Scotland’s media have allowed themselves to get particularly excited over "the prospect of gay sex in public" (Scottish Daily Mail), gay men being "allowed to kiss in public" (Record), and even "sex acts in public" (Scottish Sun). Scotland on Sunday’s Gerald Warner thought Labour were introducing legislation "…To allow homosexuals to engage in intimate behaviour in public, even in the presence of children, and to legalise ‘cottaging’… A father taking his small boys into a public convenience could find them confronted by one of Joe Orton’s human ‘pyramids’, but would have no legal redress…" The Scottish Sun’s Jim Sillar’s thought this was going to bring down the Labour Government.
Contrary to media propaganda and misinformation, The incorporation of the Human Rights Act 1998 into Scottish law is unlikely to have much impact on the acceptability of sex in public places. Whilst numerous laws have been unfairly used to prosecute gay men, (for example, Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act, introduced to curb football hooligans and used against two 19-year-old gay men who were arrested and charged after kissing each other in a London street in 1988), only gross indecency, part of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 applies exclusively to gay men. Challenges in the European Courts have been centred, however, on Article 8, infringement to a citizen’s right to a private life. It was a group of men having sex together in someone’s home that infringed that ruling, not their right to have sex together in public!
In Scotland, it is largely the sexually repressed media that conspire to enforce the conservative approach to sexuality in all our lives contributing to a society that attempts to express sexuality and hide it all at once.
Of the charge that Scotland is sexually repressed there can be no doubt. Look at Section 28, a crusade orchestrated by fundamental religionists that resulted in ‘don’t discuss sex’ posters all over the place and quotes from the Bible in newspaper editorials. When the idea of holding a fair of erotica at Glasgow’s Scottish Exhibition Centre - held successfully in several European cities, including London - was first mooted a few years ago, nearly 2,000 protests flooded in to Glasgow City Council. The press referred to "red faces at sex shop show of ‘depravity’" and gave a disproportionate voice to the outraged. Father Tom Connolly, a moral spokesman for the Catholic Church thundered: "The motto of the city is ‘Let Glasgow flourish by the praising of God’s name and the preaching of his word.’ Erotica has no place in that. We have enough problems in this city without importing this depravity". Another spokesman declared his fear that if the exhibition went ahead, others would label Glasgow "a capital of sleaze". Reverend David Anderson, general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance frothed: "It is going back to an uncivilised state of savagery" and Ali Syed, chairman of the Pakistani Media Relations Committee said: "These people are capitalising on human weakness and frailty". The exhibition was banned. That the voice of religionists, helping to organise over 4,000 letters of protest, should be sought over and above gays speaks volumes on the roots of sexual repression in our society.
Sex on the streets? Up until now, councillors have dismissed any suggestion the city had a "problem with prostitutes", whilst supporting a virulent police campaign to rid its streets of them. Not until after hundreds of arrests, repeated convictions and the murder of seven female sex workers did one of its councillors, John Moyne admit reluctantly in front of reporters that he "may have been wrong". Now, in a curious dichotomy, and in what has been described as "a step forward," police are being employed to both protect and arrest sex workers at the same time.
In the thirties, the Glasgow’s street gangs used to turn out the gas lamps in the tenement close and enjoy the classic ‘knee trembler,’ up against the tiled walls. Frequently under the noses of the tenants and police who turned a blind eye. Gay sex is still frequently performed in private, outdoors. This is not quite the contradiction it first seems. As in any other major cities in the world, there are parks and open spaces where men cruise, seeking sexual contact with other men. Far from there being any thrill attached to discovery of the vague and discreet fumbling that rarely goes beyond oral sex, participants desperately fear discovery. Going back to someone’s house is not always an option for the many married men who seek an emotionally detached sexual encounter. In his book, ‘Erotics and Politics’, sociologist, Tim Edwards writes: "Public sex is paradoxically only public to the extent that it is not practised at home", and added, "local councils and police authorities deploy prison-like restrictions of these activities. The history of ‘cottaging’ (and cruising) is, in fact, one of increasing sexual regulation whilst sexual activity has constantly widened and spread further into other areas".
In Holland, the needs of men, straight and gay that seek discrete sex are incorporated in planning urban developments and in the summer, not everyone heads for the duned beaches for ice cream and donkey-rides. Amsterdam’s main gay beach is at Zandvoort with other gay beaches Bergen Aan Zee and Scheveningen are also within easy reach. It is not moral police or heterosexuals straying off the beaten track that constitute a problem for users, but a particular thistle used to keep the dunes together. One enterprising salesman trawls the beach selling tweezers. There are numerous ‘gay’ beaches in Scotland, There are three near Glasgow: at Prestwick, Gailes and Stevenston. Outside Edinburgh, Aberlady is subject to heavy moral policing from rangers. Despite costly campaigns of moral policing at Prestwick, there have been very few arrests. Whilst in Holland, owners of a beach requiring users to wear clothing must seek permission; apart from Cleat’s Shore on the Isle of Arran, Stevenston remains Scotland’s only official public naturist beach. During the summer of 1991, a photographer caught a very private act that took place in one of the hollows in the dunes on Gailes beach. Scottish editions of The Sun attempted to snap up the photo of the recalcitrant young, married, police officer with his trousers round his ankles and promptly place it in the public arena. So much for advocating privacy. He was put under investigation and suspended from duty.
