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Seeking Discreet Hook-Up

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I saw the ad for “discreet hook-up”, in the Men Seeking Men section on Craigslist. It was alluring.

“Discreet local athlete. Looking for discreet encounter with regular or semi-regular partner. Want someone who is fit, who knows what they want, who doesn’t ask questions, and above all, is discreet. Discretion is a must!”

Three “discreets” and one “discretion is a must”, complete with exclamation point! This guy was more paranoid than I was!

Back in 2011, I had only been out of the closet for a few months, and I was still too scared to show my picture in situations like this. I was only selectively out of the closet at that point, meaning only a few people knew that I was gay. If someone on the other end of that computer screen saw me… what if they knew me? What if they were in my ward, or worse what if they were a former client of mine? No, the risks were far too great.

So instead of sending the requested photo, I sent a description of myself. “5’11’’, 175. Not in perfect shape, but regularly go to the gym. Recently out. Seeking connections and could be fun to meet up.”

And when I checked my Email the next morning, he replied. “If you’re real and interested, send photos. I would send one, but I’m discreet.”

Discreet, okay, I get it already! I sent a quip back that I was uncomfortable sending a photo without seeing one in return. Then he replied, “Fine, but you better be good-looking. I’ll meet you in the front lobby of my apartment building. But don’t tell anyone you are coming. What time should I expect you?”

And so, after getting off work that afternoon, I found myself driving to an unfamiliar address. I’d passed this building a thousand times and never had reason to go inside. As I parked the car, I wondered what I was doing. This could be a woman, a troll, a con artist, an older man. Anyone can use any description from behind a keyboard. But in a situation like this, where we were both scared of exposure, it seemed that we both had a lot to lose, and that equal playing field gave me bravery.

Sex with men was still something very new to me. At this point, I’d only met up with a half-dozen guys, and all of them had been brief encounters with guys who, like me, had a lot to lose. There was the college student who’d looked like a grown-up Harry Potter, the tall model looking guy here on vacation, the rugged carpenter guy. All of them one-time meetings with guys I would never see again.

I was living in a fairly rural area of north Idaho, and meeting guys seemed difficult and confusing, especially since I wasn’t looking to date yet. The novelty of meeting random guys was already wearing off, but after decades in the closet, finding physical connections was proving to be a bit addictive. All those years of holding myself back, and now my adolescent self was screaming, and the hormones just wouldn’t quit. Kissing was amazing, touching was incredible, skin-to-skin contact was bliss. Orgasms now no longer brought with them crippling shame and nausea. Who knew sex could be this fun! All the previous versions of me from every age, 13, 16, 20, 25… they were all celebrating within me with every experience, shouting out, ‘Finally, Chad, finally!’ A quick encounter, even if unfulfilling, was titillating, sexy, a bit risky. But after a few days, I would already be wanting more. It was a little easier to drive west to Spokane, Washington, where they had a few clubs, places I could actually meet guys, but that meant late nights when everyone but me was drinking, and a long drive home. For now, random encounters would have to do.

After sending the stranger a quick Email saying that I was there, I headed into the apartment building lobby. I didn’t know a name, what he looked like, or even if he was married, and I would avoid asking any questions on purpose. If I could just shut down the ethics in my brain, maybe I could kick back and enjoy this. God, I hoped he was cute.

In the lobby, I took a seat, and casually looked at the décor. A minute later, the elevator dinged open and a very cute black guy walked out. I mean, very cute. Frizzy hair, caramel skin, full lips, athletic build, gorgeous brown eyes, lean and muscular with a perfect butt. He was wearing grey sweat pants and a black tank top. He stayed in the elevator as I stood up, looked me over for a minute, then made eye contact. Without speaking, or even smiling, he craned his neck, indicating I should enter the elevator, then he stepped back inside. I followed and looked over at him, extending a hand to introduce myself. “I’m Chad—“ I started, but he just shook his head no.

