If you’re expecting to read something about love on the High Seas or are looking for the Top 10 reasons you should never take a boyfriend on an Atlantis Cruise — sorry, Sis, this article is about cruising without a boat.
This week, Daddy talks “cruising”, the down-and-dirty kind. Thanks to the internet and dating apps, cruising is no longer a tool kept in our sexual wheelhouse. In modern society, cruising is an electronic booty call with no mystery, no romance, and positively no effort.
Let’s get clear: cruising is not flirting. Flirting is small talk, googley eyes, and forced laughs. Flirting is for pussies. Cruising takes balls. Cruising is an art, a skill, an intuitive, non-verbal way of saying in no uncertain terms: “Let’s fuck.” For this generation, cruising consists of lying in bed surfing Grindr while snacking and watching Sex In The City.
The term ‘cruising’ started sometime in the late 60s, but the practice of gays signaling other gays for a one-way ticket to pound-town is as old as man himself. We put the Homo in Sapian.
Whether a potential partner was smacked in the head with a log and dragged off by the hair or sent a frozen mojito across a crowded dance floor, we’ve always gotten our man – clubbing is in our nature. 😀
Gays managed to suss each other out without much fanfare or worry well into the twentieth century. ‘Glitter and be gay’ was a way of life in the 1920s, which was a boozy, rip-roaring, and decadent decade, especially for homosexuals. Gays and lesbians thrived, many owning clubs and businesses, filling the era’s High Society ranks. Gays knew how to party.
Of course, every party has a pooper. Many felt (Republicans, probably) that the “openness and experimentation” (a.k.a. anything fun) of the ’20s is what caused the economic crash and The Great Depression of the 1930s. As a result, those with the Party Pooper Power did what they always do: overreact. As stock markets plummeted, so did our civil rights.
Lawmakers made it illegal for a gay person to congregate with another gay person in a public place, which not only put the gay-owned bars, restaurants, and cabarets in jeopardy, but ANY establishment that employed gays or lesbians or allowed them to gather together could lose their liquor license. But wait, there’s more: Movies were no longer allowed to show gay characters or themes. Meanwhile, persecution by the police increased when the NYPD chose to dust off and reenact a buried statute from 1923 that made it a criminal act for one gay male to invite another to have sex. Thus began an onslaught of no-so-polite sting operations targeting men who might be looking for sex outside of their own four walls.
Historically, gays have had to create a code or not-so-secret language so we could identify other ‘friends of Dorothy discretely.’ Being the crafty crew, sometimes it was a floral accessory such as a green carnation, pinky ring, or pierced ear. Sometimes, it was a movie reference or a professed appreciation of musicals; even a toe-tapping morse code, used in many a bathroom rendezvous. Our signaling ruse de guerre culminated in the infamous hanky code of the 1960s and used an elaborate system of colors and patterns to convey one’s sexual fetishes and preferred position.
It was in the 1970s when cruising hit its stride. The fight for gay rights was in its fledgling stage, but the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s was in full swing, and gay men led the charge. Instead of bothering with flowers, jewelry, or a bandana drawer rivaling a Crayon64 box, men realized that the eyes could say everything that needed to be said. A darting glance, a seductive stare, a wink, a blink; if you know how to read them, the eyes can speak volumes. When you lock eyes with someone passing you on the street, if you turn back to look at him again, and he does too – it’s on.
During the 70s In New York, cruising was more than an incident; it was a way of life. In doorways, behind dumpsters, on the waterfront, at the piers, in empty trucks, on the way to work, on the way home, at lunch, in the park – gay sex was rampant. Knowing how to cruise was the key to unlocking the pants of Mr. Right Now.
Cruising is a language honed in lockerrooms, city parks, and restrooms. It relies on eye contact, body language, intuition, and knowing how to maneuver in public spaces. Before gay liberation, knowing how, where, and when to cruise was essential to our socialization.
But the internet, dating apps, gentrification, and reaction to the AIDS crisis, which lessened the urge and/or options for sex in public places for health reasons, all but erased cruising and the art thereof. And that is unfortunate.
Before the days of profile pics, cruising was a right of passage for young gay men. It forced us to be comfortable with what we had to offer. We served total body realness–not just a headshot, which could be the tip of a 400-pound “iceberg.” When cruising, your height, weight, and physique are on display, no filters, no strategically placed furniture. Cruising the streets toughens your skin. Conversely, getting cruised can be validating, letting you know that the ‘lewk’ you’re serving is on point.
The delight in cruising is in its mystery, its uncertainty. Will it happen, or won’t it? If it does, where? When? How? The adrenaline of two bodies colliding in a public crevice, just out of view, can be exhilarating.
One of my favorite New York experiences happened while strolling through Hell’s Kitchen early one morning, minutes away from daybreak. Walking in opposite directions on 44th street, I locked eyes with a handsome Latino, and in less than 90 seconds, I had him bent over the tailgate of a delivery truck parked in the loading zone of Carmine’s restaurant. The weight of our bodies rocked the truck back and forth, which squeaked in rhythm until the dirty deed was done. Just then, the driver’s side door crunked open. Before you could say, “Hasta la vista!” he went his way, and I went mine. I don’t remember his name, but I will never forget that experience.
The convenience of the internet has made today’s gays soft. The ease of staying in bed and scrolling through dozens of men only a few feet away without having to leave the house gives us security. Without a face-to-face encounter, there is no fear of rejection and no embarrassment of being called out because our pix and profile might not be as accurate or recent as they could be.
Cruising takes courage, and sadly, many 20- and 30somethings aren’t up to the task. The pressure of being face-to-face with a stranger and the challenge of instantly formulating a conversation and expressing some measure of personality is too much for today’s young gay men. For proof, look around any gay bar in any town, and you’ll find wallflowers staring at their smartphones, oblivious to anyone who isn’t showing up on their screen’s grid. They would prefer to meet someone through a carefully curated avatar rather than risk having their personality and charm rejected in public. For some, it is surprising how often cookie-cutter expectations crumble, and when you are standing toe to toe, there is nowhere to hide and no block button.
Today’s gays would rather spend their evening propped up on their West Elm pillows, swiping left and right, cherry-picking their favorites, only to find by evening’s end that all that’s left is the pits.
The fact is, we don’t need the old-school ways of hooking up anymore. The Queer community is more widely accepted now than ever. It’s why many of the spots reserved for male-on-male encounters are drying up. Gay bars have given way to fluid lounges and venues catering to a mixed crowd.
So why bother trying to preserve the cruising ritual? Because it’s a step toward safeguarding humanity and interpersonal interactions versus the sterile dial-a-trick practices of today. There is value in spontaneous introductions. People say they desire qualities in a mate, such as charm, wit, a sense of humor, and reasonableness, which are honed and developed by interacting with others. Instead of constantly looking for “the one,” try being “the one”. Get out there and work on it.
Cruising isn’t always about finding a mate or having sex. It’s more about engaging with other people in a covert, erotic way. It’s about making a connection. That connection might be about sex, friendship, or a selfless effort to let someone know you find them attractive. They get a boost in confidence, and you get the satisfaction of practicing a random act of kindness.
Gay men today have trouble grasping that cruising is not about being perfect. It’s almost the opposite. It’s about being human and vulnerable and accepting who you are and who they are. That can be uncomfortable. So what? Life is uncomfortable.
Leave the house, man-up and suck a dick.
Thank you for reading. Until next time.