When I was a young man in New York City, it was easy to get laid. There were parks and bathrooms, back rooms, more bathhouses and sex clubs than you knew what to do with—all the ways gay men had to get off before the internet.
I can clearly picture one day in particular in my late teens, cruising the Rambles in Central Park. It was late spring, nearly warm enough to be summer. A breeze came in off the lake, the sun was just beginning to set. I spent hours wandering those trails, getting my dick sucked in the bushes, fucking a sexy construction worker, getting fucked by a businessman in a dark suit. It was one of those magical days when everything felt free: like an adventure.
When I moved to LA in 1999, I remember discovering all the little cruise spots around town. The trails of Griffith Park were filled with men fucking and sucking. I used to love walking in those dusty LA hills, the sun burning bright, sucking dick and getting fucked, making out, connecting with strangers I might never see again. There were hidden stairways and garages along Hyperion Ave in Silver Lake where orgies would converge after the neighborhood gay bar, Le Barcito, closed for the night.
Needless to say, I think sex is good for you. I’m done with slut shaming and sexual morality, especially in the gay community. We have a long history of sexual freedom and exploration and I refuse to be told that we have to sacrifice our sexuality and our “sluttiness” for our social acceptance.
I miss cruising. I miss the random adventures, the potential friends, the openness around sex and desire. There’s a spark and connection that happens when you meet someone in person like that: both of you there to fuck. No pretense, no shame: I think there is something beautiful in that.
And I think we should fight to bring that back. We live in a country that is based on personal freedom, and yet we continue to demonize sexuality and expression. Why, in a City like LA, don’t we have dark rooms? Why, if a bar is for 21 and over, can’t we fuck where we want, be who we want? Why do we allow our government to police our morality and to define the limits of our sexual expression?
The rise of gay dating apps like Grindr and Scruff has undeniably led to some of cruising’s decline, I’m also not someone who thinks they’re harbingers of the gay apocalypse. I met my husband and a few boyfriends through them. I’ve made some amazing friends while traveling on the apps. And I’ve gotten laid all over the world thanks to Scruff! Cruising on my phone is still cruising.
But I won’t lie, the intensity, excitement, pursuit, and camaraderie of cruising in real life is something that’s hard to capture on a phone.
One of the few places left where cruising isn’t dead is the gay bar; it’s encouraged, almost expected. Working gay bars in LA has given me a front-row seat to watch all of the ways guys come together to cruise. There’s something beautiful in watching two guys enter a bar alone, spend the night circling each other and making eyes from afar, only to end up kissing, touching, talking, and eventually leaving together. It’s so immediate and exciting—a kind of humanity that you won’t get cruising online, where chatting with guys can feel isolating by comparison.
I want to say again: I love the gay apps. They have changed my life for the better. They have opened the door to a larger gay community in ways cruising never could have. But I think we need a balance: I think there is an art to going to a bar alone, with the intent of meeting someone: to talking and flirting, that can get lost if we spend all our time on our phones. Also, it builds our self-esteem, and we end up spending time talking to guys we might not want to fuck, but who could turn out to be friends, where on the apps we are likely to just swipe by, never taking the time to get to know those dudes who are outside our sexual tastes.
Cruising is part and parcel of gay and queer DNA. Walt Whitman cruised. In his poetic imagination, all of early America was a democratic cruising ground. From the Fire Island Pines to Provincetown’s beaches and elsewhere around the world, cruising has always been an integral part of how gay people have come together to form bastions of acceptance in a bigoted world. And while public cruising and the places where it happens will likely never truly, fully die, the decline is disconcerting. It means we’re losing something essential to our community.
One night while working the door at a bar, I was approached by a gorgeous guy in his 20s. He asked if he could play with my beard. I’m not a big fan of strangers running their hands through my beard and touching my face, but he was hot; I was willing to let him do a lot more than just play with my beard. We talked for a few minutes and ended up making out. He slipped my hand down his pants and let me play with his ass. He asked me if I was into any kinks. I told him I was what I like to call “LA vanilla”—a little piss, maybe, but mostly just fucking, nothing too intense. Kissing and cuddling, however, are essential. My only true fetish is for nice guys; I get really, really turned on by a nice guy.
But I told him I was open to exploring. Like I said: He was hot.
He proceeded to take out his phone and show me a video of him on all fours, naked, with his arm reaching around to slowly slip a very green, very round apple inside his butt. With great care, he then pushed it slowly back out into the palm of his hand. Then he did it again. And again. And he then turned around and proceeded to eat the apple with a wide grin.
He put his phone away and stood before me, proud. I wasn’t sure what to say.
“Did that turn you on?” he asked.
“You definitely have a great ass,” I responded, trying to be open.
“I like to get fisted, too,” he continued.
“Like I said, you have a beautiful ass.”
I’m not into fisting, or into putting food up someone’s ass, but I do love butts. We made out a bit longer and made plans to meet up at a later date.
If we hadn’t met in person—if he had just sent me that video online, for example—I probably would have blocked him. But because we met at the bar, I got to see him for something more than his fetishes, as a human being. Someone who I liked kissing and talking to. Someone who I’d like to spend some time with, even if I didn’t want to fist him.
A few years ago, one slow Wednesday night, while working the door at another LA gay bar, my husband, Alex, came to visit me. We noticed a super hot guy at the bar we had never seen before. The three of us flirted and got to talking, and then Alex and I took turns making out with him. He kept grabbing both our dicks. I checked in with the bartender, and the three of us headed into a back room. We made out and fucked around, and then Alex and I took turns fucking him.
Afterward, naked and spent, we sat on the couch and talked. It was easy, comfortable.
Later that night, after Alex had left, and I was closing up the bar, the guy we had fucked found me and told me he had nowhere to go. He had lost his job, and earlier that day, he had finally been evicted from his apartment. His car was packed full of his belongings. He was alone and afraid, and in an instant, he went from an amazingly sexy guy to something far more intimate. I let him sleep in our guest studio for a few nights, until he was able to find a safe place.
If he had asked me this on an app like Grindr, I, again, probably would have blocked him. He would have been a stranger, someone I had no real connection to.
But I had been inside him, kissed him, and held him. We had connected, if only for those few moments, and that lent him a kind of humanity no two-dimensional avatar could.
Gay bars—alongside the few other places where cruising is alive today, like porn arcades or bathhouses—offer safe places to connect with one another in that intimate way, and we should fight their decline. After all, there is a beauty to sex. Whether between friends or lovers or strangers, there is magic in those moments as you lose yourself in another. And I believe that those moments can enlighten us and even elevate us to a higher plane. If something that beautiful is endangered, isn’t it worth protecting?
Maybe it’s time we stop letting morality and sexual repression define who we are. Maybe it’s time to be radical. To kiss openly in public. To flirt, to demand that our queer spaces allow for our sexuality. To say fuck you to oppression and the denial of who we are. Maybe it’s time to be gay as fuck and refuse to allow anyone to tell us how we should behave!
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Thank you so much to Marc Martin for this incredible photo. Check out his work. This guy is a fucking legend!