Father Tony

The Gay Death Wish

Filed By Father Tony | March 26, 2009 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: cruising for sex, gay murder, George Weber, internet hook-ups and sex, Larry Ellison

Dear Father Tony:

I love your writing. and I remember your postings about Vishara. I hope you would consider doing an entry about cruising safely. I spend alot of my time in Cape May county. We are on the tip of the Cape, and we have no sex club or bookstore available for at least 30 miles. The internet (Craigs list, and Manhunt are the main cruising venues available here. We do have a couple of mixed bars, but if you don't drink the internet is the only game in town. Atlantic City is over 36 miles away, and they only have one bar. You have pointed out the dangers of cruising online, you've posted about your experiences in sex clubs, and bookstores. I find it kind of odd, because you have taken a rather absolute "do not cruise online" stance on the subject, where you are more generally tolerant, or take a live and let live attitude on sexual matters. I would love to read more of your thoughts on the subject, and your thoughts on safe cruising.

Steve

Dear Steve,

It is exactly and most emphatically my "live and let live" attitude that makes me take a strong stance against the kind of internet hook-up in which a gay man opens his life, surrenders his privacy and places his entire existence in the hands of a stranger. Just. To satisfy. An urge.

If you've read deeply into my blog, you know that in my single days, I was not always prudent. There were a few encounters I am lucky to have survived.

Given the recent and distressing news about the murders of Larry Ellison and George Weber , I think we all need a wake-up call about online hook-ups.

What is your life worth to you, Steve?

Many of us go to extreme measures to secure our lesser possessions. Electronic surveillance, automobile and kid tracking implants, hurricane glass, firewalls, safe rooms and various other seventh generation devices that scarcely recall that primitive 2AM endlessly honking horn of a car alarm outside your bedroom window.

But some of us will then leave the literal and virtual fortresses they have built, get twisted, bring home the anonymous sailor and pass out next to him in bed. The more shy lazy stupid efficient will search the net for that sailor, and will buzz in the home delivery, forgetting the story of the Trojan horse.

There are other permutations of this nonsense. Men who would never dream of reaching through a glory hole and waving an expensive piece of jewelry, an American Express card, a set of car keys or a Rolex at a stranger will eagerly stick their penises into what is literally a black hole in space occupied by God knows what alien and nefarious being.

When last I checked, an AmEx card is rather easier to replace, and a Rolex easier to repair than a misplaced dick.

What drives gay men into such crazed jeopardy?

A number of possible answers.

There is that lust, waxed by the moon, that seeks relief through genital friction. There is the need for physical closeness with another man that cannot always be satisfied with high definition porn. There is the yearning for love. There is the loneliness that is intrinsically part of the human condition and is experienced occasionally even by those of us in fulfilling relationships. There is the desire to do kinky things that we would never attempt with our ordinary sex partners or lovers. There is the need to slip out of a marriage or a public persona and prowl "on the down low". There are those owned by drugs and booze whose addictions offer pleasure where personal danger is the side effect. There are those skydivers who are thrilled by risk. And finally there is sometimes that sad man with an unsettling guilt that can grow like a brain tumor into a death wish.

You need to know that any one of the above could become a victim through the simple business of hooking up with a stranger. It is important to know their wide variety, in order to contradict those who say that all such men should hook up in full view of friends or bartenders or through dating services or at the baths. Those venues aren't always suitable or available for married men, or politicians or rural folks. Hence the airport bathroom stall, the rankly fertilized bushes behind a highway rest area, the Ramble and Craigslist.

You know how they say that, if you look at the percentages, flying is actually safer than driving? Well I wonder if the same is true when comparing anonymous internet hook-ups with actual dating. Is the mortality rate higher in one than in the other? Is an acquaintance more likely to kill you than an insane trick? I don't know those stats, and I don't really want to find out. Let me make some suggestions for safe/sane behavior that still satisfies the natural urges of men with any of the hungers listed above.