“Not yet,” he said.

The elevator rose to the seventh floor, then I followed him down the hallway, confused but also very interested. A few doors down, we entered his apartment, and he closed and locked the door behind him. The place looked more like a hotel room, not like a place that was lived in. It was too clean, too sterile, with black furniture and the kind of art on the wall that could be purchased at a place like Bed, Bath, and Beyond. We stood there in the entryway and he finally looked at me.

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear your name. And I’m not going to share mine. If this goes well, it could be a more than one time thing for you. I don’t live here, but I come use the company apartment a lot, and can host when I’m here. But if you ever see me out in the streets, you just keep walking. I don’t want a hello, a wave, or anything. I won’t know you either. Don’t try it. Seriously, just don’t.” He paused, looking me in the eyes, then he pulled his tank top over his head. “Now you.”

I unbuttoned my own shirt as I looked over his very nice body. Lean, strong stomach, chiseled chest, a bit of curly chest hair. He kept talking.

“I’m a runner. I take care of myself. And I like the guys I am with to take care of themselves also.” He watched as I slid my shirt off, twisting his lips upward as he appraised me. “Not the kind of guy I usually go for. But I can tell you try hard, and you’ve got a cute face.” His eyes shifted up. “You’ve got some grey hair. How old are you?”

“33.”

“I’m 26. I like that you’re older, that works in your favor. Follow me. Leave your shirt there.”

I followed him into the sparsely furnished living room, avoiding flashing thoughts like ‘axe murderer’ and ‘narcissist’. He took a seat and looked at me. “You can go ahead and take your pants off,” he indicated, and I could tell he was a little bit aroused. I was confused, appalled, and intrigued by his orders all at once. A guy this handsome, maybe he could get away with it.

“If we are going to do this, I’m going to want lots of kissing,” he said as I unbuckled my belt, and I indicated that would be fine. “Before we do anything, I also want to make sure we are both clean. I’d like to shower first. Why don’t you join me.” It was a statement, not a question.

As we headed toward his bathroom, my brain flashed back to my first time at a gay club in Spokane just weeks before. It had been a freezing cold night, and there had been a line to get inside, with the club at full capacity. It had been after 11 pm and I’d been standing there shivering for 30 minutes when a very drunk gay man came stumbling out of the club with a couple of his friends, struggling to put on his own coat. He began talking loudly to the line of people outside.

“Sorry everyone, the club is full! They are only letting hot people in now!” As he walked by, he began rating everyone, in a very effeminate voice. “You aren’t hot enough. You don’t get in. You definitely don’t get in. But you, you can go inside right now! Look at you!” As he’d walked away, I’d been both secretly flattered to be the one pointed out as hot, and horrified at how he had treated the others. The newly out gay man who liked attention, and the social worker part of me that demanded social justice, were at war with each other.

Those parts felt at war again now, as I entered the shower with this man, feeling both intrigued and judged. He kept surveying me, as if wondering if I was worth his time, and that was a terrible feeling, and then he’d smile a bit and seem interested, and that was a fantastic feeling. And he looked very, very good naked.

When the water was warm enough, he handed me the bottle of shower gel and instructed me to wash him. I gave him a confused look, and he turned his head impatiently. Clearly, he was used to giving orders and having them followed. After I washed his back and he rinsed off, he handed me a straight razor. “Why don’t you go ahead and shave my back?”

He turned his back to me and I could see long, straight, shaggy hairs, haphazard across his back and shoulders. “You want me to shave your back?”

He didn’t turn around. “Yeah. It’s not like I can see back there. What, you can shower with me, but not shave my back? It’s no big deal, dude.”

This had to be some kind of joke. I hesitated with the razor in hand, and quickly plotted my exit strategy. I’d have to leave the shower, dry off, get dressed, and run away, ride the elevator back down to my car. I was here already. This was weird, but I was here already.

