“TRADE CENTER”— Cruising for Sex


Cruising for Sex

Amos Lassen

Public cruising has  been going on for decades and among the most favored place are public toilets all over the world. The World Trade Center in New York was one of the favorite places.

Renderer Films brings us a new documentary that is the story of 5 gay men who cruised for sex at the World Trade Center in the 1980s and 1990s.  DirectorAdam Baran knows where he was the day of the attacks of the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001. He woke up, looked through the window to see what was going on, put some clothes on, and left the area until the police sent everyone back in the other direction. That was the last time he visited anywhere near the World Trade Center.

His new short film “Trade Center” brought him back to explore the building’s underground history as a spot for gay and queer men to cruise. Hooking up in bathrooms and beneath stairwells, businessmen would meet janitors; Wall Street types met with observant Jewish men with yarmulkes; tourists met with executives and white collar met blue collar.

“Stop number one on a sex tour of the World Trade Center would be the men’s room on the lower level near the entrance to the PATH trains,” as we see in the film. In the middle of the day, there’d be five to seven guys just jerking off and we get the impression that this kind of activity, which happened any time of day despite how busy the building was, had been going on for years. Other hot spots included below the staircase leading to the parking lot, unused offices, storage rooms, rooms that required a key (which you could get from a horny employee). In these temporary sex rooms, there were all kinds of guys there but everyone wanted to have sex with a suit and this meant that the 12th floor of the building was a prime destination for hunting and cruising.

Aside from the opening sequence, in which narrator Billy Miller discusses public and private sexual spaces against a short period footage, the film takes place in the new One World Trade Center and juxtaposes voiceover recollections of the stories of men and their adventures against the sanitized, heavily surveilled, mall-like atmosphere of the new building. The dirty history of the World Trade Center is gone aside from in memories.

As we hear the steamy encounters and the lure of momentary intimacy, the film shows us the security cameras on nearly every wall and border that track everyone’s movements. We see a part of gay history through the Trade Center and we hear the voices that reflect it. One voice talked about Rudy Giuliani’s role in cracking down on public cruising spaces in the early 1990s at the height of the AIDS crisis. We hear that “he systematically raided and shut down places where gay men met. The aftermath of attacks at the Trade Center brought about reinvention of TriBeCa that destroyed these same place. September 11 was the final blow that ended this activity.  “It changed, amongst many other things, how we negotiate our identities and fantasies of ourselves in public”. We see through various periods of time that cruising was “a kind of gaynorm” and that today’s  reality in which public sex very difficult to engage in and thought to be no longer needed.  

 “Trade Center” will premiere at SXSW.

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