The lost art of cruising

‘Electro-tricks’ may be quicker and easier, but half the fun of the hook-up was working at it

Hardy Haberman | Flagging Left

I don’t get out much — at least to the bars. First of all I don’t drink anymore, and second, I am not really looking to hook up with anyone since I am in a very nice relationship.

I do, however, occasionally meet friends out for the evening or for a special event.

When I do go out, it is most often to our local leather bar, the Dallas Eagle, and I often indulge in a little people watching. I like to watch the crowd, the way people interact with one another, the ebb and flow of what was once a favorite past time of gay men: cruising.

What surprised me was the lack of that particular gay art going on.

First, let me say this is not a reflection on the Eagle; it’s a fine, first-class leather bar. What I noticed is something I have seen in other cities as well, and it bothers me a bit.

Now for those who might not know, cruising is a delicate dance men used to perform when looking for a partner, playmate or just trick du jour. It usually began with some long, slow looks, occasional subtle signals like a nod, the touch of the brim of a cap, a purposeful second glance or even just a slight change in body language.

If two people read the signals, and actually respond, it might proceed to sending over a drink — or a more direct approach. Often before actually making contact, you would ask a few friends if they knew the man in question, and for the leather scene that would also entail asking if anyone knew more intimate details: Was he a safe player? What was he into?

Of course, we also had the hanky code. It was a more direct and cut to the chase way to let folks know what you were seeking.

I won’t go into the details here, but the basics were: Hanky in the left pocket meant you were a top, and hanky in the right pocket meant you were a bottom.

Still, even with outward signs, there was an art to the whole endeavor. If done correctly, it had an element of seduction in it and all the sexual energy that went with it.

Sadly, I don’t see much of that going on anymore.

What I do see is guys checking their smart phones. Looking a little closer, I see them using Grindr, checking Recon and texting.

That’s when I realized what happened to cruising: It has gone the way of the dodo.

What was once a face-to-face encounter that actually took some time and energy is now a fast, down-and-dirty, “check a few profiles and text enough contacts until you pull a winning number” routine.

The whole cruising experience has become an electronic booty call with no mystery, no romance and no effort.

Oh yes, it is much more efficient. You can select from the variety of “neck-down pictures” and body statistics, like you were choosing a download on Amazon.

Find Mr. Right or at least Mr. Right Enough for Now, text a few lines, set a time and bingo! Insta-trick!

All very high tech and painless. No face-to-face rejections, no appallingly awkward moments. Just on-line chat and, essentially, “booking.”

It would seem to me that applications like Grindr and sites like Recon and CraigsList have replaced the whole cruising experience, and though it might be much more efficient, it really changes to atmosphere in the bars.

The heady sexual tension that used to permeate gay bars has given way to guys and gals on their smart phones texting or cruising — the web. One bar in Florida even has a screen where patrons can text directly to the screen, sort of a visual “shout out” for all to see.

Inevitably, the whole electro-trick phenomenon has spawned something totally unexpected. My partner commented on the subject of this column and suggested there should be an Angie’s List for Grindr.

I was surprised this morning when, while researching this piece, I found something very much like that.

Douchebagsofgrindr.com may just be a parody, but if not it offers some insight into the whole process. Personally, I find it kind of crass, but then I find the whole “electro-trick-speed-dating-booty-call” app thing crass.

It makes me long for the days of actually having to spend a little time to pursue and attract and seduce someone you were interested in. Try that now and I suspect you’d just get accused of being a stalker.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.Blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Snap shots: ‘Bill Cunningham New York’ turns the camera on fashion’s most influential paparazzo

LENS ME A SHOE | The Times photographer documents foot fashion in ‘Bill Cunningham New York.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Maybe Project Runway’s to blame, maybe The Devil Wears Prada, but for the past few years there has been a surplus of documentaries about the fashion industry, with profiles of designers like Valentino (Valentino: The Last Emperor), Yves Saint-Laurent (several in fact), even young designers (Seamless) and Vogue magazine’s editor (The September Issue). (By contrast, I can only recall one fashion doc from the 1990s: Unzipped, about a young designer named Isaac Mizrahi.) Is there really that much to say about dressmaking?

Maybe not, but while Bill Cunningham New York fits broadly within the category of fashion documentaries, its subject is unusual because he eschews the trappings of haute couture even as he’s inextricably a part of it — a huge part, really.

If you don’t read the New York Times, you might not recognize Cunningham’s name, and even if you do read it, it may not have registered with you. For about, well, maybe 1,000 years, Cunningham has chronicled New York society with his candid photos of the glitterati on the Evening Hours page. At the same time, however, he has documented real fashion — how New Yorkers dress in their daily lives — with his page On the Street, where he teases out trends (from hats to men in skirts to hip-hoppers allowing their jeans to dangle around their knees). Anna Wintour may tell us what we should wear; Cunningham shows us what we do.

“We all get dressed for Bill,” Wintour observes.