Sex on beaches became a national scandal in 1937, when Mass Observation, surveyors of public opinion, employed 23 investigators to do an anthropological study of beach sex at Blackpool. In a half an hour before midnight they found 232 cases of petting. 120 cases of sitting down and embracing. 42 cases of standing up and embracing. 46 cases of lying on sand and embracing. 25 cases of sitting and kissing. nine cases of necking in cars. three cases of standing and kissing and seven cases of girls sitting on men’s knees. After lines of observers had systematically beaten the sand dunes, one observer remarked: "When we began work in Blackpool we expected to see copulation everywhere. What we found was petting, feeling, masturbating one another". Interestingly, the research found only three cases of copulation.
Prohibitive attitudes to sex al fresco are underpinned in Scotland by the media, police and a moribund church trying to define and regulate a code of behaviour. The police and local authorities apply authoritarian constraints, marshalling the population into practices, which conform to the political and social ideologies of the day. But the wearing of costumes on beaches has not always been so rigorously imposed. At the turn of the century, bathing naked was commonplace. It was a subject that inspired artists in the late nineteenth century, like Henry Scott Tuke whose pictures of boys bathing would raise a storm of protest in today’s moral climate. There was also the internationally acclaimed impressionist painter, Seurat. His painting, ‘Bathing at Asnières’ perfectly captured boys swimming in the shimmering heat of a hot summer’s afternoon on the banks of the Seine. While the National Vigilance Association busily mapped out "moral danger zones" like beaches, the Social Purity and Hygiene Movement set out to cover the nation’s shame. Before women were allowed to join the police force, several thousand women patrols, initially set up by the National Union of Women’s Workers and funded by the police, patrolled parks and open spaces, initially to "guide young and foolish girls" and save men from "women of evil reputation". By 1918 Sir Leonard Dunning, Inspector of Constabulary labelled them the "true guardians of the State in public morals". Glasgow’s billboards were recently awash with one of them chasing a group of naked boys with a stick along a stretch of the Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park, advertising the popular Scottish soft drink, Irn Bru.
There is nothing new or exceptional about cruising parks, either. One observer recorded how in 1781 ‘Mollies’ would sit along park benches in a gay cruising area in London and pat the backs of their hands. If you followed them, they would weave a white handkerchief through the skirt of their coat and wave it. In the eighteenth century at Sodomite’s Walk, an area of drained marshland at Moorfields in London, police paid agent provocateurs to entrap men. In the sixties, tabloids followed men wandering round London’s Hampstead Heath wearing "white polo-necks". There are numerous parks in Scotland’s cities that offer opportunities for men to make an acquaintance with other men. In Strathclyde Park, a particularly homophobic part of Lanarkshire where Brian Souter recently held a ‘Family Day’, men have been meeting since Roman times. It was the site of a Roman Military Bathhouse. Soldiers would undress together in a room before moving into progressively hotter steam rooms, scraping off the dirt from each other and plunging into a cold bath. In the bathhouse, gay sex would have been commonplace. The emperor Elagabalus was said to have sent out emissaries all over the Empire to seek out men "hung like mules". Petronius wrote that in one public bath, a crowd gathered round a well-hung male and applauded! The grassy slopes of Queens Park on the south side of Glasgow offer panoramic views over the whole of the city. It hardly seems possible that this could have been the scene of one of one of the most vicious attacks and murders of a gay man. On the night of 2nd June 1995, a gang of three boys, aged between 18 and 20, and a 14-year-old girl went on a queerbashing rampage. The boys cracked the skull of one and critically injured another before jumping on 35-year-old Michael Doran. He received 83 blows to his body. They stabbed him several times in the groin, stamped on his face until they had broken every bone in his head and left him in the bushes, choking to death in his own blood. With their clothes still bloodstained, they joined their friends at a nearby party and bragged about what they had done. The last man to be hanged in Scotland at Barlinnie prison was for a similar murder that occurred in the same area in the sixties. The most famous park where gay men meet is London’s Hampstead Heath. Here, after dark, condoms are available from glow-in-the-dark boxes attached to trees and TV and cabaret star; Amy Lamé was once hired to provide some late-night entertainment for cruisers from a temporary stage.
Another instance of ‘public sex’ is the pub ‘backroom’. Although common in Europe and America they are not found in Scotland. In Holland ‘Jack-off parties’ and fully equipped backrooms are common. On the plus side, the sex is safe, controlled, condoms are available and everyone knows what’s going on. The downside is, perhaps, that the sex is typically male: Furtive, hasty and of the unemotional kind found in most so-called ‘porn cinemas’ that straight men often nip into on their way home from work - (also common in many countries except Scotland). One of the earliest documented cases of sex in pubs was in London. Mother Clap was the landlady of a popular Molly House in Covent Garden before being raided by peace officers, (the police of the day). At the trial, a spokesman for the Society for the Reformation of Manners said he "found between 40 and 50 men making love to one another, as they called it. Sometimes they would sit in one another’s laps, kissing in a lewd manner and using their hands indecently". Three of the regulars were hanged. Ms Clap herself was found guilty of running a disorderly house, pilloried, fined and thrown into prison for two years.