On Wednesday’s post, RB commented:
You were coming of age before gay internet. For guys who were 18 even in 2005, the internet/mobile apps made it fairly easy to meet other guys. It seems you didn't have this advantage. How did you finally connect with other gay guys? How did your first experience with a guy happen? How did you feel about it?
These are good questions, but I didn’t think I could do them justice in a comment. They do limit the number of characters you can use so I decided I’d write a post to answer RB’s questions.
I first used the Internet in 1997 when I was taking an undergrad class on Medieval England. Our professor taught us how to do scholarly research on the Internet. It was still in its infancy. We had to use the university library’s Internet lab for access. Thankfully, the Medieval archives had begun early on to digitize their collections for researchers. For those of you who might be curious, here is a short timeline of Internet availability during the 1990s:
- 1991: CERN introduced the World Wide Web to the public.
- 1992: The first audio and video were distributed over the Internet. The phrase "surfing the Net" was first popularized.
- 1993: The number of websites reached 600. The White House and United Nations went online.
- 1994: Netscape Communications was born. Microsoft created a Web browser for Windows 95. Yahoo! was created but was not incorporated until March 1995.
- 1995: Compuserve, America Online (AOL), and Prodigy began providing Internet access. Amazon.com, Craigslist, and eBay went live. The first online dating site, Match.com, launched.
- 1998: The Google search engine was born changing the way users engage with the Internet.
As you can tell from the timeline, this was all new stuff in 1997. It would be three more years before I had Internet service, and that was after I moved to Mississippi for graduate school in 2000. Occasionally, I would housesit for a doctor I knew; he had Internet access through AOL. I also had Internet access at work, but mostly I used that to order from Amazon.com which I think back then only sold books. It meant a new world of gay literature to discover as the local Barnes and Noble was somewhat limited in their inventory.
When I was still an undergraduate, the only way to meet gay people in Alabama or Mississippi was online. Well, you could hang out at Oak Park in Montgomery to meet men, but the Montgomery police always seemed to be rounding up gay men there. Montgomery had a gay bar for a short while, but no way was I was going in there. I also had no desire to hook-up with any of the out gay guys at college. There were only a few that I knew of anyway, and they all seemed to work on the student newspaper. The irony is the last girlfriend I had also worked on the student newspaper, but she never introduced me to anyone else on the paper.
My first-time meeting with a man is an unpleasant story. When I was living by myself in Mississippi, 200 miles away from my family, I began to explore the Internet to meet men. I met a guy on one of the websites which I doubt exists anymore. We decided to meet up. I knew he was older; in fact, he was closer to my father’s age. He also lived in the next town. This was before I’d come out to anyone, so I was being discreet. It was the worst date you can imagine. The only way it could have been worse would have been if he’d murdered me. Due to an injury, he had a penile implant, but insisted on topping me. He was also a cross-dresser. I have no problem with transvestites; to each his or her own. It’s just that I am not one of them. Yet after we had sex, he insisted I too put on a woman’s nightgown. And then there was his kissing. They were very wet slobbery kisses. That was bad enough, but he had the gall to tell me I was a bad kisser, and someone should teach me how to kiss properly. Now here’s the thing, I had kissed a fair number of girls by then, and all of them had remarked on what a good kisser I was. He is the ONLY person to ever say anything even remotely negative about any of my oral skills. I was mortified. I never should have met up with this guy. There is so very much more to this story, but I’d prefer not to describe it except to add, it would be over a year before I even attempted to meet up with another guy after this horrific experience.
The first time I went into a gay bar was in New Orleans. A friend took me to one while we were at an academic conference there. She had been the first person I’d ever come out to, and she wanted to take me to the gay section of New Orleans. We went to Oz, which is the club where drag queen Bianca Del Rio, the season 6 winner of RuPaul's Drag Race, got her start. Sadly, I never saw her perform. At first, we just sat at the bar while my friend put money in the underwear of men dancing on the bar as if she was feeding coins into a slot machine; I enjoyed the eye candy. We then went to dance a bit. I still remember walking into the room where the dance floor was (OZ is smaller now than it used to be thanks to Katrina). The smell of the men in that room was intoxicating; that smell still turns me on. This was also when everyone at my grad school found out I was gay. For about the next week, the news of my sexuality spread like wildfire. It wasn’t that I’d hooked-up with anyone that night. I was just the subject of gossip for about a week. Except for one professor, it was all overwhelmingly positive.
Maybe a year after that, my best friend who now lives in Texas but went to grad school with me, took me to the gay bar near our university. She was a local. When we went in (the bar was never overly busy), she saw some guys she knew who almost immediately began hitting on me; I was fresh meat after all. One was totally tweaked out, so we left him alone. The other guy was nice and had gone to high school with my friend. Before the end of the night, we were making out. That night, I went home with him, and unlike my first sexual experience with a man, this was fantastic. I never knew sex could be that good, nor did I know my legs could go behind my head. It turned out to be a one-night stand, but it was fun. We exchanged numbers but he never responded so I dropped it. Later, I found out sex could be even better than that.
From then on, I often met guys online. Gay.com, AOL Gay Chat, and Yahoo! Messenger were all ways to connect with guys back in the early 2000s. I have rarely been with a person I did not meet online first. Furthermore, I only saw one of those guys more than once. We became, what you’d call “fuck buddies.” We never really got to know each other; we just enjoyed having sex with one another. I knew what he did for a living, and he knew what I did, but little other information was exchanged. The last time we hooked up, I found out he had a girlfriend and that was the end of that. Once I moved back to Alabama, meeting guys online essentially dried up. I did meet a few guys, but when I started teaching at the private school, I had to be extremely careful.
The few guys I did meet were either on Grindr or OkCupid. OkCupid is where I met the boyfriend with whom I had my longest relationship. Things were going well until I got released from my teaching contract and found my current position in Vermont. When I told my boyfriend I had lost my job, he surprised me with dinner at the restaurant on top of Mount Cheaha, the highest natural point in Alabama. We had taken a vacation there the previous spring break. It was a very romantic gesture.
In the early days of my coming out, the Internet was available, and I used it, but mobile apps did not exist. It wasn’t as easy to meet other guys as it is today. And, there weren’t a lot of gay bars in Alabama or Mississippi. New Orleans and Mobile had gay districts, but they were about two hours away. That’s not realistic for a night out. During my time in grad school, there were a couple of nearby gay bars; when one would close, another would open a few months or a year later. We never had more than one gay bar at a time. I guess you could say my generation and especially my geographic location proved to be a disadvantage. It was also a time when gay bars were struggling because men were meeting other men through the Internet and not at bars. But eventually, I did connect with gay guys on the Internet; sometimes it went well, sometimes not. One of the things I’d like more than anything is a gay friend who lived nearby. I’ve never had a gay friend; all my friends have been straight. My first experience with a guy was an utter disaster and probably scarred me for a long time. I am trying to be more outgoing these days, but with the pandemic, there has been a halt to that.