Across many Western countries, a substantial proportion of public toilets have either closed or been materially adapted in order to prevent their use for sex, while sexual interactions in public spaces generally, and toilets in particular, are policed more effectively than ever before. Despite these changes, this essay argues that public toilets continue to hold queer potential because of their intrinsic spatial qualities, their affective resonances, and their capacity to connect us with past times and events. As such, they provide sites for imagining sex outside of the erotic and affective frames of contemporary homonormativity. The essay explores these ideas through two examples of engagements with past public toilet spaces. The first example is Tearoom, a film (2007) and accompanying book (2008) by William E. Jones, which presents footage from covert police surveillance of a toilet in Ohio in 1962 that was used in criminal proceedings leading to the conviction of numerous men for consensual sex crimes. The second example is the Edwardian Cloakroom, a building in Bristol, England, that functioned as a public toilet until 2001 and has, more recently, been used as an exhibition space for art installations exploring matters such as solitude, surveillance, difference, and stigma.
Dharman Jeyasingham; Closure, Affect, and the Continuing Queer Potential of Public Toilets. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 October 2016; 115 (4): 771–778. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-3656180
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