanity. I cruise because it is enjoyable, and I cruise to manifest a future outside the squalor of the present, if only for a moment.


As I laid eyes on him it occurred to me that he was not my usual fare. Clean-shaven, the crows’ feet branching out from the curve of his eyes placed him in his early forties, though I could not eliminate the possibility that he was a full ten years older, an imprecision afforded by our stereotypical youthfulness. His slim yet defined frame suggested that he was a swimmer or worked with his hands, though it was not his physical features that attracted me but his magnetic smile, playful and somehow cocksure. Our eyes locked and I found that I couldn’t look away. Without the sensation of motion, we arrived face to face.


‘Hey,’ I nodded.


‘Hey,’ he said, a touch of gravel to the timbre of his voice.


The ocean’s elision with the sand thundered in my ears as I felt his breath on my lips. Our bodies collided, two continental plates that fit together as if they were once part of a larger whole. Our dicks, now temporary neighbours, drummed with excitement. The merciless leaves of the beach shrubs licked at our edges and we kissed in the zealous, tender way that strangers do when they meet for the first and probably the last time.

Cruising requires no justification and I make no apology for my culture. I do not need to defend our pursuit of pleasure, but I cannot help that our little acts of care arouse a profound sense of empathy. For me, at least, cruising escapes the poverty of what ‘love’ means in English. In ancient Greek, the noun for sexual love sounds like the verb which means ‘to ask questions’, an association that is, to my mind, of considerable significance. My dalliance in a public convenience or chance meeting in a park consists of what Plato called ἔρως (sexual passion) and φιλία (virtuous affection). I cruise to satisfy a hunger for animal gratification but in an open way, a stranger among strangers who are nonetheless my equals. In this way, cruising expresses my peaceful connection to others and, by extension, all of humanity. I cruise because it is enjoyable, and I cruise to manifest a future outside the squalor of the present, if only for a moment.


As I laid eyes on him it occurred to me that he was not my usual fare. Clean-shaven, the crows’ feet branching out from the curve of his eyes placed him in his early forties, though I could not eliminate the possibility that he was a full ten years older, an imprecision afforded by our stereotypical youthfulness. His slim yet defined frame suggested that he was a swimmer or worked with his hands, though it was not his physical features that attracted me but his magnetic smile, playful and somehow cocksure. Our eyes locked and I found that I couldn’t look away. Without the sensation of motion, we arrived face to face.


‘Hey,’ I nodded.


‘Hey,’ he said, a touch of gravel to the timbre of his voice.


The ocean’s elision with the sand thundered in my ears as I felt his breath on my lips. Our bodies collided, two continental plates that fit together as if they were once part of a larger whole. Our dicks, now temporary neighbours, drummed with excitement. The merciless leaves of the beach shrubs licked at our edges and we kissed in the zealous, tender way that strangers do when they meet for the first and probably the last time.

When we realise our sex in public, outside the home, it unbinds intercourse from the suffocating private sphere, the nuptial bed and state control over reproduction.

I untangled my tongue from his.


‘Wanna eat me out?’


He grinned, exhibiting an impressive array of teeth.


‘Fuck yeah,’ he said.


I led him down a path to a mat nestled among the tousled roots and spinifex grass. He followed close behind, tracing my footsteps. Spreading myself before him I noticed a bottle of amyl, an offering from some unseen pilgrim, and it moved me to think that nobody had taken it for themselves. I raised my legs to the sky in supplication and he studied me for a moment, muttering a devotion before he burrowed his wolfish smirk into the folds of my body. Drawn by the song of my praise, a chorus of voyeurs congregated and pleasured each other, the kind man from earlier among them.


For the generations that came before me, the vigilant eyes of parents, spouses and neighbours meant that our intimacy could only thrive in the veiled reaches of public space. Before World War Two, cruising was one of the few ways we could meet one another and, as autobiographies and diaries from the period attest, it enjoyed immense popularity. Police records tell their own story of an avant-garde sexual culture, and beat raids themselves date back as early as 1800. The first commercial bathhouses opened in the early 1900s in defiance of anti-homosexuality laws that prevailed in most places for the better part of the century. Australia did not decriminalise homosexuality in all states and territories until 1997. Naturally, violence accompanies the exercise of power. The carceral experiment we call home is witness to gay men bludgeoned to death by bored teens or thrown from bridges and cliffs for sport.