Many, many years ago, when the business of net cruising was new and I was curious to see how it worked. I posted something on the now vintage cruising for sex message board. This was before the uploading of pics that is now de rigeur. In order to be safe, I spelled out exactly what we would do, the size of the group, what the participants should look like and a vague idea of where we would meet ( a local motel). I then interviewed the applicants in public. Knowing they had to pass an interview that might take place days or weeks before the event kept them honest about their looks and it gave me a chance to chat with them for a minute. When I had established a good list, I disclosed the time and place. First we would all meet at a local McDonald's. From there, I would lead the group to the nearby hotel room I had reserved. Each of us would kick in for the cost of the room. Everything worked out swimmingly (after much fussing with the lighting that was finally perfected by the toss of a hand towel over the shade. I'll never forget the hot redhead from Chicago who got naked immediately and pointing to a spot on the floor proclaimed "That is where I'm putting my clothes." (He had been around the block a few times and had lost some favorite t shirts in the chaos of cotton that is always involved in these sorts of romps.) Everyone respected the safe sex rules I had established and the impromptu choreography of the group was quite delightful. For many months after that, I got email from the players asking me when we would do it again. (Some of them got together on their own. At least one romance ensued.) I explained that the work of organizing the event was more than I was willing to repeat, and I never did, but my point in telling you this is that I went to great lengths to mitigate risk, and it worked. My husband and I eventually decided that it was much easier to just declare a spa weekend for ourselves and drive to a city with a bath house where we would get to know the staff and the regulars and join a family of sorts.

Not everyone has access to a bath house or a sex club or an adult video arcade in which sometimes four men squeeze hilariously into a booth designed for single occupancy. If that is your situation, I think you can use the net to meet guys, but you ought to hold back personal information, agree to meet in public, maybe with friends. You ought to move slowly, keeping in mind that a killer will put his best foot forward and misrepresent himself in order to press an advantage. Meet someone repeatedly and in different contexts so you can be better able to assess his character.

I strongly recommend that your first encounter with a man who exists only on the net not have the intimacy and privacy of a wedding night, but that it be in a group setting. I've boiled this down to a slogan: A GROUP OF FUN BEFORE ONE ON ONE. Or, do not put the Trojan horse before the cart.

Drugs and booze in the context of a hook-up with a stranger constitute a loaded gun tossed back and forth between the blindfolded. Better to be nervous than fortified with false self-confidence.

Most of us are subject to bad judgment when we are horned up. I would suggest rubbing one out, as we used to say in prison, just before you leave the house to meet a stranger whom you've encountered on the net. You need to be thinking with your superior head (and if the smaller one is superior, you need to stay home).

I am most worried about the youngest guys among us who are just beginning to interact sexually. If mayors and clergy and parents simply tell them what not to do, and where not to do it, and do not encourage them in ways to have sex safely, the dangers multiply in the group least able to handle themselves with skill.

In the last half hour before the polls closed on the day he was elected, the new mayor of Fort Lauderdale and I had a long conversation about public sex on the beach and in parks. I suggested the licensing of more private venues where men could gather to have sex. His response was "Well that's not gonna happen." I think he saw the merit of my suggestion but he knew that it would not be practical as the flagship initiative of his new administration. (Incidentally, I like the new mayor and I think he'll be a good blend of religious conservative and social liberal. We'll see.)

In the ideal town of an ideal world, there is a section of a public park that is surrounded with a stockade fence. It is patrolled by a public employee (a sex monitor) who distributes condoms and lube, and weaves among the men who enter the space, making sure their behavior is safe while protecting anonymity and driving out the troublemakers. It's open 24/7 and access is situated to facilitate the unseen coming and going of local celebrities. Yeah, I know, in my dreams.

Last week, I made my first visit to the nude beach just south of Fort Lauderdale. Mostly men. 95% gay. Very social. No one having sex, but there was lots of heavy cruising in which non-verbal indicators might prompt a man to move his towel closer to a guy displaying his interest. And, I fell into some spirited and enjoyable conversation. I highly recommend it as a very disarming and safe way to meet strangers. Just don't get carried away and compromised by the sight of a bullish appendage directed your way. (A charmer from Atlanta, rolling onto his side, said to me "I guess it's rather obvious that I find myself oddly attracted to you." "Oddly?" I replied. I so sun-blocked him.) Get a phone number. Meet again in a crowded McDonald's, at an art gallery, at a rally, at your gym or at church.

Steve, I've barely touched the edge of this very large and important issue. You and I have had other exchanges in which we have looked deeper into assembling a team of the concerned. A group voice delivering a reminder might do something to help end these kinds of murders. I think you and I are at the start of something very valuable. You have my ear, but because I've never actually met you, and don't really know you, not much else of me. Keep talking. Force the issue.


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There's a somewhat parochial, moralistic aspect to this post that I find disappointing. In effect, you're saying that the sort of anonymous sex you prefer is good, and the sort other people prefer is bad. The "what is your life worth to you" rhetoric is reminiscent of abstinence-only education or the just say no campaign.

The murder of George Weber is terrible, but if you look at the details, you see that there were several very clear warning signs that would have stopped any sensible person from doing what he did. Just how dangerous inviting someone into your home is depends greatly on a large number of variables, many of which can be known and controlled. Saying that it's a death wish is sensationalism and ignores the vast differences in different situations.

