The heady history of a clandestine gay practice.
In this enthusiastic exploration of the “art” of gay cruising, Espinoza (The Five Acts of Diego León, 2013, etc.) provides a unique perspective on this furtive practice of coded signals and physical gestures geared toward spontaneous desire and availability. The author begins with the origins of cruising in early civilizations, when gay men began seeking each other out for covert dalliances unbeknownst to those around them. Its evolution continued as ancient Rome and Renaissance Florence embraced a sexual free-for-all atmosphere structured around the rules of dominant masculinity. Espinoza, a talented tour guide, describes the public toilets of 1700s London and frequently raided “Molly houses” as well as such 20th-century resources as Bob Damron’s Address Book, which served as “a gay yellow pages, a directory listing all the gay friendly bars and places strewn across the United States where men could meet and hook up.” The AIDS epidemic stifled some of the spirit of the defiant post-Stonewall brotherhood before online cruising, chat rooms, and mobile apps restored the passion and the practice. The author incorporates intriguing profiles of former cruisers into his research material, creating a narrative that puts human faces to a subject that may seem bizarre to some readers and captivating to others. Espinoza weaves into the historical material vivid recollections from his own coming-of-age as a closeted Mexican youth “navigating a culture that encouraged hypermasculinity and patriarchy.” Ultimately, cruising unleashed in the author a life-changing self-assurance. Espinoza’s research is richly referential, as he cites the Al Pacino film Cruising; the grisly agenda of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who cruised bars and alleyways to locate his male victims; and George Michael and former senator Larry Craig, both busted in men’s bathrooms. Espinoza candidly inserts himself into this striking examination with memories of his own cruising adventures and segments of stimulating commentary on gay liberation and the tenets of stealthy sexuality.
Provocative, curious, and noteworthy.