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Cruising Ain't What It Used to Be


The thrill of the hunt may mostly be gone, but at least we have Netflix and chill now.

It seems like only yesterday that a friend introduced my partner and me to AOL MFM.

"You're kidding. All these people are cruising with a keyboard? This is amazing!"

The result of our friend's keystrokes left us flabbergasted and intrigued and itching to take a test drive. It was all so sparkly and futuristic, and even without the new car smell, this was clearly the start of a hell of a journey.

Something felt familiar, though. The online sex hunt reminded me of a movie, Logan's Run, a 1970s depiction of a dystopian future. Humanity was quarantined in what appeared to be a giant shopping mall and forever destined to sport tunics and Farrah Fawcett feather cuts. In one scene, Michael York, looking for sex, is sitting at a console in the living room of his apartment. A series of babes, both female and male, appear and flirt in real-time 3D. I'm pretty sure Star Trek transporters weren't happening, even in that futuristic landscape. Then, like now, dates physically hauled themselves to a location.

As I recall, Michael York's character was more bored than horny, a phenomenon not unfamiliar to those present-day denizens of cruising sites. At least I speak for myself. Several decades later and the new car smell is overwhelmed by fast food and entropy but ultimately, and more than anything, maturity. Age stepped in and scratched the glamour from sparkly to dull. The old gray mare just ain't what she used to be. But then, neither is cruising.

In an age fat with information, we're starved for the real thing.

Just like in the Logan's Run experience, images are not the real thing. Pictures and profiles projected from a glowing screen can't replace actual face time.

I have to confess that these thoughts aren't mine alone. Recently, I had this chat with others. Of course we've collectively bemoaned social media's false sense of intimacy for as long as there's been social media. And now, loath as I am to reveal; this discussion took place with my partner and another group we'd met on a cruise ship.

Yes, the ironic pun is not lost.

Gary and I were gifted with a Caribbean cruise a few weeks ago. We departed from a port in Galveston, Texas, and boarded a floating hotel that looked a little like the mall in Logan's Run. On board were 4,200 passengers and in that sea of humanity, for the first two days, Gary and I feared that we were the only gay couple on board. I swear to God, I have never seen so many straight people in my life. It was like being marooned on Gilligan's Island. Aside from the complicated relationship between the Skipper and Gilligan, one was left to wonder, where were the LGBTs? Fortunately, on a ship with 4K-plus passengers, we finally stumbled upon another gay couple and their lesbian compadre. Clearly, not finding other enchanted folk was a statistical impossibility, even under those circumstances.

The five of us spotted each other across a bar, and at long last, the gaydar finally pinged. The posture, the choice of cocktails, how the cigarette was held, the shoes -- who knows? Somehow we detected each other in this ocean of grandparents and grandchildren and honeymooners. We'd survived two days at sea on a lifeboat of coconuts and bamboo, lashed together and adrift in an ocean of straightness. Gary and I joined the threesome, heaved a sigh of relief, and ordered a second round of cocktails. We ordered pina coladas, served in a glass, not a coconut shell.

One thing followed another, and inevitably, the preceding musings ensued. We pondered, "Will we lose the ability to detect each other? Will the Internet destroy that instinct? Or has cruising simply evolved, like dinosaurs to birds?"

Regardless, it's always fun when conversations involve the primal, crossing the line to existential.

Clearly, as long as there are hormones there will be sex, and seeking sex is not going away any time soon. At this stage it seems like cruising will remain cruising, just more convenient. But something gained is something lost. Perhaps our ancestors regretted something similar -- defrosting and peeling cellophane off a foam tray in lieu of the tribal hunt.

LGBT folk, those from past enchanted days, feel a small pang of loss and nostalgia when cruising was far less technical. It's the language that's changed, and changed is the mother of understatements -- it's more like an evolutionary pole vault from slide rule to iPhones.

Cruising used to mean seeking in a bar or the personals section of a newspaper, or seedier hunts in unlikely public areas. Cruising was a dance and a game of chance. It was social.

Food and sex both define much of this thing called life and the human condition. The funny thing is that sex can be the bigger drive, the warp engine, and when presented with an option, lots of people, once or twice in the course of their lives, chose sex over food. The lust for lust is no small drive.

Our parents courted and sparked. Our grandparents spooned and crooned. Maybe our grandchildren will simply transport. Who knows what Silicon Valley has up its collective sleeve? Regardless, plain old time-honored cruising got turbocharged significantly in the waning days of the 20th century. These are interesting times indeed, and yet a part of me misses the ritual. I miss getting dressed up and the small flurry of butterflies in the stomach upon entering a gay bar. I miss the communal thrill of the hunt.

But then, "Meh. I wonder what's on Netflix?"

KURT NIECE is an artist, jeweler, and author of The Breath of Rapture and Mercury Fields. He and his partner, Gary, live with their beloved feline in the crystal valleys of Hot Springs Village, Ark.

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