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Gay Cruising

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It's not uncommon to see a lot of wood and steam in a sauna.
"Back to nature, just human nature
Getting on back to
I think I'm done with the sofa
I think I'm done with the hall
I think I'm done with the kitchen table, baby
Let's go outside (let's go outside)
In the sunshine
I know you want to, but you can't say yes
Let's go outside (let's go outside)
In the moonshine
Take me to the places that I love best"
George Michael, "Outside"

A male character looks for casual, no-strings-attached same-sex sexual encounters out in public, with the hook-up sometimes happening in public.

This is referred to as cruising in gay slang/code. The term was coined in the '70s, although the practice is Older Than Dirt. While not exclusive to gay/bisexual men as heterosexuals partake in the same behavior, cruising has a history amongst queer men. Homosexuality and homosexual sex being either illegal and/or extremely discouraged by many societies drove men to get together with each other in secret in order to satisfy sexual needs. This happens in gay bars and gay hangouts, but also happens outside of those areas (as in outdoors). These areas are known as "cruising grounds" or "cruising spots;" they can be in the woods, or in the park, a public restroom (that specific form of cruising is referred to as "cottaging;" the term originated from the UK), etc.

Narratively, this trope is often used to highlight a character's promiscuity going against all reason or to highlight homophobia and public shaming of men who have sex with men in certain time periods as cruising stings were used to intimidate the LGBT community. The Armoured Closet Gay goes hand in hand with this trope as their feelings of gayngst and shame can drive them to cruising. As a counterpoint, the cruiser can be a sexually liberated character and can level accusations of Slut-Shaming towards those that would condemn him for looking for public fun.

As time marched on and the LGBT Rights movement gained momentum in many countries, cruising is no longer as prevalent as it was, at least in those aforementioned nations. Internet websites and queer male dating apps such as Grindr have mostly supplanted cruising. Not to say it has completely gone away; meet-ups can be arranged via those methods and old habits die hard.

Sub-Trope of Secretly Gay Activity.

This can lead to Sex in a Shared Room. Related to All Gays are Promiscuous and All Men Are Perverts.

This is not to be confused with gay cruises, such as in the film Boat Trip, though cruising happens on those as well.

Also, No Real Life Examples, Please!


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     Films — Live-Action 
  • Implied at the truck stop scene in Bohemian Rhapsody.
  • Cruising, natch. The film is about an undercover cop embedded in New York's gay leather/BDSM subcommunity to catch a serial killer. The sexual activity mostly happens within the leather/BDSM club, however, though gay men also are shown cruising for sex in Central Park.
  • The main character Ben in Get Real is a gay teen who initially hides his sexuality and goes cottaging for public sex in men's bathrooms. He meets the school jock in the same restroom, also looking for sex.
  • Green Book has a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment featuring Tony saving Don Shirley, the client he's driving, from being arrested after Don gets caught hooking up with another man at a public pool.
  • Knife and Heart: The killer occasionally cruises for his victims, and kills his second on-screen victim after cruising on him and pretending he wants to hook up in a public street.
  • At the beginning of God's Own Country, Johnny, a closeted young farmer in rural Yorkshire, is shown to regularly engage in anonymous hookups in public bathrooms and trailers, where the sex completely lacks affection or eye contact. The film treats Johnny's love of cruising as emblematic of his emotional repression and delinquent attitude. Once he falls in love with Gheorghe, he starts to become more open, but their relationship suffers when Johnny reverts to his old ways and hooks up with a random guy in a pub bathroom while Gheorghe is in the other room.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge: Coach Schneider is depicted as cruising in full leather gear. It's also a possible interpretation of Jesse's turning up there in the rainstorm, although he was sleepwalking.
  • Philadelphia: Andrew used to cruise at an adult theatre, and most likely contracted HIV that way.
  • Prick Up Your Ears (1987) includes gay cruising in London's public toilets.
  • Shame: After getting beaten up at one nightclub and banned from another, Brandon cruises in a gay bar and gets blown by a guy.
  • Spa Night sees the main character David wrestling with his budding homosexuality and making matters worse, he works in a spa and part of his job is to break up any sexual encounters between the men that frequently cruise the spa. Towards the end of the film, he gives in to temptation and has sex with a guy in the spa, though when he moves in for a kiss, the guy recoils.
  • In Stranger by the Lake Henri met Michel on a nude beach and the story focuses on a group of guys cruising.
  • The 2007 documentary Tearoom consists of unedited found footage of a 1962 police cruising sting in Mansfield, Ohio. A camera was set behind a two-way mirror in a men's public restroom and police caught over 60 men of all races, ages, and social standing engaging in sexual activity, men that were later arrested and prosecuted. Decades later, filmmaker William E. Jones got a hold of the footage and edited the clips into a film, presented without commentary.
  • There's Something About Mary: Ted stops by a highway rest stop to take a leak, and inadvertently stumbles (literally) on a cruising spot with lots of men engaging in sex with each other.
  • Tom Of Finland shows Touko parttaking in the activity at various places at various times, including during the war as the city lights are out in fear of bombing raids, and the film also depicts the real incident when the Helsinki police did sweeping violent raids at known cruising spots ahead of the 1952 Olympic games.
  • In Transamerica, Bree's son Toby is quick to spot an interested truck driver when the pair are in need of quick cash, and slips out with him to his truck.
  • Weekend starts with main Russell going to a gay bar to drink and look for casual sex. He meets Glen there and they later have sex at Russell's apartment but their relationship deepens from there. Glen also mentions his ex was bashed in a Homophobic Hate Crime while cruising in a public park.