If you hook up with someone in a public venue, you can also get very sick or dead if you don't take sensible precautions, but that doesn't mean that everyone who goes to a sex club is going to catch a disease. But some people still will, because they don't take precautions, and this will lead a lot of narrow-minded people to wonder "How much is your life worth to you?"

Relatively modest precautions will reduce the level of danger for most of us who engage in in-home hook-ups to something like the level of risk we'd face on the drive to a sex club. People need to take those precautions, but they don't need to have anything like the level of fear you're trying to engender.

Ted, Interesting that you and I seem to agree about the dynamics of this kind of interac tion but we come to different conclusions. I do, however, feel that the "level of fear" ought to be stepped up in the heads of many gay men.

I guess Steve and I are trying to reach the men who need the advice. You don't need it. You seem to have made a realistic assessment of risk/reward.

To reach the men who need the advice, I need to be loud and clear.

The sweet, sweet bastard. God, I love your writing.

I wonder what the long history for Tony was. Just robbery?

Dear Lucrece,
I don't think I've written about this, but in my early and wild years, I brought home a muscular Stallone type of a trick. At one point he asked me to put on a tie. I assumed he was just wanting to fetishize our class differences. I ignored the request but he kept repeating it so I got out of bed, selected something that I wouldn't mind damaged, and and tied a fast Windsor knot around my naked neck. He stood in front of me and placed his hands on the tie. That was the first moment that I realized I had put a noose around my neck. It was off in a flash. And I got him off in a flash and out the door in a flash. I took aspirin and vowed never again.

Ha! Total Men At Play Whore, perhaps?

Thanks for the lovely anecdotes. Sara, Karen, and you just have this magical way of brightening the day.

I'd like to echo the first posted comment by Ted. There are psychos out there, to be sure, and a small number of well publicized cases proving their existence. I personally have NEVER heard of a murderous trick within my circle of friends, let alone a trick robbery (although that my go under-reported for embarrassment factors). In fact, the story that you yourself share, Tony, sounds certainly unnerving but perhaps, in actuality, not all that dangerous... I'm not too familiar with sexual asphyxiation but quite often it is a particularly kinky brand of erotic activity and not something usually intended as violence... not to say that putting a tie around your neck before talking about it first is the right way to go either. I've heard many more stories of impulsive barebacking, which is a problem in ANY sexual encounter without rather precise conditions. I think that the whackos who are out to kill gay men can find many more ways to do it than by hooking up with them, and the seriously committed will find victims through other avenues. I just don't think raising this particular alarm is worth it... In my humble opinion, fear mongering is damaging to the human condition in general, and this brand of it isn't going to make so much of a difference as to mitigate that.

Daniel, Although I heartily disagree with you (Fear mongering? Please.), it is my sincere hope that you never change your mind by having a gun pointed at you.

Also, you seem to have ignored the valid speculation that these incidents are under-reported for all the reasons indicated. Given your email (not public) if you are really a 22 yr old, that might explain your stance, Pollyanna, and, as I said, I hope you'll be invincible.

A. J. Lopp | March 29, 2009 4:53 PM
I'm not too familiar with sexual asphyxiation but quite often it is a particularly kinky brand of erotic activity and not something usually intended as violence...

I had a close relative who died of sexual asphyxiation, and I can attest that it is more than just "a particularly kinky brand of erotic activity" ... it is intrinsically life-threatening.

The whole idea is to get close to losing consciousness at or near the point of orgasm. There is no way that another person can judge this situation properly, especially when he (or she) is also under the influence of a sexual fantasy that is being staged in real time. Indeed, most sexual asphyxiation deaths occur during solitary masturbation, when the person himself does not judge the level of asphyxiation accurately, or else puts himself into a physical position where simple relaxation (after orgasm or loss of consciousness or both) doesn't re-establish adequate oxygen flow.

Sexual asphyxiation is intrinsically deadly --- whether alone or with another, my heartfelt advice is that one should avoid it like the plague.

I thought there would be fear-mongering after the "how much is your life worth" comment, but really, there isn't any here.

I get the point. A few years back I was doing some internet hooking up because I was living in an area without much gay life, period. I made the rule that I would always meet someone beforehand at a mcdonalds or something before going to someone's place.

I remember one guy who I really thought was cute insisted over and over on not meeting up beforehand. "It's too late" and "I don't like restaurants" and stuff. I came close to breaking that rule (which I did years later, but that's another story).

