from Clinical/Therapeutic Issues
...the landscape of a public place in a New York City Park embodies larger external structures within which sexual subjects actively organize local sexual culture. Controlling the configuration and utilization of such space is a technique of power used by the state apparatus. Based upon ethnographic fieldwork, we describe how the sexual culture situated within this public space is produced and reproduced in the micro-social practices of sexual subjects in the face of structural constraints.According to Munoz-Laboy, MSMs create their own sexual culture within public parks but these cultures are restrained by government authorities who often change the configurations of spaces within parks to discourage such activities. The researcher chose a particular space in the park to watch MSM and how they interacted with one another. His field research spanned a period between May 2000 and the late summer of 2001. He and a fellow researcher carried 16 oz. cans of Coors Light with them to show MSMs that they were not cops and that they were just "hanging out." He noted as well that during observations of MSM sexual conduct that each observer refrained from taking notes or using tape recorders so as "minimize disruption of the social setting."
Munoz-Laboy notes that two areas existed for sexual conduct: one for cruising along a path and another "sex spot" where MSMs gathered for more lengthy sexual encounters. He notes that communication between MSMs in this area "occurred via a variety of nonverbal symbolic codes, which consisted of gazes, body posturing, inviting smiles, hands fixed in spots on the body, and games of cat and mouse."
When the city of New York altered the areas within the park to discourage such sexual encounters, MSM were simply more discreet in their behaviors in the same areas. "Though the homoerotic desire of the sexual subjects did not change, the manner in which they enacted them evolved with the structural constraint expressed in spatial change around them," said the author.
In his conclusion, the researcher noted: "This paper is not about some sort of government conspiracy to limit the freedom of its citizens. Our main argument is that by analyzing ethnographic case studies, we can begin to understand the complexities of sexuality, and in particular, how place provides the context for the nexus of societal structure and individual agency."
The author says his study has led him to new questions that deserve further investigation such as "How does the constantly-changing erotic spatial confirmation of places like San Jose Park shape sexual pleasure and desire over the sexual lives of individuals? How are non-identity-based sexual cultures sustained over time, and what are their utilities within the sexual landscape of the city?"
He received a National Institute of Mental Health grant to conduct this research.