New Documentary Uncovers the World Trade Center’s Secret Cruising Culture

The short premieres at this week's SXSW Film Festival.

If you know anything about New York City’s queer history, then you have probably heard of the prevalent gay cruising that occurred around the West Village, the Christopher Street pier, and the Ramble in Central Park. But one place that few know existed was the cruising grounds in and around the World Trade Center complex in lower Manhattan.

Circus of Books producer Adam Baran is shining a light on that secret cruising history in the new documentary short Trade Center, making its world premiere this week at SXSW.

Trade Center

“I first heard about the cruising areas at the World Trade Center from my friend Billy Miller, the editor of the legendary Straight-to-Hell zine, which compiles true sex stories from gay men,” Baran tells NewNowNext. “Billy wrote an incredible article about the WTC’s cruising history for a book called Petite Mort: Recollections of A Queer Public (edited by Joshua Lubin Levy and Carlos Motta). I used this article as the basis for Trade Center and recorded Billy’s narration last year prior to the pandemic.”

The short features firsthand accounts from gay men who went cruising in areas such as an underground stairwell, and even a bathroom located in one of the Twin Towers.

“We shot the film in late February 2020, and I wound up finding four other subjects who also gave me testimonials about their experiences cruising at the WTC,” Baran continues. “I was always so fascinated that there was essentially a history of a secret cruising culture that nobody really knew about, and wanted to examine the factors behind that erasure and also celebrate the power of physical spaces for LGBTQ people to meet and form connections of all kinds.”

Baran says that cruising and cruising culture plays an important part in gay history, but “it’s an aspect that many gay people would rather not discuss for fear that it reinforces negative stereotypes about gay people being uncontrollable sexual monsters.”

“In reality, for centuries gay people had to live underground lives, meeting in secret spaces whether for socializing or sexual satisfaction, or both,” he explains. “A secluded bathroom, a remote beach, a 42nd Street porn theater, or as in the case of the World Trade Center, a stairwell in the parking garage — these served as spaces where gay men of different classes, races, and experiences were able to interact in ways they could not in so-called polite society. These connections strengthened our community and enabled us to survive, find lovers, friends, and more. I think it’s so important for the stories of these spaces and the men who frequented them are not lost to history.”

For more info on Trade Center, head over to the SXSW website.

I write about drag queens. Dolly Parton once ruffled my hair and said I was "just the cutest thing ever."
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