Gay Cruising: A Trusty Guide on Sleeping Around

We’re leaving the classroom and going public.
Bobby Box
&
Sex Columnist
April 8, 2021
February 27, 2024
10
min. read
Gay Sex Ed: Cruising
Table of Contents

Admittedly, my experience with cruising is limited. But then again, I came out in the era of Grindr, where dick is delivered to your door quicker than pizza. The first man I dated out of the closet was older than me, and took it upon himself to give me a lesson in gay culture by taking me to a popular cruising spot in the middle of the night.

My heart was pounding through my chest when we pulled up to the hill. I was excited, but also incredibly nervous. He took my hand as I exited the car, and then led me into a dense forest laced with skinny trails pointing in every direction. My arms were crossed the entire time, something I often do when I’m uncomfortable. I’d only been out of the closet for a few short months and this was like nothing I’d ever known.  

As soon as we spotted somebody in the distance, he excitedly dropped to his knees, pulled down my pants and started sucking my cock. As the figure drew closer, I pulled my pants up. I don’t know if it was overexcitement or overstimulation but I wasn’t ready yet. Not the craziest cruising story in the world, but we did watch Cruising (1980)—a film starring Al Pacino that’s been largely scrutinized for stigmatizing gay men—later that night.

Given that we’re now a full year into the pandemic (can you believe it’s been a fucking year?!), there’s been a notable resurgence in the classic act of cruising. “I think that there’s fatigue in the social and physical distancing,” sex and relationship therapist, Dr. Joe Kort, Ph.D., explains. “Cruising offers the opportunity to have physical connection, but from a distance, so it’s a perfect fit for the current pandemic situation.”  

Cruising through Covid

Queer people have always found creative ways to have our physical needs met (often out of necessity since law and society condemned us to an existence in the closet) and, evidently, the pandemic is no different. This time though, we didn’t reinvent the wheel, we just recycled a rustier one.

But before we discuss how cruising has joined Kathryn Hahn in the cultural zeitgeist of pandemic life, consult the image below for safer cruising practices.

Art by @heybeefcake
Art by @heybeefcake

It would be easy (and ignorant) to say that you shouldn’t cruise and to instead abstain during the pandemic, but this approach isn’t effective, as clearly evidenced by the AIDS epidemic. So rather than condemn the behavior, it’s important we think about reducing risk and create understanding and openness.  

In September, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation posted guidelines for safer cruising during the pandemic utilizing information shared by the  San Francisco Department of Public Health and the BC Centre for Disease Control. See graphic below.

Art by @heybeefcake
Art by @heybeefcake

Cases studies in cruising

Curious what the gays were up to in the bushes, I spoke with a number of cruising hobbyists on Grindr and Twitter, who all insisted they remain anonymous.

“I did a couple of rounds earlier this year, ended up sucking one guy off for a bit, then gagged on this ‘straight’ guy's dick,” Jake, 33, shares. “He kept saying that his girlfriend never could get him off the same way guys could. I’m not sure if it was just roleplay or legit, but his dick smelled like fresh laundry, which was nice.”

No stranger to cruising, Jake says the hot spots in his area are still quite busy. However, he noted that the few individuals who bothered to wear masks at all wore them around their necks. Another individual I spoke to shared that they remove their mask from a safe distance because cruising largely relies on non-verbal communication.

Photo by @Birk Thomassen

“Cruising already has a risk to it and the fact that we're in a pandemic has added to that risk, but behaviors really haven’t changed much,” Jakes observes. “With all the closures and restrictions on indoor spaces (combined with the colder weather), friends of mine have noticed a resurgence of cruising in washrooms. However, the city (Toronto) took notice and either closed them entirely, or reduced the hours and increased security.”

For some, cruising is still too risky, so they get creative. “I was chatting with a guy who really wanted to hook up, so he begged to  peek in my window and watch me jerk off on my bed, so I let him, and he played with himself outside and came on my window,” says Jesse, 33. “Before we did it I thought it would be weird and creepy but it was actually kind of hot.”

Most of the people I spoke with said they’ve been using apps and websites like Squirt (which has its own Cruise feature), Sniffies (a website specifically for cruising) and Grindr to find the cruisiest areas nearby.

Some, like Cameron, 24, found Twitter particularly useful. Through the app, he’d heard that the Ramble section of Central Park was a popular place to cruise and decided to check it out one evening. After wandering aimlessly for half an hour, he happened upon a circle jerk, but was too afraid to join. A decision he regretted.

A few days later, Cameron returned to the location, this time wearing his favorite jockstrap and a pair of tight-fitting shorts. “This time, I knew what I wanted, and I intended to get it,” he shares. “As soon as I got there I set my sights on a handsome guy stroking his dick and dropped to my knees and started sucking him off.”

Photo by @Birk Thomassen
Photo by @Birk Thomassen

His boldness attracted attention, and soon 10 men swarmed around Cameron, each waiting for their turn. After a couple minutes, one of the men slipped his shorts off and began fingering him. “Eventually, I got tired of kneeling, so I stood up and made my way over to a tree, motioning to one of the guys in the group,” Cameron continues. “He fucked me until he came and much to my pleasure another guy quickly took his place.”

