Toronto
3 min

Cyburban sprawl

905ers create their own sexual haunts

CLICK AND CONNECT. Suburbanites like to see what they're getting before they make the commute. Credit: Dean Tomlinson

A few years ago during a self-imposed exile to the western suburbs, I found myself with much more free time than can be generally described as healthy. The local bar had closed and options seemed limited. Sparked by an initial flash of curiosity, I soon discovered the Internet chatroom.



While still some years away from Woody Allen’s fabled Orgasmatron, it became pretty clear that this bit of technology haS revolutionized how men meet other men for sex. Unparalleled anonymity coupled with an almost limitless number of types, tastes and appetites has resulted in chatrooms being dubbed the bathhouses of the new millennium.



In fact, the suburban frontier appears to be ground zero of the Internet sex revolution. Chatrooms provide a glimpse of the gay world that exists largely outside of the Church and Wellesley downtown nexus. As the Gay.com Toronto chatrooms became more crowded with surbanites a couple of years ago, a room was soon devised specific to Mississauga; Mayor Hazel McCallion would be so proud.



Those big box store computers being loaded in minivans were evidently destined for some good use.



“Bi-married guy.”



“Cuteboi18: Sqr 1 area.”



“Oakville Rugby Player, discreet.” I should say so.



“In Acton but mobile,” the unstated presumption being that it is worth the drive – from Acton, this time.



The sheer number of suburbanites – or cyburbans, if you will – suggests that not everyone in 905 spends their time in shopping centres and cineplexes. Indeed, when downtowners appear in chatrooms, I begin to wonder what they are doing there. Don’t they have the bars, clubs, bathhouses and the like? Why frequent chatrooms when you have steam rooms?



The primary appeal of chatrooms is the anonymity which seems to me to be more important for suburbanites – often younger men living at home or married – than downtowners. Did the urbanites have something to hide?



Despite the potential for anonymity and freedom, the chatrooms have their own version of the traditional barriers. The basic one, looks, is as important as ever. Entire sites, such as www.facelink.com, exist so that one’s face, or perhaps better assets, can be displayed prior to meeting.



“I’m considered good-looking…” or “My friends say…” no longer cuts it; with a picture anyone can be the judge. For the truly secure (or perhaps the truly insecure), there exists www.amihot.com, whose sole function is to poll thousands of people on one’s hotness. Obviously, all of this has placed friends with Photoshop skills in high demand.



The chatrooms can be more diverse than the average bar. It’s as if all the guys who say, “I’m not into the bars,” were gathered here. Men who choose not to frequent the downtown haunts are well represented. Never in a bar would I have expected to meet a visiting student from Gallaudet University, the so-called “Harvard Of The Deaf,” but in a chatroom this was effortless.



The level of anonymity and the sheer number of men available on-line for sex have re-ignited old debates about sexually transmitted diseases and privacy. In 1999, the San Francisco Department Of Public Health alerted that city’s gay community that it had traced syphilis outbreak to the America Online chatroom SFM4M (San Francisco Men For Men.)



With many men knowing their partners only by their screen name, the health department was unable to track the outbreak. When its representatives asked that AOL provide the names of their members who visited the SFM4M chatroom, they were rebuffed. The health department then enlisted Planet Out, a gay and lesbian on-line service, to troll the rooms, issue warnings regarding the outbreak, and provide safer sex information.



This approach was supported in an article that first appeared in 2000 in the Journal Of The American Medical Association: “For the current young generation of computer users, their expertise and computer access is unprecedented, and Internet communication has become second nature to them. What will the impact of these virtual meeting grounds be as these young people reach sexual maturity?”



Others, including ACT UP San Francisco (whose members don’t believe that AIDS is caused by a virus) have called these concerns hysterical. Its members picketed Planet Out in response to its involvement with the San Francisco health department.



None of this is to say that everyone is looking for immediate sexual encounters. For young people, especially those who don’t live in large urban areas, the chatrooms can offer a safe environment to come out and make friends that they may not be able to find at their high school or in their local community.



Before all these encounters, though, comes the choice of screen name. Based on their specificity, screen names can efficiently filter potential partners in a way that would be near impossible in a bar or a bathhouse.



“Romeo – forget Juliet.”



“Tiger Crouching: handsm GAM.”



“BayStreetBoi.”



While some intros evoke exuberant athleticism – “Looking for hot fuck and suck action. Now. My place” – others are positively somnolent: “Nothing like a little wine and a good reefer.”



These intros are generally more imaginative than the ubiquitous “straight looking, straight acting,” phone chat line descriptions you hear all the time, though descriptions like this do pop up sometimes.



I’m thinking of having the last laugh some day and introducing myself: “Gay looking, gay acting. Hates hiking, biking and cuddling by the fire. Into head games, the bar scene, drinking and drugs. Friends say I’m an asshole.”