Books, Movies and Judaica and Random Thoughts About Whatever
“Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime” by Alex Espinoza— Changing Without Changing
Espinoza, Alex. “Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime”, Unnamed Press, 2019.
Changing Without Changing
Do not misunderstand my title of this review, “Changing without Changing” is not something Gertrude Stein might have said (actually it is something she might of said [but didn’t say]). You will understand what I mean as you read my review. “From ancient Greece to Grindr, the underground practice of cruising has changed in fascinating ways, and also not at all.”
Alex Espinoza takes us cruising with him as he explains the history of the gay man’s most popular and favorite activity. This is a totally uncensored look at the gamut of what cruising entails. He looks at historical research and oral history and brings them together with his own personal experience. Espinoza explains that cruising is both a political and cultural force as well as a radical activity and pastime. “From Greek antiquity to the notorious Molly houses of 18th century England, the raucous 1970s to the algorithms of Grindr, Oscar Wilde to George Michael, cruising remains at once a reclamation of public space and the creation of its own unique locale—one in which men of all races and classes interact, even in the shadow of repressive governments.” In such places as Uganda and Russia, we meet activists for whom cruising is dangerous and can be a matter of life and death. In the Western world we see how cruising can avoid the inequalities and abuses of power that ruin many heterosexual encounters. Espinoza shows us how cruising is quite a powerful rebuke to patriarchy and capitalism. I remember when I was growing up in New Orleans that if someone cruised the wrong person, they could be arrested and his name published in the newspaper for soliciting homosexual sex. (See “Indecent Advances” by James Polchin).
“Cruising” has always been our personal way of life to some degree. Espinoza returns it to its proper importance and does so by using his own personal experiences and secrets of others, great historical research and oral histories and we see that wherever men lust for other men, there is cruising. Today cruising seems to have assimilated with many in the gay community but I remember oh so well how we learned of department store bathrooms, the “strich” as it was known (that part of town where cruising ruled) and public parks where late night activity could be found in the bushes after meeting (or not meeting and just following) in the gazebo. “Cruising” is the story of “the radical community of struggle, contact and solace from which we came, and to which we belong still.”
John Rechy who once thrilled us all with his personal stories of cruising hassaid, “Alex Espinoza’s much-anticipated book takes readers on a unique ‘cruise’ through places of public gay-sex connections, from early times to today’s apps and sites; and the result is as lively and entertaining as a boldly intimate, and wonderfully written, memoir. ” And indeed it is.
Cruising and our history go hand in hand and Espinoza shoots down stories of queer assimilation as he takes us back to when we were considered subversive and radical elements in American society or in any society for that matter (I loved being seen as subversive and radical when I lived in Israel some thirty years ago. Because there were no bars or places to meet back then, we cruised all day, every day). ‘Cruising” lets us think about our rights to sexual expression and overall freedom and it is throughcruising that we found a sense of community. I, for one, refuse to forfeit my cruising activities to the internet.