What makes Cunningham such an interesting character is how impervious he seems to the responsibility he effortlessly wields. He loves fashion, yes, but he’s not a slave to it himself. He scurries around Manhattan (even in his 80s) on his bicycle (he’s had dozens; they are frequently stolen), sometimes in a nondescript tux but mostly in jeans, a ratty blue smock and duck shoes, looking more like a homeless shoeshiner than the arbiter of great fashion. He flits through the city like a pixie with his 35mm camera (film-loaded, not digital), a vacant, toothy smile peaking out behind the lens, snapping the denizens of Babylon whether they want it or not.

One of the funniest moments is when strangers shoo him away as some lunatic paparazzo, unaware how all the well-heeled doyens on the Upper East would trade a nut to have Cunningham photograph them for inclusion in the Times. Patrick McDonald, the weirdly superficial modern dandy (he competed as a wannabe designer on the flop reality series Launch My Line a few seasons back), seems to exist with the hope that Cunningham will shoot him. And shoot him he does.

Many artists are idiosyncratic, even eccentric, but Cunningham is supremely odd by any standards. He lives in a tiny studio near Carnegie Hall filled with filing cabinets cluttered with decades of film negatives on the same floor as a crazy old woman, a kind of urban variation on Grey Gardens. He knows tons of people but most of them seem to know very little about him. By the time near the end when the filmmaker, director Richard Press, finally comes out and ask him outright whether he’s gay, Cunningham arches in that prickly New England way, never really answering outright, though he says he’s never — never — had a romantic relationship. Things like that were simply not discussed by men of his generation.

In some ways, we never really know any more about Cunningham at the end than any of his friends do, and perhaps even him. Cunningham comes across as defiantly non-self-reflective. He lets his work do all the talking for him. And that work has a lot to say on its own.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2011.

—  John Wright

Gaydar says it crushes the gay app competition — we tried to take a look and were disappointed

Watch out Grindr and Scruff, Gaydar is hot on your heels. Gaydar.net unveiled its new app today on iTunes. By the looks of the chart below, it should be just what dudes need to hook up, or at least make friends. Some of the options sound pretty nice. You can select what you’re looking for (to chat, to date, to, you know) and change it on a daily basis. Sometimes a guy just doesn’t want a boyfriend. You know who you are.

Anyway, check out side-by-side comparisons.

—  Rich Lopez

NYT profiles ‘It Gets Better’ campaign

We’ll start today on a positive note.

The “It Gets Better” campaign, launched by Dan Savage, has become a phenomenon. It’s the story of the LGBT community looking out for its own amid a wave of homophobia, anti-gay rantings from politicians and religious leaders and the teen suicides. Today, the NY Times profiles the effort:

The “It Gets Better” idea came to Mr. Savage, 46, while he was riding the AirTrain shuttle to Kennedy International Airport last month and thinking about Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old from Indiana who committed suicide Sept. 9. The local news media reported that Mr. Lucas was bullied regularly.

Days earlier, Mr. Savage had blogged about the suicide, and a reader had written: “My heart breaks for the pain and torment you went through, Billy Lucas. I wish I could have told you that things get better.”

Mr. Savage said he felt the same way. But how to tell them? He gives talks at colleges regularly, but not at middle schools or high schools. “I would never get permission,” he said, blaming a system of “parents, preachers and teachers” who “believe they can terrorize gay children out of being gay as they grow up.”

His realization was this: “I was waiting for permission that — in the era of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook — I didn’t need anymore.”




AMERICAblog Gay

—  John Wright

WashPost profiles the new activism of GetEQUAL and the advocacy of GOProud

The groups profiled by the Washington Post are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but both are trying to shake up the status quo. No surprise, I prefer the perspective of GetEQUAL:

It’s been a big, loud gay year, and a pair of young gay rights groups on opposite ends of the political spectrum have tried to be heard above the noise in Washington: GOProud, from its basement office in Capitol Hill, and GetEQUAL, a nationwide, direct-action network of activists co-captained by Managing Director Heather Cronk, 32, who lives in Maryland. The groups are not analogous in size, strategy or mission, but each aspires to commandeer the causes championed by the establishment — embodied by the Human Rights Campaign on the left and the Log Cabin Republicans on the right.

“We intend to agitate from the outside,” says Cronk, who joined the protest group four months ago. “Not just because we’re angry but because agitation will give the people at the table more power. They’ll be able to say, ‘Hey you’ve got all these angry people outside the White House.’ “

It’s been a busy gay week, too. On Tuesday, Democrats failed to break a Republican filibuster of the defense authorization bill, which included a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Both GetEQUAL and GOProud support repeal, but they reacted differently to defeat.

GOProud ripped Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for refusing to extend debate on the bill, then headed to New York for Homocon, a 0-to-,500-a-plate dinner at the home of billionaire and GOProud donor Peter Thiel, the libertarian co-founder of PayPal, with conservative instigator Ann Coulter as the group’s keynote speaker.

GetEQUAL retrenched by pulling 80 people onto a conference call Wednesday night, soliciting the tactical ideas of supporters from Montana to Arkansas to Connecticut. Suggestions mirrored the actions that have already garnered publicity: sit-ins, walkouts and traffic blockades.

We’re not getting our equality through the usual routes. That’s not working.




AMERICAblog Gay

—  John Wright