On Friday, March 23, 2018, Craigslist decided to shutter its personals section. This comes two days after the US Senate voted 97-2 to pass Congress Bill H.R. 1865, Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA).The bill aims to make websites liable for users’ behaviors when discussing prostitution and sex trade on their platforms. Anti-trafficking advocates applaud the bill for advancing the fight of curbing such nefarious practices. Internet freedom groups and sex rights organizations oppose the bill, claiming it to be a “win for censorship” that will drive sex workers towards the dangers of the streets. Men wanting to have sex with other men are fucking incensed.
In recent years, Craigslist’s personals section has been intimated among the gay community as low rent in comparison to the gourmet cruising of popular apps like Grindr and Scruff. It’s been referred to as a cesspool of depravity, consisting of barebacking meth heads and feet worshipping crossdressers. Cardboard cutout glory holes and plastic rim seats. Pic collectors and catfishes. Putrid watersports and fetid scat play. The perception is that all the dregs of society consort there, looking to act out on their deviant fantasies with other men.
And they’re absolutely right.
But men with sleazy kinks aren’t the main ones soliciting behind the safety of an Incognito tab. Before I had completely come to terms with my sexuality, I experienced my first few sexual encounters thanks to the anonymity that the pic-driven profiles of the gay hookup apps frown upon. A constellation of men cruised the sparsely designed site for similar reasons. Men with secrets. Men with shame. Men with burner email accounts. Men who don’t know the difference between ‘discrete’ and ‘discreet’. Men taking body pics in toothpaste speckled mirrors. Men taking low angled dick pics attached to ads with embellished measurements. Men who would never step out publically or speak loudly enough to satiate their true desires.
I’d go as far as saying these experiences helped me develop as a young gay man, albeit not in the healthiest of ways. The feelings of nervousness as I’m walking into a questionable scenario because I can’t keep my hormones in check, accompanied by the pure pleasure as my lust for flesh is being satisfied. Disappointment after being flaked on by a set of cold feet after getting ready or guilt as I cancel a confirmed appointment when a more appeasing dick pic hits my inbox. I’ve been inside places I had no business being inside. Chic penthouses in West Hollywood and dilapidated apartments in East Hollywood. I shared intimate moments with strangers that I’d probably never see again. I layed in their beds and looked at the variations of their lives. Photographs of vacations with friends sitting on a desk. A tie rack hanging off the back of a door with luxurious options. Certificates hanging from walls that aren’t legible from this distance. The gleam of an iPhone tucked away behind a stack of books pointed directly towards our coitus. He apologized profusely and his erection deflated as he showed himself deleting the video from his Camera Roll followed by his Recently Deleted folder. I promised myself I would desert the site for good. And I did. . . For the most part.
Assumptions say you start out there, then graduate towards real scenes, but the smartest of us knew that there was always prime dick there that would never show pores on a hookup app or cast a shadow in any bar with a rainbow flag hanging above it. Military trade looking to give covered cunninglingus and “see where it goes from there” flooded the pages. Recently divorced dads who didn’t even know how to date anymore wanted to try things with guys in similar situations as them. Christian zealots were interested in meeting up in public areas to play around. The site consisted of crass dishonesty, but so did everything else in life. Even after narrowly avoiding becoming a slow-buffering clip within the genre of secret cam anon hookup videos that litter streaming sites, my promiscuity proved to be greater than my senses, so I’ve ran back when Jack’d was putting up too many familiar faces or I didn’t want to deal with the antiquated hassle of socializing around the thumping of a Lady Gaga bop in the club scene.
I don’t know how this situation will end up. I assume there will be an inundation of blank profiles and torso pics begging for attention in the popular apps. Men have always found ways to triumph when it comes to getting a nut off, so I can’t imagine this is the end of anonymous hookups. As well-intentioned as the bill is, it will only succeed in momentarily sending these types back into the shadows. The site had become a bastion of experimentation. A string of blue and purple hyperlinks directing you to your ultimate pleasures. Where men of different races, cultures, and backgrounds could meet up at the intersection of desperation and loneliness. A short-term cure to a long-term curiosity. A place where you could admit to the wants and needs you couldn’t clue anybody else in on, and hopefully, be able to connect with somebody who shared your eccentricities.
If it weren’t for the secret encounters that Craigslist exposed me to, there’s no telling when or how long it would’ve taken me to come to the realizations regarding my sexuality. Before I acted out on my desires, it seemed likely that I would live a life inside of the tormented closet. I had no other way towards making these connections. But after giving into those carnal desires, with the mental safety of knowing the dalliances happening in a stranger’s home would never make it back to a familiar eye or ear, it hammered the thoughts in that this is what I needed and I no longer wanted to be reticent about it.
For most people, the passage of this bill means a step in the right direction, an invasion of free speech, a disruption towards consenting sex workers, or simply, and ambivalent shrug.
But for the men seeking men in this country, it marks the end of an era.