What Happened to Gay Street Cruising?

cock watching through binoculars
Trails leading down to the cruising spots in David Balfour Park, Toronto
Trails leading down to the cruising spots in David Balfour Park, Toronto

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen I moved to Toronto back in 1981 opportunities for cruising were everywhere. Even though being gay wasn’t widely accepted, men were still on the hunt for hook-up opportunities in heaps of public places not only in the downtown core, but all over the city. It wasn’t like bars and bath houses didn’t exist because they did, but in the gay neighbourhood, a guy could go to the corner store for a carton of milk and come home with some afternoon delight.

Today, cruising is a lost art. Technology has had the biggest impact on street cruising: hook-up sites and gay porn sites have moved a lot of the hunt for sex indoors, where we can safely shop for sex from our homes while watching the latest episode of Real Housewives of wherever. We don’t have to worry about pesky undercover police men trying to arrest us in public bathrooms or parks. And even when we venture out on the street, many of us have our heads buried in our cell phones surfing Grindr — most wouldn’t notice if a man pulled out his cock and started whacking off in front of us.

But technology isn’t the only culprit in the demise of gay street cruising. In Toronto’s Church and Wellesley neighbourhood where I live, many of the outdoor cruising opportunities have been bulldozed and replaced with condos. A multi-storey parking garage at Church and Alexander used to be a popular spot to look for horny men;  if you lucked out there, a small office building around the corner on Maitland Street with dark parking lots was another good place to hunt for dick.

AIDS Memorial, Cawthra Park Toronto
AIDS Memorial, Cawthra Park Toronto
Nothing to your likely in the parking lots, you could troll up the back alleys and head for the 519 Community Centre and Cawthra park lined with bushes where lots of men would be waiting for a blowjob. And even the AIDS Memorial in the center of the park wasn’t immune to cruising — behind the pillars containing the names of our friends who had died, you could always find a few men down on their knees. While some thought it was disrespectful, many found it a fitting way to claim back the sexuality AIDS stole from an entire generation of gay men.

The parking lot is now a 10-storey condominium, the office building was replaced with a dozen or so town homes, the alleys are still there, but you’re just as likely to run into a crack head; and the bushes in the 519’s parkette have been ripped out, as were the ones that provided cover behind the AIDS Memorial. And the best cruising at the back of the park is now a fenced dog-walking area filled with sand and minus the shrubbery.

David Balfour Park, Queen’s Park behind the provincial legislature, and Allen Gardens were all fantastic cruising spots. I haven’t been to David Balfour Park in years, they cut down all the shrubs in Queen’s Park, and Allen Garden is the hang out and sleeping grounds for many of the area’s homeless, drunks, and drug addicts.

The Steps, The Second Cup at Church and Wellesley, Toronto
The Steps, The Second Cup at Church and Wellesley, Toronto
There were dozens of cruising spots within a short walk from my apartment, but often times simply walking the street was enough. Hell, I even picked up my husband at The Steps at The Second Cup as I walked home at 2 a.m. from my video-store job. While my neighbourhood has very definitely changed physically, horny men will always find a place to hook up outdoors, so I’m sure cruising spots still exist. But frankly, it’s just not safe anymore. I used to regularly wander the streets of the gaybourhood at 2 a.m., but these days you’ll get swarmed by the crack heads asking for spare change. And the neighbourhood is flanked by two different gang territories that pop up regularly in the news where someone was beaten up, jumped, or knifed.

Even if you manage to skirt by all of this, that hot young man you exchange glances with on the street is more than likely high on meth, or looking for someone to party with. When I first moved to Church and Wellesley, I regularly brought people back to my apartment from the alley or park, and didn’t think anything of it. These days, I wouldn’t dream of it.

I miss the good ole days. While technology has made it easier to hook-up, it’s not as thrilling or fun. There’s nothing like passing a man on the street, doing the look back to see if he’s checking out your ass, then doing an about face and following him down the street. Sometimes you just got a little walk, sometimes you headed off somewhere to have some hot sex, but it was infinitely more exciting than scrolling through 10-year-old pictures of some online cruiser or endless cock or butt pictures.

So, the next time you’re tempted to check Grindr while walking down the street, leave your phone in your pocket and see what you can discover walking right there on the street with you.

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