Discretion dictates how, when and where we cruise. Our congress is so clandestine that, traditionally, police have had to pose as homosexuals or spy over locked doors to entrap us.

In my home state of Victoria, public sex remains a crime punishable by fines, conviction and up to two years in prison. It is an offence under the Summary Offences Act 1988 to expose one’s genitals in any space open to or used by the public, a statutory notion that succumbs to the popular misconception that public sex is about exposure. Here ‘public’ refers to sex in the public sphere and not in front of people per se (though consensual voyeurism can be part of it). In fact, discretion dictates how, when and where we cruise. Our congress is so clandestine that, traditionally, police have had to pose as homosexuals or spy over locked doors to entrap us. Over the last two hundred years or more we developed a mode of communication undetectable to laypeople.


Nevertheless, raids on beats continue under the guise of ‘public safety’ and ‘decency’, sinister interpretations of our passion that are all too familiar. Beaches, change rooms, cinemas, gyms, parks, toilets, truck stops, underpasses and darkened alleys are thus places where we resist domination. To quote artist Sam Wallman, heterosexuals have the whole world. We have parks at night.


For a moment everything blurred and the world was very close. Then I woke up, a new person in a new life.


‘That was hot,’ he said, licking his lips.


‘Yeah it was,’ I huffed.


He hadn’t finished but we do not presume that any encounter will end in climax; the possibility of another rendezvous is never far away. I kissed him goodbye and stepped into the scrutiny of the declining sun. Semen trickled between my abdominals, catching on the coarse hair under my navel. I bathed in the chilled, glassy water of the shallows, sated, and watched the sea reach, wave after wave, for the unattainable horizon.


I returned to the company of my towel with a certain glow.


‘How was it?’ my friend asked.


‘Good fun,’ I said.




At the height of Melbourne’s lockdowns, public health measures permitted us two hours of outdoor activity each day and only before 9 PM. Of course, saunas and clubs were the first venues to close during the pandemic, so I would use my precious time to wander through Fitzroy Gardens, circling its secret recesses as the sun set. One night, I crossed paths with a man among the rubber figs and the indolent palms. He wore a hoodie with sweatpants and a disposable mask that covered most of his face but not his polished, brown eyes. We looked straight on, past one another. I counted one heartbeat, then two, and glanced over my shoulder to find him peering over his. A shudder needled down the arch of my back, the skin on my forearms prickling like goose-flesh. There were often people on the beats I called on, though it was dangerous to speak of this since it aroused every accusation against us, we purveyors of sin, vectors of disease.


I didn’t cruise for sex but to feel close to others. What I yearned for (and this is obvious to me now) was a salve for the isolation of lockdown, recalling, as it did, the loneliness which spoiled my adolescence. I suspect this was what everyone who visited a beat during lockdown wanted, a coming together during a time of crisis. Indeed, what has struck me in my conversations with other cruisers is the sense of community we derive from our terrestrial acts. We have always looked for one another, held each other in the dark, and declared that we deserve to feel joy through our actions. In a ritual surrender to pleasure, we integrate sex into our everyday lives and reject the essentialism that places humans above nature and other animals. More than that, we transform leisure into the pursuit of virtue itself. Through fucking in an honest, quasi-democratic way, we realise better versions of ourselves and strive for a collective flourishing, our own vision of the good life.



We have always looked for one another, held each other in the dark, and declared that we deserve to feel joy through our actions. In a ritual surrender to pleasure, we integrate sex into our everyday lives and reject the essentialism that places humans above nature and other animals.



In the era of pre-exposure prophylaxis and widespread viral suppression on this continent, the closure of commercial sex spaces was (somewhat ironically) beneficial for our sexual culture. If this summer is anything to go by, and I hope that it is, cruising is enjoying a renaissance. Beats have never been more active, the regulars never before so enthusiastic. And, after years of periodic lockdowns, closures and curfews, a new wave of younger people are cruising for the first time. This renewal calls to mind the legendary heat of post-Stonewall liberation, a pre-AIDS enterprise located outside the confines of shame and stigma. Of course, it is not to some fictive golden age that we return but to the shores of the fantastic new. We do not turn toward the past but to the promise of what lies ahead, the potential captured in the moment when an ingénue stumbles onto the beat for the first time asking ‘how does this all work?’ and there is someone there to answer them.