Toronto’s Geography of Gay Sex in the Digital Age

 

in ANY OTHER WAY: HOW TORONTO GOT QUEER

ABSTRACT

I’ve never had sex in a bathhouse. Or a park. Or most of the sex-spaces that have been fixtures in Toronto queer socio-geographic landscape. Perhaps this reeks of my own prudishness towards public sex. Or, maybe, it’s because the utility of these sex spaces has been usurped by the websites and mobile apps that I, like so many others, use more often for sex. We no longer rely on locations within the queerly designated neighborhood to provide sex. Instead, the privacy of our devices from the intimacy of our homes provides sex. Gay sex is expunged from public space, privatized and depoliticized. Toronto’s sex spaces have been lost, according to some critics, alongside the general shifts to the queer geography. Yet, this critique assumes some strict, unwavering boundaries between public and private, collective and intimate that may not exist. Is the rise of sex apps and the loss of queer geographies a clearly delineated process? How do physical queer geographies in Toronto reform in the age of sex apps?

The trope of loss should be replaced by that of diffusion. Despite my sex life, I have seen public sex continue to thrive in Toronto, from the ways those in my social networks frequent bathhouses, or the constant invites to sex parties in hotels, bathhouses, and private homes I receive online. It's a different kind of cruising, but cruising nonetheless. This piece, based on my personal narrative, explores geographies of gay sex as the diffusion of sex spaces into networks that span physical and virtual spaces, as well as collective and intimate spaces, augmenting the experience of both. I consider how geographies of gay sex in the digital age have expanded to spaces not distantly queer and not entirely private, turning the entire city into a fraught palate of queer intimacies and histories. These geographies incorporate mobile sexual experiences and emotional attachments that punctuate urban sites. These mobile intimacies turn casual wanderings through the streets into animated queer geographies recalled and felt from memories, emotions, and attachments that we distinctly have of them. Even spread out, queer spaces retain importance for collective queer experiences in how multiple geographies overlap, gaining meaning and shaping identities. Physical space matters in the digital age: perhaps not as a priori sites that claim privileged role as producers of queer culture, but as those sites where queerness unfolds, disrupts, and disputes.