Three loads later, Cameron felt satisfied and left the park, taking one last load before heading home. It was one of the best sexual experiences he’d ever had in his life, and it might not have happened if it weren’t for the pandemic.

“Cruising and public sex is a kink. It’s taboo, and the risk of getting caught and/or watched can really charge folks’ erotic energy,” licensed therapist, Todd Baratz, tells Grindr. “Depending on the environment, cruising can be about the chase, or the variation of emotional transformation from ambivalence to resolution (for example: being confused and experiencing anxiety regarding their interest, to clarity and excitement in finding out they desire you). This transformation of emotion can cause a spike in erotic energy, creating a powerful effect.”

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Cruising into history

Before we continue, a quick lesson in gay history. According to Alex Espinoza, author of Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime, the origins of cruising trace way back to Ancient Greece, though it looked a lot different than it does today.

Espinoza believes the concept of cruising is borne from “paiderastia” (pederasty), which was a romantic/mentor relationship between younger boys and older men. “Only those who occupied the upper tiers of society were permitted to have lovers or male sex slaves,” says Espinoza. “Also, these men could never assume the passive role in the relationship, they had to be the top.”

Pederasty was consensual and acknowledged by society, but was often carried out in secret. As is true of cruising today, through pederasty, we see the formation of rules governing the practice, rules that, in one form or another, exist to ensure the secrecy of the act.

It wasn’t until Ancient Rome, and the development of a more urbanized city, that cruising began to take on recognizable characteristics, especially among society’s aristocracy. Men would search for sailors (it was believed that, because they’d been at sea for months, sailors likely engaged in sex with other men) in areas near the Tiber, where there was plenty of shrubbery and a number of public bathhouses, where people would clean themselves before the advent of individual bathrooms.

These public spaces became prime hunting grounds. Since these areas were public, the need to offer ‘clues’ to signal someone that they were interested became common practice. “Men often scratched their heads with one finger to identify that they were cruising; many men use similar forms of signaling today,” Espinoza says.

Cruising hot spots were mostly communicated through word of mouth. “In some instances, if men caught wind that arrests involving men engaging in lewd acts had been made at a certain location, they’d visit them on the off chance that they’d find another ‘curious’ individual,” Espinoza says. “Yes, this meant risking arrest, but police weren’t prone to hitting the same location repeatedly.”

In the ‘60s and ‘70s, a slim, portable guide called the ADDRESS BOOK by Bob Damron became popular among queer and curious men. The tome was something of a Yellow Pages that listed, state by state, queer-owned bars, clubs, bathhouses and cruising spots across the United States. Each listing would feature a set of elaborate codes that identified what types of crowds the place attracted as well as the kind of sex one could expect to find there.

The ‘90s brought about the internet and forever evolved cruising with websites like gay.com and cruisingforsex.com. Eventually, these early websites evolved to become portable apps like Grindr.

When queerness was criminal

The queer community has historically been unfairly targeted by the law, and their approach to cruising was (and is) no different. In the past, the police went as far as creating a special unit, called “moral divisions,” whose primary job was to entrap and arrest queer men in cruising spaces.

“These officers were often young, good looking, and would expose themselves at a urinal or start flirting with you on a park bench,” author of The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America, Eric Servini, Ph.D., tells Grindr. “As soon as you agreed to go home with them or made reference to sexual behavior, you were arrested. In effect, police departments were the entities most responsible for conferring second-class status on queer American citizens.”

Art by @heybeefcake
Art by @heybeefcake

When found guilty of sodomy (a blanket term used for most all homosexual behavior), these people would often plead guilty, pay a fine, and were released from jail the following morning. However, these arrests were often reported in local newspapers and included their full name and address, effectively outing these individuals to everybody they knew.

“Police departments called up your family, employer, or landlord to let them know that you were a sexual deviant, so you would lose your job or housing,” Servini explains. “By the mid-century, the FBI was informed, so you were forever barred from government employment.”

What’s just as unfathomable is that sodomy (which was known to target gay men) did not become completely legal in the US until a 2003 Supreme Court decision. “Even now, the state has found ways of criminalizing trans and queer identity, even though it's technically legal. Look no further than New York's ‘Walking While Trans’ policy, which was only discontinued this month.”

What authorities never considered was that their own treatment of queer people (paired with simply existing among a judgemental and homophic society) is what led us queers to cruising in the first place.

“For many men, closeted or otherwise, cruising and anonymous sex proved the only way to find solace and a real, true sense of connection with another man,” Espinoza says. “Thus, an unassuming bathroom stall or an outcropping of shrubs became a space of fleeting intimacy and powerful sexual gratification. What’s so criminal about that?”

For some, cruising is still about that same search for acceptance, whereas for others, it’s simply a place to hook up when options aren’t viable. Some find the allure of public sex and/or the risk of getting caught is most alluring. Whatever your reason, know that you are taking part in an unapologetically queer tradition, one many may even consider revolutionary. Just be smart, be discreet and always practice safer sex.

Class dismissed.

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