Cottaging and Cruising
Cottaging, from the Polari slang for Public Toilet.
Cruising, slang. Meaning to look for sex.
Historically for many gay men cottaging and cruising were the only way they could meet other gay men, not only for sex but also for friendship.
For many gay men, whose sexuality could mean imprisonment and stigmatisation, marriage and conforming to societal ‘normality’ was the only option. This did not change the fact they were gay men and were sexually attracted to other men.
Pushed underground by discriminatory laws men would seek other men in toilets, parks and even cinemas as these were easy places to identify other gay men. These were very risky places to meet other men as the police often proactively entrapped men meeting in this way and arrests and prison sentences were commonplace.
It still remains illegal to have sex in public today although arrests are less common, as is cottaging due to the liberation of homosexuality and the proliferation of ‘legal’ meeting places such as gay bars, clubs and saunas and the rise of Internet ‘dating’.
It's worth noting that anonymous sex in public places is in no way confined to gay men and is practiced by heterosexual men and women too. Take ‘dogging’ as an example!
Birmingham had a large underground subculture of cruising areas and cottages where men would meet for sex. The most notorious cottage was the Silver Slipper on Station Street, now infilled.
Before the Inner Ring Road developments in the 1940s and 1950s Birmingham had many of these large underground Victorian public toilets and cottaging would have gone on in most of them, as well as on train station platform toilets, such as platform 7 at Snow Hill Station.
With the destruction of much of Birmingham's Victorian streetscape with the building of the Inner Ring Road came the replacement of many of the old cottages. The new pedestrian subways of the ring road all had public toilets, which again became notorious for cruising and cottaging, most notably Kennedy Gardens now demolished. Sections of the city's hidden canal network, notably the large void underneath the Telecom Tower were also popular Cruising areas for gay men.