In this hilarious piece, a former STOP AIDS staffer explores the ethics and etiquette of the queer male online hookup scene.
by Hunter Hargraves
Consider the following scenario: two men cruise each other in a bar. One buys the other a drink. They start chatting, and one of them gets around to disclosing his HIV status – he's poz. The other guy immediately downs his drink, does a 180, and walks away, rolling his eyes in the process.
OK, so it's a little ludicrous. Nobody would actually just ditch a conversation like that, would they? Yet somehow on the increasing number of online hookup sites, this is a common, and even socially accepted exchange. LOL, right?
You don't need to have PhDs in psychology or linguistics to notice the new behaviors and vocabularies on hookup sites. Not just crazy abbreviations for sexual fetishes and personal limitations, but also just the direct phrases used to convey what is hot and what has as much sex appeal as a bald Britney Spears. I mean, we should be glad that the real world isn't as direct as our online world – what would it look like if we tattooed our preferences on our foreheads? Clearly, there would be a lot of tattoo artists tired of endlessly inking "Sorry, no [insert race, ethnicity, body type, HIV status here]."
There's nothing wrong with having preferences. We should be thankful that we have the Internet, which gives us the opportunity to find what we want when we want it. But sometimes the ways in which we describe it all border on the weirder, more uncomfortable side of things.
For example: masculinity. We all know that being super butch is so in these days – the Castro clone look from the 70s has continued to be at the center of male sexual attraction, sandpapered crotches notwithstanding. And now it's super important to describe one's self as "masc/musc" or "only into other masc guys" on a profile. Because we all know what happens when the butchest guy opens his mouth and the purse falls out. Guess that's also why I've never seen anyone post online explicitly describing themselves as "feminine."
As a drag queen (gasp!), let me share a story here. A couple of years ago I hooked up with this guy online. He stated that he was looking for a masculine guy, found my pics to be butch enough to his liking, and came over. I opened the door, he checked me out; I passed his test. We get into my room, start making out, and his eyes dart over to the row of wigs on my bookshelf. Freakout. I explain to him that I do drag, and suggest that he unzip his pants. No dice, as he explains, "I'm not comfortable with that," grabs his jacket, and heads out the door. My killer wigs got the best of him, it seems.
I don't know if there's a good lesson to be learned from that; apparently more people should be putting "drag queens not apply" in their online profiles. But maybe it just illustrates how ridiculous some of the labels and standards we apply when cruising online are. If everyone claims to be masculine, does it have any relevance anymore? And if masculinity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, why go out of your way to freak out if somebody doesn't meet your own subjective standards?
Of course, it's not just about masculinity. Phrases such as "drug/disease free" (or "d/d free") and "UB2" also complicate the idea of preference. With the former, I'm a little confused to what exactly "disease free" mean? Is it referring to HIV, to STDs, to both? HIV may be a disease, but it's not a death sentence, and it's one that thousands of gay and bisexual men in San Francisco live with each day. Sometimes I wonder if "disease free" is a modern-age interpretation of the suggestions that people with AIDS go into quarantine in the 80s. Also makes me wonder if online cruising has turned into a sort of physical exam, with guys doing a preliminary pre-screening before they hook up, like an insurance agency. It's totally a Geico caveman commercial waiting to happen. ("Dude. Your tonsils, well, they look a little primitive. And you look more Mesozoic than in your pics. I don't know if this is going to workout.")
The latter phrase, UB2, well, to me, it just comes across as smarmy. How often do we hook up with people who look exactly like ourselves? And what does it effectively mean? If you practice serosorting – making the choice to hook up with a partner of the same HIV status – just come out and say it: "I serosort." "UB2" just makes it sound too much like Mean Girls, as if there weren't enough gay men in San Francisco going after a cracked out Lindsay Lohan look, making it all about which sexual clique card one carries.
Actually, this scenario does sort of make sense. When you think about it, the beauty of the Internet is that we're able to easily identify sexual partners based on what we're mutually into. Kink websites allow you to scan for partners into fisting, skinheads, bondage control, and other fetishes; the rapid explosion of the BigMuscle websites (BigMuscle, BigMuscleBears) allows guys into beef the opportunity to seek out meaty guys for worship, play, or just for jack off sessions. It's why the Internet is known as the quickest way for guys to hook up.
At the same time, however, it's also turned into the proverbial high school cafeteria, the one so crucial to that Mean Girls plotline. The bears have one table, the muscle leather daddies have another, the circuit queens flag dance on theirs, and the alternative hipster queers – well, they're off in the bathroom doing lines of coke. We shouldn't be surprised that gay Internet as segregated itself along similar lines like real world bars, clubs, and community spaces. But its opportunity for directness generates the kind of emotional detachment that produces offensive profiles, hate speech on chats, and the silent reinforcement of masc/musc HIV-negative white men aged 20-30 as the gay standard of beauty.
The trick is, I guess, to find a way to make your profile or posting describe what you're into, not what you're not into. Actually, come to think of it, it's like using that trendy "Secret" self help guide for cruising. Think it. Visualize it. Embrace affirmative energy. It may sound very New Age/Oprah, but hell, you never know: it could be the way to get more of what you want from cyberspace.