This is a part of my life I never wanted to share, I was afraid to share but it is relevant to my HIV status. I know I became positive while living this secret side of my life.
Some form of cruising is happening in every community. HIV infections are still happening 30 years later and some will happen in cruising areas, I have seen safe sex practiced but not all the time. These are places where very little vocal interaction happens which makes disclosure something that rarely happens.
Cruising isn’t an activity I could talk to my friends about. They knew what was best for me, “don’t go there”! I was told. I would be considered a “park rat” or a “troll”. They would tell me it was dangerous and dirty. They weren’t me. Being so shy and with my constant battle with low self esteem it was hard to meet people; cruising became my only option. Sometimes I did it because of loneliness but the more I did it, I saw it as a thrill, an obsession.
My first time experience with another man happened while I was married (not legally married), just before my first child was born. January 1974 to be exact. We were in Toronto for the weekend; my wife was staying with people and I was supposed to be staying with my best friend. I had heard about “Boy’s Town” near College and Yonge Streets. I would hang around near the YMCA. The two original gay bars were just around the corner, up Yonge Street from there so being 19 I figured I would get noticed and picked up fairly quickly. As I waited, hours passed and nothing happened. Because it was so close to “Boy’s Town”, I think they might have thought I was charging. Around 4 in the morning I managed to attract someone; I had a place to go and get some sleep after. It was exciting, I was scared, it was new to me and that night changed my life in a big way.
Fast forward to 1980, I was still married with children and living in the closet. I had just moved here, started a job that I would have for 27 years. One night the wife and I went to see a movie with Al Pacino called "Cruising". Seeing the poster for it, I knew what it was about, and I really wanted to see this movie. Half way into it she wanted to leave; she was very unsettled by the content but I won out and we stayed to the finish. All belief that being married and having kids was going to change me was put to rest.
By summer I had moved out and never returned to the marriage. I didn’t jump right into the gay lifestyle though, I was still afraid to come out. For twelve years I struggled with it. I even dated other women, when people asked why I wasn't with someone.
When I turned 37, I found the strength from way down inside and I finally went for it. I was like a kid in a candy store. I felt I had missed so much that I had to try everything and it all seemed to be linked in some way to "cruising". Dating wasn’t an option at this point.
I met a couple of gay guys while cruising around the town I was living in. I was cautious of what I did and who I watched. Not everyone I passed was doing the same thing as I was. Soon I learned how to tell the difference. Night after night, I returned and I would notice the same cars, the same people walking along the river. Each of us was just as afraid as the other to approach one another and say hi or anything, I learned I had to take the risk.
I found out there was a gay dance across the river that happened every Saturday night, I was told that it was a very busy place. It took me two months to actually get there. It wasn't long after that I started making friends and contacts. I even recognized a couple of people who did cruise around town. I learned about the bars in the area, I was invited to Toronto with some and I heard about all the cruising areas around.
So my cruising was re-started in small-town Ontario, a place where you had to be careful and discreet. Not everyone was gay. There were married men too, married with kids. Sometimes, if there was enough light, you could see their face, I might have seen them around town or in the mall with the wife and children.
One day this one gentleman recognized me. He came up to me and wanted to meet in a washroom at the mall while the wife shopped, I quickly declined. I wasn't brave enough at first to engage in public sex, I had my apartment. I would invite people back there instead. I quickly learned this wasn't a good thing because there were knocks on my door at all hours of the night or day for a repeat performance. I was working full time and I did need my sleep......sometimes.
In part two I get down, pardon the pun, to the nuts and bolts, I'll walk you down some of those paths.