by John Corvino
“I’m going to Hong Kong,” I told my friend, “and I’m hoping to find out more about its gay scene.” This was several weeks prior to my three-week China visit, which I completed about a month ago.
“Try gaydar,” he told me.
Some help you are, I thought to myself. “Actually,” I continued aloud, “I was hoping to do some investigating beforehand.”
“So try gaydar,” he repeated, and I quickly figured out he wasn’t talking about that sixth sense many gays (and some non-gays) have that purportedly allows them to detect who’s gay. He was talking about a Web site.
This discovery was a good thing, since my personal gaydar is useless internationally. I learned this when I first went to Europe, and I began to suspect that all the men in Finland are gay. (They’re not.) Although I have since checked Skymall, Sharper Image, and other stores, I have yet to find the handy adapter module that will allow my gaydar to work internationally.
Later, alone at my computer, I typed in “gaydar.com” and discovered… a porn site. I soon realized that my friend meant “gaydar.net,” also known as “mygaydar.com.” So, after several hours of exploring gaydar.com (I’m a journalist, and I believe in thorough research), I went to mygaydar.com and set up a profile:
“I’m a 37 year old college professor and writer from Detroit visiting to lecture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I’m looking for people who can fill me in on the local gay scene and perhaps show me around a bit.”
My profile quickly garnered responses. Some of them were pretty useless. “Hey,” they’d say, and nothing more. Thinking that this was perhaps part of the ritual, I’d respond with a “hey” back, followed by something more substantial. Then… nothing. I wondered if multi-syllabic responses violated some unwritten gaydar code.
Others were just strange. “I’m a college professor interested in finding out more about the local gay scene” does not strike me as an invitation to discuss dick size. I mean, if someone had written to me about the local gay scene AND his dick size, at least I would have known that he had read my posting. “Hong Kong has several bars and dance clubs, the most popular being Propaganda on Hollywood Road. Oh, and I’m seven inches, thick and uncut.” THAT would be informative. But no.
But most of the responses were quite helpful. Some of them gave annotated listings of the local hotspots, including descriptions of the typical crowds, best times to go, and so on. Other respondents offered to meet for coffee or a meal. A few shared their phone numbers. I ended up making contact with several people, and they made my China visit more enjoyable and productive.
All of which got me to thinking about the “old days” before the Internet. It wasn’t that long ago. I first came out in 1988, and “dot-com” meant nothing then. What did we do to meet other gay people when traveling?
Options were few. There were gay travel guides like Spartacus and Damron. The problem with those, then as now, was that local gay scenes would often change faster than new editions could be printed. Remember, too, that there was no Amazon.com for ordering them. Unless you were blessed with access to a gay bookstore, they could be difficult to find.
Another option was to look in the local phone book (remember them?) under “Gay” or “Lambda” in the hope that something would appear. Often it didn’t. So most of the time, you relied on plain old gaydar. No “dot-com” – just a sense that the person sitting next to you on the bus or in the park might be gay. Of course, you had to proceed carefully, since gaydar sometimes failed and the person sitting next to you might also be a violent homophobe who just happened to seem a wee bit faggy.
My own personal travel trick would be to find a retail store (the Gap was a good bet) and talk to one of the sales guys. Stereotypical? Absolutely. But it never failed to get me introduced to the local gay scene, if there was one. (And if there wasn’t, at least I might find khakis on sale.)
One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the sense of connection I feel when meeting a fellow gay person away from home. I was reminded of this in Beijing, when I struck up a conversation with a couple – obviously American, obviously gay – whom I encountered at the Great Wall. It often feels as if we belong to some sort of global fraternity.
Now if only I could find that international adapter module.