Rest Stop Confidential: How I Ended up Having Sex With Men in Bathrooms
Photo Credit: Shutterstock/ kongsky
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I was 15 the first time I found out that men have sex in public. On the way to Maine with my mom and stepfather, we pulled off the highway and into a rest area. At the urinal, there was a man next to me. He was tall and homely, and holding himself. He stared at me. I was electrified, but held to that spot; he shook himself at me and I couldn’t move. We would have stayed there forever, but another man came in and saw what was happening and scowled. Time started again and I ran out of the bathroom.
If you’ve ever pulled over to a rest area, you’ve been near men having sex. I’m one of those men, I’ve done it a hundred times; we go into the woods or a truck with tinted windows, in a stall under cold light. It never stops, not for season or time. In the winter, men trudge through snow to be with each other, in the summer, men leave the woods with ticks clinging to their legs. Have you ever stopped at a rest area and found it completely empty? There’s always one man there, in his car, waiting to meet someone new.
This has been going on for a long, long time. The new ways that men meet — endlessly staring into phones, searching on hookup apps like Grindr or sites like Manhunt — haven’t changed the fact that we’re still having sex at rest areas, because they offer something different. For the man who is unsure of his sexuality, or unsure of how to tell others about it, for the man who has a family but feels new desires (or old, hidden ones) unfolding inside of him, the website and the phone apps are just too certain of themselves. They’re for gay men who want to have gay sex. Sex at the rest area, instead, abolishes identity; there’s a sort of freedom there to not be anything – instead, men just meet other men there; men who want the same sort of freedom.
Is it any wonder why people who feel the weight of their identities have been caught having sex at rest areas? Sen. Larry Craig and pop star George Michael were both discovered having sex at them. There is an appeal not just to having sex, but to having anonymous sex — not because you want to hide your identity from the other person; surely the other men recognized George Michael — but to feeling your own identity left behind. And this freedom is open to everyone, even those comfortable with their sexuality.
When I was 21, on the day I got my first car, I drove to a little parking lot off the highway near where I lived: the gravity of memory – of that day when I was 15 — drew me there. Later, on the long drives between college in Massachusetts and home in Pennsylvania, I’d pull over whenever I found a rest stop. When I got there, I would wait. I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t thinking — it seemed like where I should be.
Sometimes men go to rest areas because there’s nowhere else to go. My college town and my hometown were surrounded by thick lines of trees and post-industrial abandoned factories. There was no way to meet anyone, or if there was, it felt forced, somehow. Maybe I could go on dates with a few guys who were out like me, but I didn’t really want to go on dates, so it would’ve been dishonest. The straight students were going to parties and hooking up, making out on the green, having sex in dorms. The gay guys had to do what they could, wherever they could find it. Making out drunkenly with straight also-drunk frat boys, sex in the library with townies, trips to the nearest big city: either do those things or sit with your sexual feelings, like many of us had our entire lives. All that energy and nowhere to put it, no one to share it with.