  • And the Band Played On: Cruising is described as a regular part of life for gay and bisexual men in the 1970s and the early 1980s, especially in bathhouses. Kico, who is Buddhist, is portrayed as something of a sole exception for finding it distasteful.
  • Pachinko: Haruki's wife finds out he's gay after she catches him in the act with another man in a section of the park that is full of people having anonymous sex. She is horrified and shocked.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower: After Patrick and Brad break up, Patrick begins frequenting the park at night, where he has sex with much older men, which causes his friends some concern.
  • Invoked in Rivers of London: When Grant sees DCI Nightingale for the first time, he suspects him of "cottaging", first of all because of his attire, and secondly because the area around Covent Garden used to be a traditional place for such activity. He gets quickly disabused of that notion, though.
  • In Rusty's half of the Soul Sucking Brain Zombies Duology (one of the sequels to Geography Club), Rusty thinks Kevin (his complicated Love Interest) is cruising in the park when Rusty goes to meet up with him. Rusty is put off, which contributes to his decision to be done with Kevin for good. In reality, Kevin wasn't cruising and wanted to finally commit to Rusty but warned off by his friend, Min.
  • In Tales of the City, Michael spends much of the first three books cruising for sex when he's not with a serious partner. This catches up to him hard when the series progresses into the '80s; he contracts HIV and loses his longtime boyfriend to the disease.

