Anonymous No More: Gay Sex at Ground Zero

Written by | Screen, The Lens

There is liberation in oppression. When society marginalizes queer people, then they can’t apply their rules to us. We can do whatever we want, and what we want is sex.

The short film Trade Center tells the tale of anonymous gay hookups in the underbelly of New York’s most towering erection. Several men fondly recollect the fondlings of a bygone era.

Their voice-over is appropriately disembodied. They could be anyone. They could be phantoms. But their passion was real and it consumed a generation of LGBTQ+ individuals craving the human touch, no matter how fleeting or derided.

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One narrator explains, “People who were doing dirty things, no matter what it was, if it was drugs, sex or whatever, found those kind of places.”

And the hottest hotspot of all was the staircase under the buildings.

“The thing about that stairwell that made it so popular was the cops never patrolled it and you could hear someone coming from several floors above or below. Basically, nobody took these stairs except horndogs who used it as a secluded sex spot.”

Another voice goes into graphic detail about the logistics of performing and receiving oral sex on a terraced surface. One partner would stand over the other, allowing his manhood to dominate the proceedings, and then they would swap positions, like a lascivious waltz up and down the stairs.

The film pivots deftly from the intimate to the infuriating, documenting how Giuliani’s regime began cracking down on restroom romances.

“Lunch hour was typically out of control and the cops would periodically try to bust it up by standing around for a while with their walkie-talkies turned up loud for effect. Or they’d knock a nightstick on the stalls and bark something like, ‘OK, ladies, time to break it up!’ But the minute they’d leave, the boys would be back at it.”

The element of taboo was a lubricant for these lavatory lotharios, but the ultimate danger loomed even larger.

“I’ve talked to at least one guy who was there in one of those tearooms when the planes hit those buildings. I’ve visualized it happening and it’s impossible that all those other people could have gotten out.”

Tragedy tore away the covers, exposing the stealthy joys that were lurking in the crevices of Manhattan.

“The powers that be all of a sudden acknowledged everything. Within weeks of that event, the whole world started changing very rapidly… The World Trade Center was the both literal and also metaphorical end.”

Moans from the past continue to echo through the queer experience. Our desires may be buried for decades or even centuries, but our souls persistently find their way to the surface.

Last modified: April 27, 2021