So for the next few minutes, I shaved his back. The razor was dull, cheap, and I worried more than once that I would cut him. I didn’t know this man’s name, and here I was engaging in this incredibly intimate act. Moderately long isolated hairs washed free, more than I had initially noticed, until his back was smooth and clear. When I finished, he turned around, clearly pleased, like I’d passed the test.

We kissed a bit there, then he pulled back. “Remember, after this, you see me, you don’t know me.” I rolled my eyes, agreed, and then started kissing him again. He interrupted one last time. “All right, daddy, now you’re in charge.”

Thirty minutes later, I left the apartment, after denying the sexy stranger a few very uncomfortable things he’d demanded. He’d been disgusted that I wouldn’t concede to his every request, even though technically I was supposed to be in charge at that point. But after shaving his back, I was done conceding. I never saw him again, though I did see that same “discreet hook-up” ad back up a few weeks later.

I drove away, smiling and teary eyed both over this new secret life of mine, and wondered what it would take to live, out and proud, and find encounters, ways to be true to all parts of myself, without shame. But the entire community seemed to be full of complicated guys, closeted guys, judgmental guys. I didn’t know where I fit in all of it yet. Eventually, I wanted a long-term relationship, but for now, Craigslist would have to do.

The 12 Guys you Meet on Grindr

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Oh, Grindr.

Grindr is a phone app used by gay men to meet other gay men nearby. Urban dictionary defines it as “Location based iPhone/iTouch App for gay, bi, and curious men to meet. Uses GPS technology in your iPhone and WiFi in iPod Touch to determine your exact location and instantly connect you with guys in your area. View pictures, stats, and map locations at a tap. Totally discreet because Grindr doesn’t ask for your email address or require account registration.”

You download the app and create a basic profile, in which you can upload a photograph (some choose to keep this blank), share a few of your statistics (height, weight, relationship status), and type just a few lines about yourself and what you are looking for.

You open the app on your phone by clicking the small yellow box with the black cat mask on it. A grid of boxes opens up, each box representing a man who has the app also opened on his phone, and the boxes arrange in order of how far away they are from you. (In large cities, walking a few blocks means entirely new groupings of men. In more rural areas, the closest man might be 70 miles away). To look at the photo and profile, you simply click on the image, and you click on a message icon if you want to send a message to that person. You can also upload more photographs from your phone, or take live photographs, to send to the man as well. Finally, you can send a GPS ping that shows him exactly where you are on a map, making meetups easy. Often addresses and phone numbers are exchanged, and conversations continue once the app is closed.

Now it is no secret that men, straight or gay, are and always have been very sexually driven. Much energy is given to the thought of, pursuit of, and acquisition of, sex. When straight men are dating women, basic kindness and charm seem to be part of the process. When it comes to men dating men, however, it often seems that all bets are off. And now, in the age of instant gratification, where we can look at a box of photographs and immediately determine our level of sexual interest based on a photo, some shared information, the content of a message, or a misspelled word and determine interest and attraction sight unseen, it has never been easier to find sex.

I find Grindr amusing. When I have it downloaded, I have generally tried two separate approaches in my profile. Approach one: a simple photograph of myself (clothed and smiling) with no other information. Approach two: a simple photograph of myself (clothed and smiling) with a small blurb that lists my age (36), height (5’11), weight (180 lbs), and a few lines saying something like “Educated professional looking for chats, new friends, or dates. Not here for hook-ups. A little charm and consistency go a long way.”

Some guys download Grindr to chat, others to easily get laid, some just to see who is around.

Following are twelve conversations, or variations thereof, you will definitely have on Grindr if you have the app. Maybe you have had some of these word for word.

1. the Bots

His profile: a relatively handsome guy with a basic age and weight listed.

Him: Hey, you’re cute.

Me: Thank you, you too.

Him: I’m new here. My battery is dying. May I have your number?

Me: You’re a bot, aren’t you?

