A new exhibition makes Walter Crasshole wonder: whatever happened to gay sex in public toilets?
M y most recent toilet hookup was a failure. Sort of. It was Schwuz’s final London Calling party and the last thing I was looking for was anonymous sex. The club’s bright, unisex (and hygienic) toilets aren’t really conducive to doing much more than drugs. But that night, as I saddled up to the urinal to relieve myself, a cute, young Mediterranean-looking guy saddled right up next to me and pulled out a member that was ready for far more than just a leak. So I dragged him into a cubicle and got ready for a little fun. This was how they did it in the olden days, right? But that’s when the failure set in. My young companion wasn’t as ready in his head as he was below the belt. After 30 seconds of fumbling around with each other, he left in flushed panic. But no matter. I was continuing a gay legacy.
Yes, before the days of darkrooms and Grindr, Berlin gays got their anonymous jollies in public johns. It’s currently the topic of a brilliant exhibition at the Schwules Museum called Fenster zum Klo (a nod to Frank Ripploh’s West Berlin gay film Taxi zum Klo). In a mix of photos and artefacts, French photographer Marc Martin describes the history of public toilets as cruising hotspots, as well as their significance. “Within these atypical places of transience and sociability, social differences were blurred and otherwise separated cultures briefly mixed,” he writes in his introduction.
But this is not only a sociological study. There are plenty of facts to take home, the kind you won’t be sharing with Oma. For example, here in Berlin, public toilets used to be nicknamed “Café Achteck” for their original octagonal shape. And even I was surprised by some of the things my gay forefathers got up to in there (I’ll leave what the French “Soupeurs” did with baguettes to your imagination).
But now that public sex has made it to museums, does that mean it’s over? The answer is a resounding jein. There’s certainly less toilet sex out there. Berlin’s historic pissoirs have mostly been demolished or turned into burger joints, and those robotic self-cleaning 50-cent City Toilettes just don’t have the same appeal as ye olde Café Achteck. The johns in Tiergarten’s Victory Column used to be the hotspot for punters in Berlin, but the only excitement I ever witnessed there was three junkies crowded into a tiny stall, moaning from something other than sexual gratification.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we gays are having less anonymous sex. Berlin’s darkrooms and sex clubs offer plenty of that, for a price. The atmosphere of cruising still exists in every exchanged glance between men in Ficken3000 or Connection Club in Schöneberg – and yes, sometimes the smell of piss comes with it. And of course, there’s Grindr. Anonymous sex delivery. The frisson of public encounters may have been replaced by the convenience of clicking, but it’s still a subversive way to get your rocks off while “blurring social differences”.
I may never have the kind of anonymous public toilet sex that my gay granddaddies did in the 20th century, but I can still continue the tradition by slutting it up against the grain. And thanks to the exhibition at the Schwules Museum, I will think of them every time I take a piss. I’ll also stop eating baguettes for a while.
Fenster zum Klo, through Feb 5 | Schwules Museum, Schöneberg