Seedy by design, the sex site Sniffies is only available as a browser site, and not an app. It caught on in 2020 largely by word of mouth, as a saucy, immediate alternative for a gay ecosystem long exhausted by the "PLEASE READ BIO" declarations of Grinder and Scruff. You’re not looking at a grid here, or even human faces. All you see is a map, and the appendages offered to you. A running feed updates you on who’s hosting, and where: “I’m at MACY’S MENS BATHROOM RIGHT NOW;” “I’ll be at Home Depot bathroom at 6:37pm;” “Pound and fill me, hmu ;).” On Sniffies, bottoms set up gangbangs in the basement of Essex Market. If our sex won’t be procreative, at least it can be politically useful. Rather than whine about the scourge of corporate real estate, we’ll just cum all over it.
The other apps had long ago become scenes in themselves, mirroring both the body fascism and the so-called “community” ethos of the IRL gay shtetl. Who could find that arousing? Sniffies, meanwhile, is a new breed, bloody and primeval, where the rules are negotiated upfront. You are what you want done to you, and nothing more. I don’t need to know your stance on BLM to fuck you. It’s not even about how you look (necessarily), but about what you’re offering.
In the silence of quarantine, talk of a cruising comeback spread around New York City: these last few summers, the Ramble and Vale of Cashmere have enjoyed abundant revivals. Sniffies has enabled a digitized return to the ’70s and ’80s sex theaters of Samuel Delany's Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, cultivating a biome of contemporary cruising and class-defiant encounters. He writes of the vast array of men he encountered, among them “playwrights, carpenters, opera singers, telephone repairmen, stockbrokers, guys on welfare, guys with trust funds, guys on crutches, walkers, in wheelchairs…and some of the city’s Hasidim.”
This shadow world would be condemned when Times Square was sanitized for a new, post-AIDS, family-friendly experience. Of course, no matter how intense the crackdowns, cruising can never be killed: so long as the Port Authority has an open toilet stall, love will find a way. But younger generations, encouraged to cultivate a presentable gay identity that conveniently adheres to their class and upbringing, are reared to breed with gays just like them. Fewer of them pass through those crossroads, where class, race and even closet status melt away. Or so it seemed.
In the midst of a pandemic and class war, when I and everyone I knew was undergoing a hideous ego death, humiliating ourselves on social media through virtue signaling and pathetic yelps for attention, it felt good to disappear, to cross into a netherworld where I was no one but a roving sex organ, a pollinator, a dog. I’m sure gay rights have done a lot for me and my cohort, but in Ryan Murphy’s world, every aspect of my desire has been dredged into the halogen lights for the masses to consume. But not here. I’d stepped into a world beyond morality. Who would I become, running among the demons?
To cruise is to shed all layers and speak only in silent desire, a spiritual act of giving and receiving as one part of a pulsing ecosystem of want. This sex is contingent on dehumanization, on being reduced to pure action, need, and service. It predates identity. Here, consent is implied and wordlessly negotiated, between the types of people who would likely never meet otherwise. Of course, once we’ve left the terms of civil society, shedding our skin to howl with the pack, something much darker emerges. When the sun comes up, the last night’s kills feel like a blur. Did you do that? Did you want that? Did that feel right?
Being obsessed with cock is a peculiar, agonizing madness, worse than what cats suffer in heat. In ages past, women were sent to sanitariums for far less. It puts us in a daze, leaving our doors open, waiting on all fours with a blindfold for a stranger to creep in and impale us. Delany quotes Bruce Benderson, who writes in Lambda Book Report 12 that “the true Eden where all desires are satisfied is red, not green. It is a bloodbath of instincts, a gaping maw of orality, and a basin of gushing bodily fluids.” In this fever, I was freed from the fascism of identity and normativity, welcomed to a rapture in the Plutonian abyss, to party forever with Dracula’s brides. But like a wanderer into the realm of faerie, I was starting to lose time, to forget my name in the human world, to fall into the blur.
Once upon a time, married men would drop into the West Side Piers, forget who they were for a few hours, and come back cleansed through cathartic release. The cruising nexus came at the right time, in the right moment, like the city of Hamunaptra, revealing itself in the sun’s glare, in The Mummy. But in this new world order, the full moon never goes down. When you’re hunting for sport every day, when every action figure you fuck wants to film for their hugely popular alt Twitter account, when you don’t know the names of the last five bodies you penetrated, what balance remains? What do we owe each other when I’m just a number on your assembly line of loads to take for the day? How can we be accountable for one another, for the shingles I gave you, for the ways you went too far last night, when you’re nothing to me?
One Monday afternoon in February, I texted a regular of mine. He was taking a load, he said, but I could come after. I saw that he had already set up a gangbang for after sundown. I decided to cancel. He lashed out at me, as if I’d stood him up on a romantic date. Apparently, I had meant something to him. When he texted me to express his hurt feelings, he called me by my name. It stunned me, like he’d smuggled it from an ancient world, a cursed word to recite only once. Though I’d stay on Sniffies until I’d caught a bubonic case of Herpes a few months later, I knew then that the spell was broken. The lights had been turned back on. I had been seen and caught, as a human being, and I didn’t like it.
Gay sex is radical by definition; it is not meant to breed life, but to sew a new reality. Our seed, spilled into the ground of public parks and lavatories, imbues the earth with magic. One day, a mode of technology will help to unite our sex towards some psychedelic purpose. But for now, on Sniffies and at sex parties around town, we can’t seem to do much more than pack our bodies together like inmates at Auschwitz. The rampage our animal power unleashes could topple monoliths, someday. But when the pigs take over the slaughterhouse, they don’t do much but fuck until there’s nothing left. Perhaps I’m not ready to lose my human skin just yet.