18 May 2013

Why Gay Cruise?: a testimony in "Les témoins" ("The Witnesses," 2007)

Although it is fictional, the last words of the tragic character Manu (by Johan Libéreau) shed light on the reason of gay cruising, which is a product of fear that originates from the longing for love, a love that is threatened by the straight prejudice and violence. It may not be as true as what it truly is in the ears of those who judge, as always, in terms of morality and ethics, and it may sound superficial and phony for those who see sex as the only means for love, but these words surely disclose the insecurity that every gay man or woman would have experienced at some point, or, a frustration that not only eats you up, but also kills your faith in both life and love.

source: Wikipedia

Right before his death, when he has lost his sight, Manu uses the dictation recorder, a Christmas gift from Sarah (by Emmanuelle Béart), the wife of his lover Mehdi (by Sami Bouajila), to record his own interpretation of his short gay life. He speaks with remorse lamenting his early departure from this world where he has not seen enough, where he has only experienced the bitterness of love rather than the bliss that love can bring to life. His frustration at AIDS and his deteriorating health slowly produces a self-loathing, guiding him to reexamine his failure to live. Impulsive actions coming from desires account for this failure, and his primary fault is that free exploration of cruising in the bushes for any possible sexual pleasure at possibly Le Champ de Mars (the location is never explicitly revealed by the director André Téchiné, but its proximity to the Eiffel Tower says so). Stemming from this self-loathing, he reaches a conclusion of gay cruising in terms of an existentialist philosophical falvour, which is quite a surprise to hear from a mouth of a youth who has only been educated in the culinary art, but meanwhile, such an existentialist utterance reinforces that gloomy feature full of doubts and helplessness in most French films, such as the very recent one Amour (2012) directed by Michael Haneke - a film that digs a hole so deep in my heart that I had temporarily lost myself in that powerful message addressing the meaning of love and life.

In Manu's words, gay cruising is an inevitable disaster for gays because they are deprived of any normal chances to meet their love. They are insecure for they are always in the doubt about whether or not their target of love would bash them to death for their inappropriate love. When the potential target of love could in realty be the one to kill you and when the reality does not allow a channel to meet the others who share the same sexual orientation, they must go underground, go into the dark zone where light is blocked to ensure safety, a comfort zone where names are erased and faces are blurry. This is a zone of uncertainty in which extra pleasure is complementary due to its form of an adventure that satisfies the desire of the human nature for the unknown. This thirst for the unknown is so toxic and addictive that men are eventually bereft of their ability to love and care after their over-indulgence in physical pleasure. Only in such a dark and hidden place could these men who share the same desire find a safe target to release their natural sexual drive, but the problem remains for names are unspeakable and every contact ends physically, so love is still only a dream to dream, only a fantasy that can never be realized. Hence, gays have a double existence in this world. In the bright daylight, they are no different from any straight members in this straight society, but at night, their identity changes, and they become ferocious predators in the park or in any unknown dungeons, haunting each other for the any possible happiness. Since they know so well that the pleasure is ephemeral before the sunrise and since insatiable desire can never be fulfilled, their practicing not only makes them highly skillful in cruising, but at the same time enlightens them that sex is the only way to love, if the other one allows them to, as if love is nothing but sex.

This way of confusing love and sex eerily erases the existence of love, and thus, with a simple logical deduction, gay love basically does not exist at all. How ironic this is, and how true it is still. All starts from looking for love, but it ends in forsaking love in favour of safe sexual pleasure, or, do allowed me to use the label for gay cruising from the straight world - the "misconduct." To confirm it, all you need is to stay in a gay bar and see what happens around you. How many of them are looking for love? I would assume that there are many. Then how many of them are looking for sex? Almost all of them. The question can be rephrased to: are they expecting to find love after their sexual contact? The answer is always yes, but the sad truth is that most of these encounters will end in disasters: some months, while mostly weeks or even days. Of course there are lucky ones who find "true love" through cruising, but if this kind of love can only stay in the dark and be ephemeral, then how it could last and blossom! Logically it just does not make sense at all, particularly if you take into consideration the thought of those true predators in the bars, and quite sadly these predators are usually the charming and the sexiest ones. You don't want to be involved with them, only if you are aware of what you are dealing with, and your heart is well-prepared for the consequence.

Living in a straight society following the straight norms, gays have to be cautious during the daytime just to keep themselves away from the omnipresent threat of hatred. This may be different now, even though I truly doubt it - who can say gay hate-crime will no longer happen, but it was a bloody fact back in the 80s, which is also the time when AIDS started to surface on international news. Does this mark the failure of Stonewall riot in 1969? At least it does in the 80s, a time when police still had the right to raid bars, clubs, and parks for the "misconduct," a moral judgement that has been used by the straight society as the sole weapon to exterminate anything that violates their value system. Even though what happened in the 80s does not repeat again now, but that label of "misconduct" has never been removed for gays, and the action of cruising in fact complicates the whole situation and ironically confirms the moral attack made by the straight society. In other words, "misconduct" becomes a legitimate crime for which gays are responsible: they must be damned and they must pay for their crime. Maybe now such a statement is only reserved for those religious extremists, but in the general mind, they would still consider gay cruising a moral crime.

Manu does not offer a moral explanation of cruising, which is quite unnecessary to the plot of the film, as well as not possible to emerge in his way of thinking. What he contemplates on is an existentialist question: cruising sustains his gay identity that has been suppressed against his will, and only through such a gay existence could he taste the power of life and the sweetness of love, no matter how short it is and how bitter its consequence is. Without gay cruising, he does not exist at all, and his physical existence ceases to mean anything to himself. To expand such thinking, maybe many contemporary gays still share the same attitude towards his/her own gay existence in the straight world, one that has not changed much since the 80s or the 60s. Pondering on this thought, we could even argue that gay cruising, ignoring the biased moral judgement, is what gays need so that they can confirm their effective and meaningful living in the world that is in fact hostile to them. In this dark comfort zone, they live as what they truly are, a short-time freedom from the tiring disguise in the daytime, and they search a dream which can only exist in the form of a dream. This dreaming of love keeps them moving, otherwise they lose the hope for tomorrow and cease to exist as a human being.

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