     Live-Action TV 
  • Aquarius shows Armored Closet Gay Ken Karn hooking up with strange men in public toilets.
  • The Assassination of Gianni Versace posits that Andrew Cunanan found victims Gianni Versace and Lee Miglin because they were cruisers. This was controversial, as Versace had a longtime partner, and Miglin was married to a woman, and neither is believed to have had any prior connection to Cunanan.
  • Big Love: Albie, an Armored Closet Gay, seeks out anonymous sex with other men as an outlet for his urges. It gets him in trouble more than once, and the only time he's ever happy in the series is when he finds a steady relationship with another closeted man (which both still try to keep secret).
  • Call the Midwife: An episode of Series 4 features expectant father Tony Amos, who kisses another man in a public lavatory. Unfortunately, the other man turns out to be an undercover police officer, and this is 1960, when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK.
  • Riley from Degrassi: The Next Generation meets up with an old acquaintance in the woods for sex. This was his first sexual encounter with another guy.
  • The Deuce: Many of the gay characters engage in this, especially the ones still in the closet. A mob-controlled gay bar is a popular place for this since it is protected from police raids. The bar's owner then starts a more upscale social club where wealthy gay men can discreetly meet new partners. When the AIDS epidemic comes in the '80s, many of these characters contract the disease and die. A subplot involves a character becoming a gay rights activist and trying to spread awareness of the dangers of the activity.
  • In Euphoria, Cal Jacobs's compulsive cruising habit sets off the events of the first season, as one of his sexual partners happens to be trans girl Jules Vaughn, who happens to go to the same school as Cal's son Nate. When Nate finds out that Jules slept with his dad, he becomes obsessed with her and stalks her. In Cal's case this is bisexual cruising, since he picks up a huge number of young men and women to have sex with in motels.
  • Fellow Travelers: Hawkins Fuller is shown hooking up with a man he doesn't know while in a public restroom during the 1950s, and also says the Nomad tavern serves this purpose. In 1986, he also goes to a gay leather bar for the same reason, though his cruising gets aborted as the man he hits on wants Hawk to be the bottom. Hawk is also a top, so he stops things.
  • Innocent: In Series 2, Sally's ex-husband Sam is a Closet Gay, and he says he had been having sex with men "in toilets and in lay-bys" before he met Sally's underage student Matty and started up an illicit "relationship" with him instead.
  • Interview with the Vampire (2022): In the 1973 scene of "Like Angels Put in Hell by God", Louis de Pointe du Lac and Rashid are at Polynesian Mary's (a gay bar in San Francisco) to pick up guys. Louis flirts with a 20-year-old Daniel Molloy, buys him a drink, and invites him to his apartment. Daniel accepts, and while his goal is to interview Louis, he adds, "I mean, if something happens, you know, I'm cool." Louis then asks Rashid if he would like to join them (hinting that Louis and Rashid sometimes share a man for a threesome), but Rashid declines with "No, you go ahead, have your fun," and presumably he seeks out someone else at the bar who is more appealing to him.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: In "Blood Brothers," the detectives meet a gay man named Chase who found Tripp's card and used it while hooking up with guys at a club near Central Park.
  • In the US version of Life on Mars (2008), Chris has a belated realization of his uncle Harold's nature; he goes out "cruising" to lure out a group of homophobic attackers, and meets his uncle Harold (presumably also cruising). Sam and Annie listening in are highly amused.
    Chris: Holy cow, that guy looked just like my uncle Harold! But my uncle Harold, he wasn't a... no, no, no, he took me to my first Broadway Musical! [Beat] Wow, uncle Harold?!
  • Mad Men: Implied Trope. Sal Romano, a closeted gay man working at Sterling Cooper, is fired after he refuses the advances of an important client who happens to be a Depraved Homosexual. Sal is last seen calling his wife from a truck stop, telling her he's going to be working late that night.
  • The piers in Pose is where this happens between men. The piers also are where the trans women "work" for men cruising for them specifically.
  • The Newsreader: This is what causes Gerry Carroll to be arrested on the charge of public indecency, the repercussions of which are dire for his career, making him go from being Australia's favourite television personality to becoming a national pariah.
  • Riverdale: In season two, Kevin Keller looks for sex out in the woods at night, despite the Black Hood killer being out and about. When Betty confronts him on this, he tells her he's the only openly out gay teen at Riverdale and this would be the only way he can seek any type of affection. However, his cruising continues until he's an adult and in a committed (but open) relationship; he meets up with guys in the woods and at truck stops. He's forced to examine his behavior after getting bashed in a sauna after he accidentally hits on a straight guy.
  • Wire in the Blood: The opening two-parter "The Mermaids Singing" has a serial killer apparently preying on closeted gay men and dumping their bodies in cruising spots. This leads the police to put Don undercover as a cruiser to try and see what the world on the street is. While cruising is depicted, it is actually a misdirection by the real killer, a gay man who "believes" he's a woman and sexually tortures straight men.

  • Cruisin' the Streets by the Boys Town Gang is about two gay men cruising at night in what is clearly implied to be Folsom Street in San Francisco.
  • The uncensored music video for "Jesus He Knows Me" by Genesis depicts one of the televangelists being caught by paparazzi hooking up with another man behind his wife's back in a public restroom. This moment was excised on most general broadcasts and releases of the video, including the official YouTube upload.
  • George Michael cheekily engages in Self-Deprecation of his own arrest for cruising with the song and music video for "Outside", complete with a dance sequence in a men's bathroom (the exact type of location he was arrested in) that turns into a disco dance floor.
  • "53rd and 3rd" by The Ramones is about a known cruising spot that Dee Dee Ramone allegedly hustled at at times.

     Video Games 
  • The Tearoom by gay game developer Robert Yang is based on the aforementioned documentary Tearoom, where you play as a man in a restroom trying to engage in sex with another man with eye contact while being on the lookout for the police. In a twist, the penises seen are replaced with actual guns, which is a statement for Yang in regards to queer censorship on websites such as Twitch.

     Western Animation