Him: Click this link to come watch me on camera. The credit card request is just to verify you are of age.

Me: *block*

2. the Bros

His profile: generally a headless muscly torso with a tagline that says something like “Masc seeking Masc, not into fems”

Him: Sup.

Me: Hello.

Him: Hey.

Me: Hello.

Him: Looking?

Me: For sex? Not at the moment.

3. The Skanks

His profile: Grindr doesn’t allow nudity in profile photos, but imagine whatever is closest. Photo will be something like a close-up of his underpants, another headless torso, or him in tight shorts turned around and grabbing his rear. A few brief sentences like “Willing bottom, ready to take your load. You host. Ready now. Don’t waste my time with chat. Not into fat guys.”

Him: {unsolicited photo of his penis, or perhaps of him bent over}

Me: Wow. That was… well, good for you.

Him: Looking?

Me: No thanks.

Him: Where’s your pics?

Me: I don’t share nudes.

Him: Come on, you’re hot. Let me take your load.

4. The Very Persistent

His profile: Normal looking guy of any age, a few stats listed about himself. A blurb saying something like “Average guy looking for a real connection.”

Him: Hi.

Him: Hi.

Him: Hello?

Him: You’re cute.

Him: Are you getting my messages?

Him: Hi.

Him: Hi.

Him: Hello?

Him: Are you there?

5. The Martyr

His profile: Usually an average guy of any age with a pleasant smile. Profile reads something like “Aren’t there any good guys left in the world? Tired of being single. Think maybe I’m the only decent guy left.”

Him: Hi there. How are you?

Me: I’m fine, thank you. How are you?

Him: Wanna go out some time?”

Me: I’ve got a pretty busy week with work right now, but we could chat a bit.

Him: Whatever. You’re just like all the other guys. Why won’t you come and meet me?

Me: Well, I’m not looking for sex. And I’m working right now.

Him: Who said I was looking for sex!

Him: Why would you think that about me!

Him: I just want someone to cuddle with! I didn’t even want sex!

Him: You’re just like all the others!

Me: Whoa, I said I’m working right now. Relax, man, it’s Grindr!

Him: #### you! (block)

6. The Cheater

His profile: Good-looking guy, shirt on or off, with a blurb saying something like “Partnered to a good guy, yes he knows I’m on here. Just seeing who is out there. Not interested in sex usually, but you never know.”

Him: You’re hot. Want some company?

Me: You’re partnered…

Him: I am but I want you.

Me: Are you guys open?

Him: Nope but I know he cheats on me and I don’t say anything so it’s my turn. Come over.

7. The Polyamorous

His profile: Generally a photo of two partnered guys (any age or appearance) with some listed stats and a small blurb like “Happily married and occasionally seeking a third for fun. I’m top, he’s bottom.”

Him: My boyfriend and I are looking for a third. Interested?

Me: Not really my style. I’m down for new friends, though.

Him: No thanks.

8. The Very Descriptive

His profile: Usually either a black screen or a stock photo of a sandy beach, a “keep calm and carry on” meme, or a cartoon character. No stats or words listed.

Him: I’m laying all horned up in my hotel room with porn playing on the TV. Looking for two guys to come over and make me their slave while I’m handcuffed and blindfolded. I’ll leave the door unlocked. I’ll take both of your loads and then you can just leave me there. Interested?

Him: {location ping sent}

Him: {photo of genitals}

Me: Well, that is quite a way to begin a conversation. You want all that and you’ve only seen a face photo of me?

Him: {silence. he’s already cut and pasted the same information to every other guy on the app}

9. The Narcissist

His profile: A photo of a very good-looking all-American type guy. A few lines read “Don’t waste my time. Good-looking guy seeking fit athletic masculine guys who are down to clown. If I don’t respond, it means I don’t find you attractive.”

Him: Hey stud.

Me: Hi back.

Him: I’ll get right to the point.

