Bernard Greaves of Gay Cambridge made something of a name for himself when he took on both the police and the town council in the local paper, exposing their dubious attempts to catch homosexuals ‘at it’ in the cottages (public conveniences).
Since his campaign, council workers have filled in police spy holes.
The incident has given Bernard a greater understanding of ‘cottaging’ as a phenomenon. Now he writes controversially on his findings in a special article for Gay Arrow.
Police harrassment and entrapment of homosexuals in public lavatories appears to be getting more frequent. Or it may be that as the gay community becomes more organised through bodies such as CHE and GLF, and as communications improve, we are merely becoming more aware of it.
When I encountered this kind of police activity in Cambridge about eighteen months ago I was so outraged by the blatant intrusion into the privacy of people, all people not just gay people, using the toilets that I felt compelled to expose the methods of the police, and bring their activities in this field to an end.
It was only later, particularly when I began to be accused of “defending cottaging” that I began to appreciate some of the more general issues raised.
People cottage for a variety of different reasons. The most obvious is that it is the only means they have of meeting other men for sex. So long as homosexuals are oppressed by society and remain hidden this will continue. It is also anonymous and therefore, in spite of the risks, is regarded as safe. Unlike a gay club or bar there is always a perfectly legitimate excuse for one’s presence to satisfy acquaintances met by chance. Some men travel 30 or more miles by car to cottage to increase their feeling of safety and in the hope that if they are arrested the case will not be reported in their local papers. These people are often utterly respectable with good jobs, wives and children. They have a lot to lose, and this seems to them the safest way of satisfying their homosexual desires.
But there are other reasons for cottaging too. For some the risk, the dangers, and the semi-public setting enhance their sexual excitement. For some cottaging has become an engrained behaviour pattern in which the ritual behaviour routines and the stench of stale urine have by long association become a trigger to sexual arousal. Many of these people are regular cottagers turning up night after night and whose consequent knowledge of one another has led to the development of a friendly social atmosphere.
In sexual terms these variations have one thing in common. The encounters are casual, anonymous and involve no emotional commitment. It is sex without affection, and without the responsibilities of a lasting relationship. On these grounds it is often condemned, in my view quite wrongly. For it fulfills deep-seated needs that are not going to be eradicated by the emancipation of homosexuals. Cottaging is too complex to be dismissed with simplistic moral judgements.
It needs a deeper understanding as a phenomenon and a more humble sympathy with those who practice it. Whatever the homosexual’s role in society, it will not disappear. Some men will always find the sight of another’s penis arousing.