The September issue of Gay Times is ‘The Sex Issue’ featuring the often constructed dumb but rather sweet Alex Reid on the cover. For my money, it’s a horribly unflattering picture of him, leaving you wanting to prescribe a new skin-care regime for him (mine is terrible but then I’m not a celebrity on the front a of a national magazine).

Anyway, beyond these superficial issues, the issue includes a welcome piece on dogging covering several pages and written by Jack Cullen. He also blogs here and his blog reveals he is a very young journalist. This is perhaps evident in the disappointingly superficial piece. It has lots of great bits and he is brave enough to reveal his own experiments with cottaging for the piece (although whether this is his normal pattern of behaviour is left unclear). Although much of the piece makes reference to gay men, the piece concludes with: ‘[cottaging] hasn’t fully died, and will forever remain a window of opportunity for straight men looking to cross the borderline’. Where does this come from? How does it fit with the piece? What of the young guys using cottages? What of the way these places are still policed? What impact does that have? This feels a real missed opportunity.

I know, I know, I’m an academic and not a journalist. My take on a subject

I’ve studied for years is going to be different but it seems a shame that when a subject is examined, it misses out some key and interesting issues. It’s also a shame that they don’t mention the ongoing documentary project The Strange Decline of the English Cottage. There are also a number of living academics – Paul Johnson, Les Moran, Matt Houlbrook and myself – who could have provided Jack with a better understanding of this issue. The piece is therefore more important for telling us what a young gay journalist in their early twenties will say about cottaging rather than as a piece about cottaging.
Finally, Gay Times flags up (repeatedly) that ‘cottaging is illegal’ – which it is – although no indication of how it’s policed (lots of things are illegal, the question is if you can get away with it, and what happens if you’re caught). GT provides a ‘top tips’ for cottaging but then off-sets this with the statement: ‘Under no circumstances does GT think you should go cottaging’. Wow, prissy little GT. If ever there was an example of the emergent (homo) normative narrative it was this anti-public sex stance. Along with bareback sex and drugs, we put cottaging in the new anti-gay bucket. In reality of course, many gay men (and journalists) do, I would suggest, cottage, bareback and take drugs, but these are increasingly the censored aspects of modern gay men’s lives. This is a sex issue that tells gay men to stop having the ‘wrong’ sort of sex. It’s an interesting development.
I discuss this idea of the (homo)normative in a piece just published in Durham Law Review (when I get a PDF of it I’ll stick it up on here and SSRN). It should also be available on Heinonline at some point. I also pick up these issues in the media context in a recent webzine piece that you can read here.