Him: You are one of like 2 per cent of guys that I actually find attractive. I’m a top hosting right now. Why don’t you come over?

Me: You’re certainly very handsome, but I’m not really interested in random sex. Would you like to meet for coffee some time?

Him: I’m not looking for a relationship, dude. Come over, or don’t.

10. The Discreet

His profile: No photo, no words about himself.

Him: Hey there.

Me: Hi back.

Him: Do you have more pics of yourself?

Me: You can already see one of me. Can I see one of you?

Him: Dude, I gotta be discreet. I’m not out yet.

Me: That’s cool. I understand.

Him: Wanna meet up some time?

Me: I still don’t know what you look like.

Him: Yeah, I’m discreet.

Me: Yes, I know. You said that.

Him: So you have more pics?

11. The “Back-in-the-Day” Guy

His profile: An attractive picture of a shirtless relatively fit guy. Age listed at 45. Nothing written.

Him: You’re really cute.

Me: Thank you. I like your photo.

Him: Thank you. Want to get together for a walk some time?

Me: Sure, that sounds fine.

**At the meeting, you realize he is actually 58 and weighs about 30 more pounds than he did in the photo, which was taken 7 years ago. He acts surprised and upset when you comment on his misrepresentation.

12. And finally: The Disappearing Nice Guy

His profile: Good-looking guy with basic stats that seem honest. He actually takes time to write out a basic profile. “Busy professional with lots of interests. Looking to meet a nice guy. Hoping for a relationship, but down for fun in the mean time.”

Him: Hey, I really like your profile.

Me: I like yours too. How is your week going?

Him: Really well. And yours?

Me: Good! Hitting the gym soon. Big plans for your evening?

Him: Just relaxing at home. Would you like to get together for coffee some time?

Me: I would like that. When works for you?

{2 days later} Me: Hey, haven’t heard back from you… Still want to get that coffee?

So after reading all this, you gotta be wondering why I’m on Grindr. Easy answer. I like to believe I’m that ever elusive 13th guy, the one using a convenient phone app in an effort to meet quality guys for dating and hoping for a substantial connection. We all have our reasons for being on Grindr, but ultimately, using the app is like checking the fridge to see what food is there although you aren’t hungry.

You just open the door and hope maybe something will catch your eye.

Mr. Scrumptious

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“Well, aren’t you just Mister Scrumptious?”

The older man had followed me into the dry sauna, where I had taken a seat on the upper bench, arranging my towel to cover myself comfortably. My skin broke out in a blissfully hot sweat right away in the scorching heat. I took a swig from my water bottle.

“You really are very scrumptious.”

I hadn’t even had time to acknowledge the first statement before he spoke again. This time I looked over, and nodded, muttering a thank you. He was likely in his late 60s, thin white hair brushed over his scalp. Wearing only a towel, the man was barely 5 feet 5 inches, his skin a bit sallow and spotted. He had on a pair of thick glasses that were fogged up, and I realized there was no way he could see me nod, so I said thank you a bit louder, then settled back against the wall, closing my eyes.

I breathed the hot air into my lungs, then held it there for a moment, clearing my head of the world outside. I was facing some big decisions in my life soon and it felt wonderful just to shut my brain off.

“Do you mind if I touch you a bit, Mister Scrumptious?”

I tilted my head slightly, curious and confused at this particular combination of words I had never expected to be spoken aloud. I kept my eyes closed. “Um, no thank you. But thank you for the offer.”

“What, you don’t like to be touched?” His voice was a mix of determination and frustration.

“Everyone likes to be touched sometimes. But I don’t want to be touched right now.” I felt my stomach contort with a laugh.

“Well, then, what are you looking for?” Now he sounded annoyed.

“I’m not looking for anything. Just relaxation. I’m here with some friends.”

The man paused, quiet for a moment, and he lowered his voice to an almost whisper. “Well, your friends aren’t here now, but I am, Mister Scrumptious.”

