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Monday 08 November 2010

Should we decriminalise bog sex?

Posted in: Health & HIV
By Craig Young - 7th November 2006

Bog sex. It's probably the only form of gay male sex that's still semi-illegal in New Zealand, so why has it fallen off the reform agenda?

I suspect that much of it has to do with the dual focuses of the current LGBT reform agenda- HIV/AIDS and adoption reform, at least until the latter is dealt with. The former has been involved in insuring equitable access to protease inhibitors and new combination therapies for PLWAs, and dealing with new background factors that influence unsafe sex, while the latter presupposes a monogamous relationship that is stable enough to provide enough room for family responsibilities.

Added to which, bog sex is an issue of sexual choice. If one is a prissy Virgo like me, or lives in a metropolitan centre, saunas or cruise venues provide a much warmer space to snuggle within during the current extended winter climes outside. So, where does bog sex fit into this?

There are bound to be gay men who do the bogs because it adds transgressive chic to their lives, or they get turned on by the anonymity and sleaze of bog sex. Presumably, this may be why some straight clubbers and even younger lesbians do the deed themselves nowadays, so it's not just us.

With some exceptions, many provincial cities don't have established gay social venues or cruise clubs. Even when they do, some older men may not fit the criteria of 'attractiveness', or other men who have sex with men may have impaired social skills due to intellectual, development or psychiatric disability, or some might simply be too hard up to afford travel out of their provincial city or rural district. Due to these circumstances, bog sex happens. And let's not moralise about it. We turn on to different people, things or situations, so unless it involves the absence of consent, we should suspend judgementalism.

What obstacles exist to prevent bog sex? Theoretically, there are provisions within the Summary Offences Act 1981 and Crimes Act 1961 that prevent indecent or obscene displays in public places. However, is a secluded roadside rural bog a 'public place?' Is a park bog at night a 'public place?' Apparently so, although policing priorities may affect the enforcement of the above clauses of the respective statutes. If an area has moralistic elements within its police hierarchy, if it's a slow arrest period within their catchment, or if there have been public complaints, then there will be a crack down on bog sex within a particular area.

That said, it's difficult to see why there would be a complaint at night from a member of the public at a bog, or why closed door cubicle sex would be defined as indecent display if two men were at it with no bits poking out where members of the public could see them. So, should bog sex laws be enforced at all?

What about law reform prospects? In 1988, Canadian gay film maker John Greyson made Urinal, a video documentary about police apprehension of men who had sex with men in public lavatories in Ontario, Canada. Enlisting the help of several prominent historical lesbian and gay personages, he investigated the issue. Using Michel Foucault's theory of surveillance as a key method of modern social control, Greyson traced the emergence of the modern toilet and surveillance technology, and how they intersected in terms of homophobic control of public space.

In theory, it used to go something like this, insofar as post-decriminalisation bog sex surveillance went. Gay sex isn't illegal in private spaces like one's own bedroom/restricted access areas like gay saunas or cruise venues, so we'll let you have that space to yourselves. However, public lavatories are public spaces, and outside your permissible closet space, so you will face arrest if you succumb to temptation. As Greyson noted, it wasn't just arrest, either, because some right-wing local newspapers published the names of men apprehended in police bog raids, leading to some tragic instances of suicide. As a response, Ontario gay activists started Courtwatch, and funded legal interventions against fines and surveillance activities.

So, what happened to this activism? As noted above, enforcement of laws against bog sex may well be situational. If it isn't enforced, then there's no pressure for law reform in these situations. When the heat goes off, and the law isn't strongly enforced, then these campaigns lose focus. Is law reform possible? In 2003, Stonewall UK tried to decriminalise bog sex, but at least succeeded in having it spelt out in law, which doesn't bode well for future law reform efforts elsewhere.

However, policing priorities may be focused increasingly on violent crime, particularly that linked to manufacture, distribution and circulation of pure methamphetamine/crystal meth. In which case, bog sex habituees can count on uninterrupted nocturnal activities. Should we decriminalise bog sex? Should we argue that policing priorities lie elsewhere? It is a matter for debate, and perhaps one that we should have.

John Greyson: Urinal and Other Stories: Montreal: Art Metropole: 1993.

Craig Young - 7th November 2006

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