"He was cruising you," Lucius told me as we walked home from brunch.
Admittedly, I had no clue what he was talking about. Growing up in Mississippi, my gay education came a bit late in my adolescence. And instead of wiser elders to teach me the finer points of queer culture like Stonewall and Gregg Araki films, my wisdom was imparted by gay men who also spent most of their lives in the closets of Mississippi. Some had only discovered their sexuality after long marriages, thanks to the help of Grindr and the once-thriving Craigslist "casual encounters" section.
At only 19, cruising was as lost an art form as cursive writing or VHS tapes. But in the formerly thriving Manhattan gayborhood of Chelsea, it remains a treasured pastime for the remaining queer residents. Although it's rarely practiced anymore with the innovations of digital sexuality, the spirit of thrill and anonymity are still alive.
Luckily, my wise host during my couch-surfing summer internship was well equipped with a plethora of knowledge. As we made the few short blocks back to 21st and 9th from The Dish on 8th Avenue, Lucius gave me a quick crash course on what he called "the look back." When you lock eyes with a cute guy you pass on the street, count to three and turn back. If he turns back too, it's an unequivocal invite to make a move.
Making moves was also a foreign concept to me. My first hookup came as the result of a MySpace rendezvous, who subsequently introduced me to Grindr. The few real-life, one-on-one encounters that had blossomed were purely organic friends-of-friends situations. Approaching a hot stranger on the street to sow my wild teenage New York summer oats felt like a barrier of social confidence I'd never be able to cross as an introverted product of the digital age.
A few weeks later, I found myself in the usual Grindr routine of my sexual coming of age. Sitting on the stoop at 21st and 9th, I scrolled through profile after profile before striking up a chat with a dancer named Laith. As we exchanged numbers and decided to meet up at a local bar, my early generation iPhone regressed to the speed of an AOL chat room, circa 1998. To make a long story short, my adolescent hormones drove me to curb stomp said phone in a horny fit of rage. I admit it wasn't a masterfully conceived solution.
Luckily, my Otterbox absorbed most of the shock, but the screen was ruined. Although I could still open apps and dial phone numbers, I couldn't tell if I was opening Facebook or calling the guy downstairs who was into feet. It seemed that any hope for the evening was lost.
In a moment of desperation, I found myself observing my surroundings. As one Chelsea gay after another passed the stoop, I occasionally locked eyes with a select few. Some would turn back, although I'd pretend not to notice. Finally, one handsome daddy type met my eyes, and three seconds later, he turned back to meet them again.
I hesitated for a second, my feet and my brain struggling to meet halfway. My heart racing, I stood up and started down the sidewalk. It was as though my hormones had made the decision for me, trumping all reason and social anxiety. It's amazing what a little sexual frustration can do for one's self esteem.
It took about a block before I caught up with the handsome stranger. As I prepared to get his attention, I had no clue what to say. How does one initiate a sexual encounter with a stranger on the sidewalk? Every awful pick up line I'd heard in my life had suddenly vanished from my head, and all I was left with was quotes from Clueless. I was totally buggin'!
At that moment, my all but defunct iPhone began to ring like a miracle from God herself. With a good enough perception of where the green button was, I answered Laith's call, saving me from a potentially awkward situation. It was one of those moments when I couldn't help but wonder what would have happened had I reacted differently, but the sheer impulse to make that leap was a thrill my comfort zone had deprived me of until then. Knowing I could get around that mental barrier provided an unexpected sense of empowerment that I often long for in times of doubt.
Homo-Neurotic recounts the misadventures of Glenn Garner, a 20-something gay man with social anxiety in the age of social media and dating apps. Follow Glenn on Instagram and Twitter.