“Age/sex/loc?” Ah, the romantic line that led to my first hook-up. I was 17, not even close to being out, and too young to venture into a gay bar, so my teenage urges and sexual curiosity were relegated to an AOL chatroom.
His name was Chris—or, as I was first introduced to him, “CTKid860.” Luckily, he turned out to be very attractive and not an ax murderer.
In 2013, as Grindr, Jack’d, Scruff, Growl, and other one-word-innuendo-named apps have become the new AOL, and “age/sex/loc” has morphed into a more direct heart-fluttering code that cuts right to the chase: “Looking?”
What does that even mean, anyway? I assume it’s just shorthand for “Looking to hook up?” (Can’t we even respect each other enough to thumb out those last three words, let alone wait to see photos?)
Don’t get me wrong; I have a handful of those apps on my phone, too. It’s just part of being single in 2013. And it’s all in how you use it—some people just want to hook up, while others are looking for legitimate social networking opportunities. But where has the romance gone?
Let’s jump back to the gay dating scene from half a century ago. There were no apps, no texting, no chatrooms. There were gay bars, but going to one risked not only a police raid but potential backlash at work and among friends if your presence there was made public. Even private parties faced the threat of a police raid.
There were cruising spots: truck stops, certain blocks in major cities, piers, parks, and beaches where “the love that dare not speak its name” could be found.
Harvey Milk, for example, met one of his early lovers on Riis Beach, a gay cruising spot (which remains heavily gay today) in Queens, New York. After their first night together, the two exchanged romantic love letters and led a relatively normal middle-class gay life; going to the opera instead of the gay bars, eventually moving to Dallas together. (This was years before Milk’s move to San Francisco and the beginnings of his political career.)
Other New York couples met at Central Park West, a popular cruising spot on the Upper West Side. Then there was Christopher Street, and the now-famous Stonewall Inn bar. This was a time when a curious man had to venture outside his living room to find satisfaction; an encounter couldn’t be arranged with a few clicks on a touchscreen. There was still mystery—and perhaps even exhilarating danger—associated with the beginnings of any gay relationship.
Let’s go back even farther, to the early twentieth century. This was the time when the term “gay” was first used as a sort of code to determine one’s sexuality in a time when homosexuality was rarely spoken of. Anthony Rotundo’s 1941 book American Manhood explained it this way:
“Supposing one met a stranger on a train from Boston to New York and wanted to find out whether he was ‘wise’ or even homosexual. One might ask: ‘Are there any gay spots on Boston?’ And by slight accent put on the word ‘gay,’ the stranger, if wise, would understand that homosexual resorts were meant. The uninitiated stranger would never suspect, inasmuch as ‘gay’ is also a perfectly normal and natural word to apply to places where one has a good time. The continued use of such double entendre terms will make it obvious to the initiated that he is speaking with another person acquainted with the homosexual argot.”
This code, and the lifestyle of cruising, shows how difficult gay dating was in the pre-Grindr era. And yet it’s also representative of how much more meaningful any encounter was, for it required a lot more work before the Internet came along. “Looking” wasn’t an introductory phrase, but a physical action that required travel—and a lot more balls.
I’m not saying we should all delete our networking apps, buy antique rotary phones, and go back to looking for sex in parks and bathroom stalls (though according to a brief Google search, these places are still hopping). But in this month of love, maybe we can place a little more value in an introduction. And maybe while we’re out drinking and socializing—without the threat of a police raid—we can put away our smartphones and meet a guy the old-school way.
“Looking? For a Valentine?”
Blake Hayes is the mid-afternoon host at Mix 96.5 KHMX.