Hooking Up Isn't Going to Ruin the Nation's Progress on Gay Rights

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There's seems to be a worry among gay men in the face of Americans' growing acceptance of gay rights and same-sex marriage: that all this progress, like the Supreme Court's striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act, will vanish if people find out how lascivious gay men can be. But that couldn't be further from the truth. 

Ask any gay man (over a few drinks, of course), and he will tell you that hooking up is easier than ever. With apps like location-based Grindr and mobile versions of dating sites like Manhunt and Adam4Adam, there's really no need to spend a night at a terrible bar looking for Mr. Right Now. But, for some reason, there's a growing feeling that gay men need to keep this not-so-secret secret under wraps as the country is finally beginning to recognize LGBT people as equals. 

That pressure, whether real or imaginary, has manifested itself in — to name one example — a spotlight from The Wall Street Journal on Mister, a dating app aimed to encourage gay men to seek out what Mister CEO Carl Sandler calls "respectful relationships" instead of hookups or one night stands rife with "game-playing." "It’s part of our ethos to try to help people figure out how to be evolved gay men," Sandler told The Journal. Apparently, gay men are sort of like Pokémon.

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Sandler adds: 

For many people, especially young people, this is their only exposure to the gay world …what are they learning about the world they are entering into? What are they learning about how to navigate [it] and understand what’s important?

Sandler wants young people to know that hookup culture is apparently dead. A simple visit to a last call at any gay bar would probably prove him wrong. But Sandler insists: "I have nothing against hookups…[but] the hookup world is a vestige of the past ... We’re looking for a way that creates more space for something else to emerge."

Sandler's view is shared by at least one person who wouldn't ever want anything to do with the Mister ethos. "In our current desire to acquire civil rights equal to the straight community, we have chosen to assimilate and to clean up our act," writes author Rober Schanke for The Huffington Post. Though Schanke and Sandler eventually reach the same conclusion—that hooking up is over—they have opposite feelings on its demise. Schanke wants more of it, bemoaning the fact that sex clubs, poppers, and places where gay men can be urinated on aren't nearly as prolific they were in the 1970s. He explains:

When I recently explored some of my old haunts, I was amused. The Anvil is now a gentrified, chic restaurant, complete with white linen tablecloths and candles. The waterfront along the Hudson River has become the lovely, serene High Line public park.

The problem, he believes, is that men like Sandler want to sanitize gay men's sexual habits and defang them for their heterosexual peers. In many ways, Schanke isn't wrong in reminding people that gay sex was a driving factor behind gay rights. 

Yet both Schanke and Sandler miss the point about hookup culture. Hookup culture isn't dead or a culture that exists only in the past. It's merely changed venues and now thrives smartphones and computers instead of at bars. Grindr's 6 million users across the globe is proof of that.

And dating sites like Manhunt or Adam4Adam have plenty of members willing to engage in some raunchy, multi-person stuff — the very thing that Schanke is looking for and that Sandler says is thankfully extinct. Sex clubs in New York City still exist, but perhaps one of the reasons that all the places that Schanke fondly remembers were as popular as they were is because options were so limited. That is no longer the case, thanks to the digital revolution. 

The idea that gay men are somehow shocking their heterosexual counterparts with sordid sex tales is perhaps giving them too much credit and not taking into account what straight people have long been told. After all, anti-gay apostles have been conflating homosexuality with bestiality, polygamy, pedophilia, natural disasters and the dissolution of heterosexual monogamy for years. And most Americans have seen an episode of Sex and The City (which is, in all honesty, a story about gay men) or Oz or read one of the several trend pieces on gay men's hookup habits over the past couple of years. Despite that, a growing majority of Americans supports same-sex marriage. Don't look now, gay men, but what you did last night probably isn't shocking anyone enough to ruin your future marriage. 

Photo by: Zdorov Kirill Vladimirovich via Shutterstock, Inset photo via Grindr.com 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.