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
The Gay Death Wish
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.