BlockedUnblock FollowFollowing Independent writer, translator, and audio producer. Gay men hang out there despite — or maybe because of — a nearby police shooting range.
The stings are a hangover from an era when gay sex was still illegal in the country. Dinco says queer men are easy targets, and are especially vulnerable to systemic forms of violence when cruising in public places like parks. Speaking to queer men from all over the world for this piece, I heard again and again how they came of age knowing that to be visibly gay in public was to be in danger. Still, they discovered ways to find each other.
The codes varied from place to place; sometimes they looked for particular, subtle accessories, or listened carefully for certain vocabulary and innuendos. No matter where they were from, though, these men said the best place to look was in the eyes. But who needs eyes when you have an app?
At the same time, in many parts of the world, straight men and women are adopting aesthetics that were once explicitly queer. While these changes are often signs of greater acceptance toward LGBTQ communities, men I spoke to from older generations—who once cruised in parks because it was one of the only ways they could find one another—seem nostalgic.
Not for the legal and social oppression they faced, but for the thrill of awareness that came with cruising, the way they could size each other up in a matter of seconds, and react quickly enough that a single glance could turn into an opportunity for sex, friendship, even lifelong romance.
This awareness came from learning queer codes that have evolved with the passing of decades, and that have helped queer people survive for hundreds of years — some formal, others informal. In some parts of the world, Grindr is a tool for entrapment the same way cruising grounds have been in the past. Egyptian police have used the app as a tool to arrest gay men, causing the company to issue a warning to Egyptian users.
During the Rio Olympics, Nico Hines, a reporter for The Daily Beast, downloaded Grindr in an attempt to find gay athletes, even though he had no real sexual or romantic interest in them. Hines is a self-identified straight married man who connected with these athletes simply to find lurid content for his now-removed article, which included identifying details.
Their bodies were found near his east London flat. Men in Pakistan have been convicted of similar crimes. The danger that can come with being queer and overt is not theoretical to Dinco. He describes getting mugged in Las Vegas over a decade ago. These guys were freaking on us and dancing with us. My friend got stabbed. Phil Want, a lecturer at South Bank University in London, who has researched gay tourism, grew up in London in the s.
Dino Dinco decided to document contemporary Elysian Park for similarly romantic reasons. Born in rural Pennsylvania, he moved to Los Angeles as a boy, where he became intimately entwined with the local Latinx culture. At the same time, the park also reminds him of early childhood.
I was born in nature, right, so for me to walk around the woods was something that I did pretty much every day as a kid. One of the reasons Sienkiewicz is passionate about cruising is because of how much you can learn about a person with just a few gestures: He finds it natural that people might change the tools they use to find one another, but he hopes that they will hold onto the awareness learned from cruising.
This theme is also seen in The Other Love Story , an Indian series that launched on the queer streaming service Revry in the fall of It portrays the danger of discovery for queer women while in the cloying privacy of the family home. Set in the late s, it follows the friendship of Aachal and Aadiya, two teenagers who attend different colleges each day in Bangalore before returning home to their families.
Roopa Rao, who wrote and directed the series, says that this was how she grew up; she had little privacy, and slept on the couch in the living room.
She wanted to see a queer story with that kind of ethos onscreen, and finally decided to make one herself. In contemporary India, queer spaces are in a sort of limbo. The Indian Supreme Court briefly repealed the colonial hangover law outlawing same-sex relationships in , only to reinstate it in Today, all over the world, queer spaces in public and private are in flux — infused with new possibilities as well as dangers, mixing the physical with the digital.
Pawan Dhall, who edited Queer Potli, says of the past: Several Facebook groups specific to Kolkata or Bengal turn into forums for announcing activities at the park.
Last year at least two queer networks organized open-air socializing meetings in the park during Durga Puja. People are less afraid to stare, and less likely to do anything to you if they catch you staring. In these transitory spaces, a quick exit is an easy option. In addition to his photos of Elysian Park, Dinco also directed Homeboy , a documentary about queer Latinx men who were also former gang members.
He tells me what he has learned about the codes outwardly macho men use to find each other in gas stations: It was on a bus that Sienkiewicz first noticed another man noticing him, and that Want began to employ the codes of eye language. Aachal and Aadia in The Other Love Story use buses in a different way, to stretch out the time they can spend with one another.
Rao tells me that since the girls have strict curfews and a short window between the end of class and when they get home, the only way to be with each other is to accompany one another on the bus: In one episode of the series, the two ride back and forth together, unable to say goodbye. In an interview with Pawan Dhall for the print-only magazine Queer Potli, Madhua Nandi, a trans woman, described the leers and violence she encountered on the bus and train every day as she went through her transition.
Around the world today, danger seems closer to many who are visibly queer than it may ever have been in their lifetimes. The Orlando shooting in June was devastating in its scale and invasiveness of a queer space.
Governments around the world, from India to the United States to the United Kingdom, are turning more conservative, with queer rights hanging in the balance. In , the U. Supreme Court had yet to rule anti-homosexuality laws unconstitutional. Aadiya leads Aachal to the corridor between train cars, where they kiss as the countryside speeds away behind them. At first they break apart whenever someone walks past, but eventually they remain intertwined — their private body language becoming public.
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