The Queer Issue
The internet killed leather bars.
Kinky gay guys who wanted to get laid used to have just one option. If you wanted to tie someone up or be tied up, if you wanted to spank someone or be spanked, if you wanted to piss on someone or be pissed on, you had to screw up the courage to walk into an actual leather bar. And it took some courage: Leather bars were dark and scary places, and most gay men steered clear of them.
Many gay men steered clear of guys who admitted to going to leather bars.
Pre–AIDS epidemic, there was a huge stigma attached to kinky sex. Normal and good gay men had normal and good gay sex—oral sex and anal sex—while only kinky freaks indulged in dangerous BDSM "practices and activities." Then along came the AIDS crisis, and everything was flipped upside down: Now anal intercourse was dangerous, and the standard-issue kinks were safe. Spanking didn't transmit HIV. Fucking did.
But one thing didn't change: A gay kinkster who wanted to get laid/bound/spanked still had to work up the nerve to walk into a leather bar. And since walking into a literal leather bar meant coming out as kinky—the stigma lingered—the figurative leather bar was set pretty high. Many kinky gay men described walking into a leather bar for the first time as their second coming out. And the gay kinkster who went to a leather bar for the first time was lucky if he met someone he found attractive. If the kinkster was super-lucky—we're talking win-the-lottery lucky—that attractive person's kinks aligned with his own.
Then along came online personals, and suddenly kinksters didn't need to walk into leather bars anymore—they didn't need to come out as kinky—in order to get laid. And they no longer had to waste time meeting people and establishing mutual attraction before figuring out if their kinks aligned. They could lurk on a site like Recon.com—the most popular personals site for gay kinksters—create an ad listing their kinks, and respond only to ads from people they found attractive who were also hand-in-black-leather-glove kink matches.
Leather bars still limp along in most cities (Seattle has two), it's true, but they don't play the crucial role they once did. Online personal ads offered a more efficient method of sorting and matching kinksters—straight and gay kinksters alike—but this came at a cost. The efficiency and anonymity of the internet undermined the community and camaraderie of the leather bar.
Dan Savage has a new book out, American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics. Follow him on Twitter @fakedansavage.