by Diego Costa
When I was cruising on Gay.com as a young teen in the late 90s and I “ran into” someone who was in his 30s or 40s (quelle horreur!) I remember thinking, or perhaps praying: Damn me if at their age I am still hanging out at such depressing dens for the embarrassingly lonely. It was a mixture of repulsion, pity, and anxiety. Only an ugly or inept gay would make it to their 35th birthday and still be looking. Only a loser fag would by then be willing to stoop down to that level of desperation (please fuck/love/fucking love me now) in order to find a mate. The compulsion to cruise, to reach out for someone out there in the universe to come along and save us from our predicaments, was sure to be a burden of broke young boys who would eventually master the art of being alone and still alive.
This was a time when queer sex was beginning to enter its hyper-commodification phase. Suddenly we didn’t have to settle for whatever guy happened to cross our paths (a curious cousin, a drunk hetero) and, as in a fluke, not find us disgusting. Even if, at, first, we didn’t have the technology to easily exchange digital photographs of photoshopped selves, we could list our frantic likes (straight acting guys only!) and fascist dislikes (No Fems, Fats, Asians, apparently). Like a database of, in theory, easily available men, we were able to sort through, pick and choose, discriminate and reinforce the inherited prejudices of the general culture. And, somehow, demanding through exclusion passed for getting in touch with authentic desire.
By the time kids like myself, whose sexual lives coincided with the development of ubiquitous computing, got to college requesting an impossibly normative masculinity from strangers who were to commit to fucking us before having met us was part and parcel of what it meant to be a queered human being. Now we could make even more demands: photographic evidence of our potential tricks’ muscles, six-packs and convincingly well-acted straightness ad infinitum (More face pics!). The few who could “host” were lucky enough to be able to script their encounters down to their very details. Sometimes the scripting of these narratives were so pleasurable little did it matter if the countless cruising hours led up to an actual encounter or with one nutting all over the keyboard and calling it a night.
We told ourselves we would exit the chat room in 15 minutes, which soon became 2 hours, 4 hours, the entire night. The faceless screen names became too familiar, the logging on to the same old sites automatic, the disturbed sleeping patterns more constant. But what if we leave and the stranger who is supposed to sweep us off our feet and fix us arrives? It became quite hard to tell if what we were really interested was in the potential lovers the digital seemed to promise or in the endless deferral from ultimately frustrating encounters (butch in the picture, a flamer in person) that it certainly provided us.
Eventually, of course, one of these immaterial strangers would show up at the door and something would happen, generally something you hadn’t scripted or accounted for, a mannerism, an unexpected reply, a certain kind of non-desperate availability, or a je ne sais quoi-like shining on the nose, as Freud would have it, and the endless cruising would flirt with an interruption. The stranger would stay a bit longer and not foreclose the possibility for a shameful moment like this, in which horniness just takes the best out of otherwise normal boys (this is my first time on the site), to become something the straight world recognizes as meaningful. The stranger responds to you.
Just as we naively told ourselves that we would hang out just 15 more minutes in the chatroom, or that by 30 we would be married with children and making six digits, our hearts never ever broken, we also didn’t account for the fact that since digital cruising had embedded the very fabric of gayness the repressed was bound to return. So we would lose the few who responded to us for the very apparatus that had produced them to us, making us believe that the interminable searching could actually stop at some point. That we would somehow magically learn, through external means, of course, to sublimate the compulsive will to get fucked right now by whoever dupes us into believing their masculinity isn’t feigned, into the smaller, less disgraceful pleasures in life. Like drinking tea, finally reading Beckett, or experiencing monogamy as something other than laborious violence.
Some became bona fide professional cruisers of the itinerant sort. It became their full-time job. They would work out all day so their market value would rise as they cruise all night. Or they would try to travel as much as possible so they could find an entirely new host of possibilities in brand new cities. For others the compulsive quest became so banal, or out of control, it had to be matched by yet other external, and chemical, promises for emotional assuage. By then we could even exchange videos of ourselves, which we didn’t, for they would reveal too much of our theatrics, promptly outing our masculinities as grotesque mimicry of yet other, just as inauthentic, performances (straight guys have to painstakingly learn their straightness too, and fail at it). By now AIDS becomes a disease of deferral, death hovering over us like a ghostly child instead of immediately taking us like the bubonic plague (or worse, making itself noticeable through a Tom Hanks-in-Philadelphia-like facial rash). Hook-up sites now offer us unsafe sex as a legitimized possibility (anything goes). Even the undeniable interruption that death used to represent through AIDS, and therefore gay sex, becomes fair game in our determination to control everything. To make it all stop by having it never stop.
I write this from a place of amusement and surprise. What has a history of digital cruising taught us? As I withdrew myself from the strange pleasures of cruising for the past several years in order to pursue more normative and just as impossible projects (like monogamy), it was in disbelief that I found, in the aftermath of my relationship’s failure (apparently I cannot compete with Grindr), that while the technology for cruising has changed so much, we are still very much interested in the paralysis it affords us. For a digital landscape so rife with multiple platforms for finding sexual partners it sure is hard to find one! Even in a metropolis like Los Angeles. People engage with each other, they exchange bits of information about themselves, they ask the same questions, they explain how you could possibly help them enact their fantasy, but mostly people defer. Not tonight, I cannot host, you’re too far. Of course, people fuck strangers all the time. Craigslist, for instance, has even facilitated what I would call inter-orientational sex, as socially straight males end up seduced by the possibilities of queer sex without having to claim a new identity category for themselves. Yet, what seems to really get us off is our diligent ability to repeat. As if in the repetition we would not only rid ourselves from our nasty history of failures, rejections and waste (of time, of semen, of health, of life), but also make sure that nothing ever ever ever changes. This inertia-like comfort is echoed in our distressed cries for a masculinity that may simply not exist when we post the ubiquitous “Masc 4 Masc,” as if the masculinity of some fantasized Other would guarantee ours, somehow expunging the only certainty we actually have: We are faggots.
This essay was previously published in print in B Magazine, Summer 2012.