Comparative literature on cruising


“… This silence seemed tragic to me: it was the end, the deathblow. I bowed my head over my newspaper and pretended to read; but I wasn’t reading: I raised my eyes as high as I could, trying to catch what was happening in this silence across from me. By turning my head slightly, I could see something out of the corner of my eye: it was a hand, the small white hand which slid along the table a little while ago. Now it was resting on its back, relaxed, soft and sensual, it had the indolent nudity of a woman sunning herself after bathing. A brown hairy object approached it, hesitant. It was a thick finger, yellowed by tobacco; inside this hand it had all the grossness of a male sex organ. It stopped for an instant, rigid, pointing at the fragile palm, then suddenly it timidly began to stroke it. I was not surprised, I was only furious at (him); couldn’t he hold himself back, the fool, didn’t he realize the risk he was running? He still had a chance, a small chance: if he were to put both hands on the table, on either side of the book, if he stayed absolutely still, perhaps he might be able to escape his destiny this time. But I knew he was going to miss his chance: the finger passed slowly, humbly, over the inert flesh, barely gazing it, without daring to put any weight on it: you might have thought it was conscious of its ugliness. I raised my head brusquely, I couldn’t stand this obstinate little back-and-forth movement any more: I tried to catch (his) eye and I coughed loudly to warn him. But he closed his eyes, he was smiling. His other hand had disappeared under the table. The boys were not laughing any more, they had both turned pale. The brown-haired one pinched his lips, he was afraid, he looked as though what was happening had gone beyond his control. But he did not draw his hand away, he left it on the table, motionless, a little curled. His friend’s mouth was open in a stupid, horrified look.”

This paragraph is quoted from the ‘Nausea’ by Jean-Paul Sartre, a French philosopher. The character is gay cruising in a public library. When he got caught by the librarian, the librarian yelled at him saying “we have courts in France for people like you“, and a lady also witnessing the scene supported the librarian, stating “all the time there are monsters with no respect for anything“. The description of the narrative is a third person as witnessing the cruising act in a public place as somewhat morally risky and condemned. According to the text, he was a frequent-library-visitor for years trying to make a sensual contact with whom it may deliver, but unluckily this time he misjudged his target and got caught. He was a well-educated middle-aged man, self-learning with classic philosophies from the library, but even himself couldn’t dispatch the loneliness.

Then there is another literature that describes the cruising from the first person’s perspective. ‘Rose-tinted life’ by Ki Hyeong-do, a Korean poet, explores the fragile sentiment of a cruising man and observes his frightened thrill. (Translation is quoted from):

A man in his prime opens the door and enters
As he takes off his hat, his salt and pepper hair,
like his shabby overcoat, is revealed
He pushes all that is his into a creaky wooden chair
He wraps his healthy and greedy hands
around a ridiculously small cup
Has he ever, ever once, with those large hands,
grabbed a likely opponent by the scruff of his neck
The man is silent, instead of moving his eyes aimlessly,
he is exploiting certain experiences, focusing on one place,
To unravel the knot of crowded events, how many cruel customers did he glower at,
like that of those who have tasted doubt and temptation many times over
Those shoulders that resolutely refuse any and all disorder of the body
those lips that seemed to be moved by a certain jealousy
ears hidden by a strand of hair, that certainly would have dreamed of being the head,
However, who would dare to take on that man’s responsibility
The man continues to remain silent, he pulls something from his thick coat
as if he’d just thought of it for the first time
thrusting aside the dogged resistance of loneliness,
as if steeled for any kind of showdown
the man looks around, the expression that walks above his face
He pushes all that is his into a creaky wooden chair
with it he begins to dig into the tabletop
his burly frame bending forward, ploddingly
but anxiously, supplying strength to his own command

I hate life

The perspective is reversed as if the innocent boy in the first story were looking for an older man’s firm grip. But observing the dissolvement of sexual desire he declares that he hates life in that he foresees what his life would become: he would be the older man also cruising in the public places. Yet would this cruising only be considered as a source of depression and condemnation for pleasure-seeking homosexuals? An exhibition moves this boundary further, claiming that “the reproach of cowardice was often levelled at men who enjoyed cruising in public toilets, whose practices were considered squalid. Yet, have they not in their own way braved taboos? Have they not for well over a century dared experience forbidden pleasures? I wanted these men’s bravery to be acknowledged, and the heady sensuality of places that generated so much excitement to get due recognition… These public aedicules, which sheltered the escapades of so many gay men, transvestites, prostitutes and libertines, were also sites of unbridled freedom.

Such emotions driven by exploring the forbidden pleasure remain more a source of shame even in gay community. The first literature by Sartre depicted how others rationalise and feel about gay cruising, and the second literature by Ki depicted how the very gay man who is cruising rationalise and feel about himself between the personal desire and social standard. In both cases, condemnation is deeply internalised. Would it be just from the fear of being caught? Would it be from the social morality against seeking sexual pleasure?

This coming short film (only first 5 minutes available) also explores the public cruising in much modern sense:

More and more this world is becoming with liberal minds? Are we losing the forbidden thrill that is depicted in both literatures above? Doors are cut down, leaving public places more open and transparent. Applications allow people to meet up with intentions already arranged. Cruising maybe become a distanced story for the contemporary literature.




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