This time I laughed out loud. He was certainly persistent. “I think my friends are out in the hot tub. Thank you again, but I’m just here to relax.”

“Oh come on, who comes to a bath house just to relax. Everyone here is looking for something.” His voice took on a whiny pout now.

I sat up and faced the man, who still had his fogged glasses on. He had his arms folded and one leg crossed over the other. What was I doing here, I wondered. I was here in Denver on a road trip with a few friends from Salt Lake City, all of us formerly Mormon, all of us fathers through our previous marriages to women. Despite being in our 30s and 40s, we were still learning about gay culture, being gay, and how the gay community interacts. We had been sitting in our hotel room. Someone had mentioned a bathhouse and we had all curiously agreed that going to one would be a learning experience. After all, there are thousands of bath houses across the world, in every major city.

It was a Sunday afternoon when we found the facility, tucked into a back residential neighborhood, a single sign discreetly placed revealing its location. We had parked our car in the parking lot, which was tucked away from view, and entered the main room, a dark small space with a front desk attendant tucked behind a security glass window. The man had explained that only members could enter the bath house, and that we could purchase an annual membership for 25 dollars, plus a mandatory locker rental fee each time we used the facility. We paid for memberships, rented a locker, and were given a single key to an assigned locker along with a plain white towel.

We had entered the locker room, all of us curious about the new experience, stripped down, and put on our towels. I wandered through the building, exploring. The main floor had vending machines for snacks, coffee, and water. Down a long hallway, there were individual rooms that could be rented (higher priced than the lockers), each small with an individual bed and television (used for pornography). A few of the rooms had the doors slightly ajar and I could see men inside, their doors left open on purpose as they clearly hoped for some company. A small swimming pool and two hot tubs were available, one indoors and one out on a patio over a small grassy yard, as well as three separate saunas, dry and wet. A room sat off to one side with benches, and pornography played on a large screen.

A long stairway went down to the lower level, a basement where long darkened hallways twisted and turned in a maze-like pattern that was intentionally disorienting, leaning toward men being able to meet anonymously for sex. Various rooms were set up with bunks, benches, slings, and holes in walls. A few men stood in their towels in darkened corners, hoping to meet someone.

Outside in the hot tub, I had ruminated with my friends about the history of gay men. Millions of men who grew up in secret, telling no one about their attraction to other men. Connections to other men, including through sex, had to be carefully protected, discreet and anonymous, to protect families and careers. For decades, men had only met other men in public parks designated as gay meet-up spaces, at bars, or at bathhouses. Now, post-2010, being out as a gay man was much easier. Meeting other gay men through phone apps, dating sites, or public events was commonplace. Yet clearly there was still an appeal, a fascination for bath houses, the potential for anonymous sex away from prying eyes.

“Men do like their sex,” I had said. “In fact, if women enjoyed bath houses, straight men would be in these places all the time. Straight men use coercion and violence in the name of sexual gratification, yet places like this inspire such discomfort to others, hidden in plain site.”

We had had a long discussion about our former lives and where we were now.

And then I had walked to the sauna. I looked back at the older man with the fogged glasses, there waiting for me to show interest in him. I certainly wasn’t looking for random sex with an older man in a sauna, much as that might frustrate him.

“Honestly, sir, I really just here to relax.”

He got the flirtatious tone back in his voice, not missing a beat. “Well, I can help with that.”

My word. “Sir, really, you’re very nice but I’m not interested in that right now. We can have a conversation if you like, but I’m not looking for a hook-up.”

The man got up, tightened his towel around his waist, and headed toward the sauna exit. “Well, all right, Mister Scrumptious. But if you change your mind, I’ll be downstairs. You’ll know where to find me.”

I thought of the man in the basement maze below and laughed to myself again as I leaned my head against the wall, thinking of humans and their history, and my place in all of it.

 

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