Friday, August 14, 2020

The Early Days of the Gay Internet

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., Craigslist, and eBay went live. The first online dating site,, 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 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., 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.


Jeremy Ryan said...

Technology and the world at large has sure come a long way. I remember the days of AOL and dial up. I found gay groups on AOL and soon after discovered News Groups where I could download naked photos of guys. Today it's easier than ever to get gay content and I'm not reduced to just looking at photos, I can watch a movie. As with everything that has an online presence you have to exercise a fair amount of caution. Used properly technology is a great way to bring people together be it for a date, a hookup or just to chat.

Anonymous said...

Interesting insights into a world with which I am not familiar. Roderick

JiEL said...

I'm not so sure that internet and all those easy ways to see guys or even meet them are getting it better.

In 1992, while I was still married to a woman, I was dating men by a phone app named here in French: Masculigne.
I had met many nice guys but one of them was very handful because he told me: why don't you go to bathhouses, gay saunas, that could be easier to meet men.

At first I was scared and shy but I did go and I discovered there many men that were seekoing the same as me.
This was a big change to me and I even met in 1993 my now best friend, Guy, who is now married to an American and are married living in Delaware.

Now I'm divorced since 1999 and living my gay life openly and some of those men I met in saunas did help me in some ways.

What I feel about internet «meat shopping» is that men are now becoming such picky that it's harder to meet men. So many «shpping lists» that they're asking that you rarely suit their requirements.
The most difficult is that they judge you on few pixels photos and are not really getting to scratch the surface to know the human being behind it.

Yes, internet has open the possibilities to SEE men but it's now so superficial as many gay men are expecting to meet the most «gorgeous» man and forget that in reality, this ideal man doesn't exist.
Most of all, with all those young men that never experienced the old ways of meeting, they are spoiled forgetting that their «fathers» and «grand father« fought for them to have now the liberty to live their gay life freely and openly.
It's becoming a LGBTQ community that is categorising their constituants while it was supposed to celebrate «diversity» and inclusion.
I feel more excluded from this community because I no more fit in for many reasons.

Dylan said...

I have never been to a gay bar, but I would love to go one day, before they become obsolete. I have downloaded Grindr several times, but I have never met up with anyone from the app. Not to be a snob, but the men on Grindr in Alabama are nothing to write home about, with the exception of the Floribama area. However, I have met several men on Tinder, including my current boyfriend. If you have never tried Tinder, I recommend it!

Anonymous said...

I am old enough to know when the Internet started...I remember staying at my friend's home and noticed a contraption on his desk back in 1984...He was an IT guy for the military...I asked him what that was...He said that it was a computer...I asked what is a computer...He said it was just something he used for work...He later invited me to his job site at McClellan AFB...Yes...The place was cold as hell and the floor was several feet above the real floor...There were rows and rows of machines about 6 feet tall or taller...You've seen them before...They had tapes in them...He explained the work and it went over my head...Fast forward to the early '90s when AOL became a thing and you paid by the minute...I remember my friend who had a high libido was freaking out because his AOL bill was higher than his rent...I asked what the hell is he doing on that thing...I remember as part of my undergrad in the early 90's we had a course on computers...What they were...Floppy disks...You know the basics...During my undergrad, we had computer labs in the library where one could go and write term papers on PCs or MACs...You always prayed that first, you could use a PC and secondly no one was waiting so you can have unlimited time...I tried a MAC once and it was the weirdest thing...A friend at the time worked for Microsoft as a help desk type person...I got tired of going to the library so I decided to take the plunge and buy a PC...I was clueless...I told my Microsoft friend what my needs were and he and I went to Best Buy...I pushed the cart and he filled it up...He then went home got all of the disks...And set up my computer...I remember when businesses didn't post their jobs on their websites or they did a combination of the two-websites and in-house postings/phones...I remember calling one hospital and asking them when they updated their job site...I was told to come in because they were not diligent at keeping it updated...I remember open party lines where you could call and guys in the area would be talking and you could strike up a conversation with someone offline, get acquainted, and maybe get laid...I remember where one could post an ad in the gay paper-Dallas Voice-for free and the paper would set up a mailbox for you to retrieve your inquiries...You paid by the voicemails you listened to...I was never a bar person...Things started too late for me...I could stay up late IF I was engaged in an activity...Standing around in a smoke-filled bar was not for me...Then bars banned smoking inside...I have never used an app...I am familiar with them...In the gay world, I am past my prime, and to some in the real world, I am as well...Hell, I am 62...I know I can still effectively contribute to society...I just go about my daily life...Find interesting activities outside the home and if I meet someone then so be it...I don't begrudge modern technology...Hell, I am doing Zoom up the wazoo and even employed temporally remotely...I just feel that we should maybe combine the two...Don't rely on modern technology too much and still be a part of that human interaction...I worked for a major healthcare organization in San Diego...They were creating a new line of business where they would pitch their services to companies and be their only healthcare option...One company they signed a deal with had several caveats....One was they wanted to do most of their healthcare options/interactions without speaking to someone...They wanted to use their phones or personal computers...I will end with this...Technology is great...I embrace it...But I am old school...I want to have coffee with you...Dinner if I am lucky...I want to interact with you face to face...In-person...I don't want to lose that human touch...

RB said...

Thanks for the post! Sounds like the internet did help enable you to meet guys as you came of age as a gay man. Sorry it didn't always work out so well, but that's probably everyone's story.

The visit to the New Orleans bar piqued my attention. If you come out to just one person, you can't control who they will tell. So coming out to one person, and maybe you thought this was in confidence, resulted in you being outed to everyone.

I guess the important thing for you to focus on now is finding someone. How to find the right someone. How to complete your life. There has to be someone in VT for you. You just haven't connected with them yet. Another topic you can write about....

Anonymous said...

Wait, you WANTED 90s Windows? All the bad GUI (Win3.x was worse than an already-ancient Apple II in this regard), bloatware (Win95 onward), can't even boot (Win98), what is Mickey Mouse doing on my desktop? (WinNT, WinME) From Win98 onward, you can't delete Idiot Exploiter because it's essential to just opening windows.

Microsoft's gotten better, and Apple worse, but you liked Windows in the 90s?

Joe said...

RB, I started to write a comment to explain a little more about the visit to the New Orleans bar, but I realized it was going to be quite long and maybe even a bit complicated, so you'll have to once again settle for a post, this time on Monday, as I further explain what happened and how things progressed after that night.