I was disappointed, but I didn't really give that night much thought afterwards until I read this post and Tony's specific mention of mcdonalds brought it back. I was disappointed because I thought I was being a prude and annoying someone away from me, but now I'm thinking, what did I miss out on? What if that was, in fact, a really, really good decision at that point with that guy?

I guess I'll never know. But it's a better way of looking at that story.

Having read some of the postings on Craigs List I am a bit surprised and saddened by the amount of self hatred displayed.
Calling themselves a 'cum dump' and wanting to be used without any protection. So many say 'the door will be unlocked just come in, use my cum dump and go'.
I only hope these are just fantasy musings. But I fear for their well being physically, emotionally, and mentally.

A former co-worker of mine used to respond to those ads - and they ARE fairly common. Literally, he would go in, flip 'em over, fuck 'em and leave. In and out.

I was amazed when he told me this and how much he enjoyed it. I thought to myself then, after the talk and flirting online, just to walk in and not have any of the intimacy that sex usually involves (even casual tricks) just seems odd. I can admit that it'd be hot a time or two to be the bottom, but there's no way that I'd do it with someone I know as an avatar on a hook up site.

That said, one of the things I feel Tony glossed over was those of us in rural areas. While castigating online hook ups, he tends to ruminate fondly on public park sex. Here in Indiana, going to the park runs the risk of attack (by crazed trick or redneck homophobe), most of the sex is unprotected and there's a good chance of going to jail. It's far riskier than hooking up online.

I've never done the parks scene just because I feared for safety. Online hook ups are another story. Once Bilerico became popular and I became well-known in Indy for political work, I deleted all of my hook up site profiles, but there've been plenty of times I've wished for them back. :)

I think this is a very sensible post on what is a very contentious issue. The practice of cruising is one which has followed the LGBTQ community out of our closeted past, but that means it is also one which started well before the spread of HIV/AIDS, and the overall increased public awareness of sexually transmitted diseases.

It's said that old habits die hard. Consider smoking, which has been proven to hugely increase the risk of lung cancer and heart disease; we also know that it systematically destroys almost every vital organ in the body. And yet, people buy trillions of cigarettes each year. At the end of the day, it boils down to people acting upon an urge, and it's not worth it.

I've grown up in a household where sex isn't considered a taboo at all. It seems so obvious to me that the legalization of prostitution would be a perfectly viable alternative to cruising. If you are going to have anonymous sex, then it should at least be regulated. Members of my family have worked in the sex trade before, and they aren't ashamed of it. But one observation that everyone seems to make is that prostitutes don't enjoy the same rights as any other worker. Legalization would bring with it the possibility of a union to ensure that sex workers had rights, it would mean they could go to the police if those rights were abused, without fear of arrest, and it would also be taxable; it doesn't take much math to work out how much money the government stands to make.

If prostitution were legal, it doesn't mean it wouldn't have to be discreet. It does mean people would be able to go through proper channels if they wanted anonymous sex. No additional strings would be attached. They could do it in a licensed establishment, in which both parties can be sure that they are being treated correctly. If a customer were to beat up a worker, the police could be called; if a worker were to mistreat a client, the client could lodge a formal complaint and the establishment could be investigated and potentially have its license pulled.

One thing is certain though. The risks posed by anonymous hook-ups greatly outweigh their rewards. Father Tony has it right; either they should be carried out sensibly, or not at all. Sometimes we have urges we need to suppress, not in the interest of morality or decency (or any of those ridiculous words which don't mean anything), but in the interest of our own safety.

Chitown Kev | March 28, 2009 3:11 PM

To be honest, I did craigslist hookups for a good 2 month period a few years ago. When I thought about it, I realized that my craigslist hookups tended to be a wee bit more "out there" than the hookups in the park or the bathhouse.

I love experimentation in all things. But then again I always remember that I arrived in Chicago around the time Jeffrey Dahmer was prowling many of the same haunts I was.

Thanks for the reminders, Father Tony. There are just those occasions when the little head overrules the big one. And the price can be deadly

A. J. Lopp | March 29, 2009 5:22 PM

Father Tony: Even with all your points being presumed to be well-taken, there is still much more to "the gay death wish" than just dangerous cruising. Ours is a culture, unfortunately, that reeks with self-destructive urges, and it is only during the last 40 years or so that there has been any focused effort (and a largely secular humanist one) to clean things up.

If ever there were a calling for social action by a "GLBT church on Earth" it is this one. The work to be done is virtually bottomless.

freddyinptown | April 11, 2009 6:10 PM

FT, when I was an escort several clients intentionally kept a door or big window open, whether for a rape fantasy or a lesser element of surprise.

You can imagine the potential for such arrangements to end tragically.

-FIP