Cruising has been a popular pastime for generations of gay men. The all-knowing Wikipedia defines it as “walking or driving about a locality in search of a sex partner, usually of the anonymous, casual, one-time variety.” Some define it as “just another Saturday night.”
Scroll down for a brief history of methods used by gay men to meet one another, and how those methods have evolved over the years.
Bathhouses became a popular hangout for gay men in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when homosexual acts were still illegal. They provided a discreet place for guys to enjoy the company of one another, although there was always the threat of a police raid.
On February 21, 1903, NYPD conducted the first recorded raid on a gay bathhouse in the basement of the Ariston Hotel at the corner Broadway and 55th Street in New York City. 26 men were arrested and 12 brought to trial on sodomy charges.
Despite the threat of raids, by the 1950s, gay bathhouses were popping up all across the country, and by the late 1960s and early 1970s, many had become staple institutions within the gay community.
After the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic, the use of bathhouses sharply declined. In 1985, the New York City Health Department ordered that all of the city’s gay bathhouses be closed. Today, there are still a handful in existence, though they no longer draw the large crowds they once did.
It’s no surprise the modern gay rights movement was born in a gay bar. For decades, gay men have used bars and clubs as their primary places for coming together. The venues provided an atmosphere where they were free to express themselves and their sexualities without consequence.
Bars that catered to gay clientele rose up around the same time gay bathhouses did — 0ne of New York’s first gay-friendly bars was Slide, which first opened its doors in 1890 — but they didn’t flourish until after prohibition, and even then, they were often nondescript places that relied on word of mouth promotion.
The gay bar scene really took off after the Stonewall Riots of 1969, when gay men and women refused to keep living in the shadows of society. Throughout the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s gay watering holes were the premier places to find your Mr. Right Now. (And hear the latest Donna Summer or Madonna song.)
Today, the practice of going to the club to handpick a hookup continues, though it’s not quite as popular as it was 10 or 20 years ago thanks, in part, to a little thing we call the World Wide Web.
The technological developments of the 1990’s revolutionized how gay men met each other. The internet — more specifically, chat rooms — provided an opportunity for them to connect without ever leaving the comfort of their own homes (or the privacy of their teenaged bedrooms).
Scanners and USB cords made uploading pictures possible. (Though dial-up internet made downloading them a chore.) And instant messaging meant you didn’t have to give out your actual phone number. Then, of course, there was the advent of cybersex — the safest kind of sex there is — which allowed a guy to be as filthy as he wanted without ever getting underdressed and whilst hiding behind the anonymity of a cleverly-crafted screen name.
For men seeking more than cybersex, or who simply didn’t want to spent their Saturday night twiddling their thumbs in an online chat room, there was Craigslist. The free classifieds website launched in 1996 and quickly became an online destination for gay men to arrange hookups via email. The personals section continues to allow for postings that are for “strictly platonic,” “dating/romance,” and “casual encounters,” though everyone knows these are just code words for the same thing: sex.
And then there were apps.
Hookup apps like Grindr and SCRUFF are the modern day equivalent to the online chat rooms of the 1990s, only they are far more sophisticated, not to mention immediate. They allow users to pinpoint potential paramours by exact location. Gone are the days of waiting around for an hour for the guy you’ve been chatting with to drive over to your apartment. Now you can narrow down your search to gentlemen within a 50-foot radius of you, which is not only immediately gratifying, but also a major time saver.
BONUS: Gay cruises
Gay cruises take cruising to a whole new (and literal) level. There’s no shortage of luxury cruise lines that cater to the gay crowd, offering seafaring adventures all over the world. And, honestly, we’re not surprised. Hundreds of men who are sexually attracted to other men. In swimsuits. Stuck on a boat. Whoever came up with that idea is a genius.