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Tapping Into The Secrets Of the Stall
An early reference to foot-tapping is made in the 1975 book "The Tea Room Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places," by Laud Humphreys, a sociologist. It is based on Humphreys's 1960s study of public sex.
"In tea rooms where there were doors on the stalls, I have observed the use of foot-tapping as a means of communication," Humphreys wrote. He added that "doors on stalls serve as hindrances rather than aids to homoerotic activity."
Henderson offers a more detailed description of the contemporary practice.
"If you are in the stall, you tap your foot, and if the person next to you taps a foot, you keep going back and forth until one person makes a move," he says. "Someone will then stick their hand underneath. Or they will pass a note on paper. Or, what I've heard is, when they think it's safe," they will move on to sexual contact in the space beneath the partition.
"Some people are absolutely blatant" about showing arousal in public bathrooms, he said. "I've seen this in malls and witnessed that myself."
The reaction? "That depends," he said. "For people who are not of that same persuasion, they yell and call names. I've seen people escorted out by security, and I've witnessed people gesturing back, reaching over and grabbing them. That's when you roll your eyes and walk out."
This behavior violates the "unwritten code of conduct that men observe in bathrooms," said John Davidson, legal director at Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Lambda has published a "Little Black Book" of legal advice for people who engage in public sex, on the theory that men seeking sex with men are targeted for easy law-enforcement action.
"Don't the police at the airport maybe have better things to do than sit in the bathroom?" Davidson said. "They're sitting there waiting in order to catch men trying to have sex with men. . . . I thought we had reasons to be concerned about things going on in the airport other than that."
And those caught often do not fight the charges, he said.
"Most people arrested for this conduct, because they're so ashamed, they just want it to go away," said Davidson. "And so they frequently will plead guilty."
Some gay activists suggest that sex in the stall is born of life in the closet.
"I think that the closet is a product of discrimination and prejudice against gay people," said David Smith, a vice president at the Human Rights Campaign. "And because of that prejudice, people can't be open and honest about who they are and have to go to extreme measures to hide it."