‘We sweep under the rug what we better look in the dirty mouth’

Despite the still lively gay scene in ‘gay capital’ Amsterdam, something hasalso been lost. Theater maker Dries Verhoeven (46) and performer BarnabySavage (31) lead us through oppressed sex-free places, in the run-up to theirperformance The Narcosexuals.

Lorianne van GelderSeptember 19, 202217:00

“I could go here now,” says Dries Verhoeven, theater director, pointing to hissmartphone on which the Chillapp is open. A sex party is going on two hundredmeters from him. Verhoeven could register in this way, go to the apartment ofthe unknown man and take a stimulant to be able to immerse himself in free sexwith the other men present for the rest of the afternoon, evening and night.

These sex parties under the influence of drugs such as GHB, 3-mmc or sometimescrystal meth – also known as ‘chemsex parties’ (chemicals + sex) – have beenaround for about ten years and took off during the corona period. They are theinspiration for Verhoeven’s last performance: The Narcosexuals, in which helets seven dancers experience such a party.

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Scene from ‘The Narcosexuals’ by director Dries Verhoeven.Statue WillemPopelier

Lack of group feeling

It is a world that the average Amsterdammer may not know. Just like the cruisespot in Sarphati Park, behind the benches, between the bushes, which we justvisited. Together with one of his actors, Barnaby Savage, we cycle past thevisible, invisible, but also the many disappeared gay meeting places and barsin the city.

Because that is also why Verhoeven are the Narcosexuals made: he sees thatmore and more existing physical gay meeting places in the city aredisappearing from the streets. While many gay men experience a lack ofconnection or group feeling, he sees. In its place are the chemsex parties –invisible, with all the benefits, but also risks.

What is left of the sexual safe havens for men in Amsterdam?

Darkrooms and drugs

Savage, Dutch-British dancer and performer, is waiting for us in theWarmoesstraat. De Cockring, a gay bar with a much used darkroom, was locatedthere for years at number 96.

For Savage, this gay bar was his first encounter with a darkroom. He firstcame here as a 19-year-old boy. “I remember what the cruise room looked like:a labyrinth of cubicles. I found it very scary and didn’t dare go in.” Helater discovered just how attractive he found cruising and anonymous sex.

The municipality closed the tent in 2010 because too many drugs were used andtrafficked. Verhoeven, a fairly loyal visitor, still sees the indirect effectsof this. “The consequence of such a closure is that people now meet whereenforcement is no longer possible. In living rooms where a crystal meth pipeis simply on the table.”

Now there is a branch of tourist cafe Stones Café. When it was still the gaybar, there was a really big cock ring on the facade. “It was visible, it was areminder of promiscuity and the animalistic in ourselves and society,” saysVerhoeven.

Day and night version

Gay bars Dirty Dicks and The Eagle can be found a few doors down the street,but they too are under pressure due to the city’s Red Light District policy.There are plans to close the catering industry at 2am from 2023, while TheEagle and Dirty Dicks will be open until 4am.

“Where are those men supposed to go after that hour?” asks Verhoeven. “I don’tthink anyone is bothered by the good breasts that go here. Perhaps somepassers-by will experience a sense of filth and abnormality. The clearing is asymptom of a time when differences are increasing: a day and night version ofyourself. Either extreme sex on the internet, or a place in public where weare prudish and good.”

Internet shopping

Those who do not understand the lure of cruising: it is the surprise of themeeting, or the anonymity of the sex, that make cruising and darkroom visitsso attractive, the men say. Most gay men date today through a dating app likeGrindr, but that can feel like internet shopping.

“You immediately define your taste, even before you meet. Because of theprofile you already know almost everything about each other: height, weight,hair color. You post your best photos. In fact, you can only get disappointedthen,” says Savage.

Verhoeven: “In the darkroom you are in the shadows, you can still fantasizeabout each other.” “It can come as a surprise that someone looks moreattractive or has better sex with you than you could imagine,” Savage adds.

pee curls

Both Savage and Verhoeven praise the adventurous, exciting and democratic sideof cruising. Whether in a park – the Rosarium in Vondelpark is the most famous– or in the basement at gay bar The Cuckoo’s Nest.

“I’ve never seen anyone be aggressive while cruising,” Verhoeven says. “Youhave to respect each other’s boundaries, because you are all in an undefinedspace, together you determine the rules. That creates a sense of camaraderie.”

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From: The Narcosexuals.  Statue WillemPopelier

From: The Narcosexuals.Statue Willem Popelier

However, cruise locations are also under pressure. For example, there wasrecently a discussion about the much-used gay meeting place at De Oeverlanden,because a landscape park should be created. The many multi-person pee curlsthat the city used to have – where men could pee side by side outside – thatwere also used as sex places, have also decreased enormously. TheWeteringscircuit was a lively cruise scene, until the rhododendron bushes werepruned and there was no more shelter.


Men are therefore increasingly seeking refuge via the internet and in theprivacy of parties. Where sex and drugs are even more connected. Savage: “It’ssomething that the outside world doesn’t like so much that it creates a senseof togetherness. A space is created where men experiment sexually, withoutjudgment.” Verhoeven: “At those kinds of parties, there is often a great senseof care for each other, for example when someone becomes unwell. But theoutside world will not notice if something goes wrong.”

If the city cleans up a public space, it does not mean that those extremitieshave disappeared, says Verhoeven. “We sweep everything under the rug that Ithink we better look in the dirty mouth.”

In Sarphati Park, Savage points to two benches behind the basketball court inthe park. On the surface, the benches are like any other, but this is also acruise spot, he says, where he frequented. “Only there are fewer and fewercruisers, especially because there is now a playground nearby.”

Model Gays

Cruising may be a far-from-my-bed show for many. But for Verhoeven, visibilityof the dark, sordid sides of life is essential. “A subculture shows its middlefinger according to imposed expectations.” Gays have acquired more and morerights, such as the opening up of marriage or the adoption of children, butthey have also started to behave according to that heteronormative norm, hesees.

Verhoeven: “We are not all assimilated model gays. That bestiality has notdisappeared, it is in all of us, in straights and gays. Although you could ofcourse say that sex occupies a more central place for some gay men. When yousuppress your sexuality for eighteen years, it can come out with a bang.”

The Narcosexuals: 22/9 – 1/10, The Stone Head via Frascati Theatre