Have you ever been nervous on a first date? Like, really nervous. Do you go in for a kiss? Can you put your arm around your date’s shoulder? Try to hold their hand? Probably. It’s hard to know how they’ll react, if they’ll accept it.
How about on a 10th date? How about a year into a relationship, when you’ve met their parents and nursed their fever? How about five years in? If you answered yes to these questions, if those things make you nervous, it’s likely it’s because you’re queer.
You’re not worried about how your lover will react – not by then – but by the reaction of strangers; the lads at the bar, the woman at the hotel check-in, the couple on the next table along. Mostly people are fine; often they’ll stare.
Sometimes you’ll be on the receiving end of abuse, even violence. If it’s hard to navigate these sort of public dynamics, imagine how hard it can be to find someone in the first place, when you don’t know if the guy you’re making eyes at is making eyes back, hitting on you or looking to hit you.
It’s a perennial problem for gay men. Throughout our recent history we’ve developed all sorts of ways of finding someone to have sex with in environments that have been essentially hostile to our existence, let alone our sexuality. There are clubs and bars, cruising and cottaging, sure, but also secret languages, codes, special quiet places where word-of-mouth has let us know that, even if we’re not safe there, we might be able to pick someone up.
Society is changing rapidly for gay men, and it’s getting easier for many of us – if we live in the right place. Part of this is social change in Europe and the US following the sexual revolution of the post-war period.
In other cultures you can skirt by under the culture of homosociality. But many gay men still have ways of hooking up that are not part of straight culture. In the past decade, one of these has been Grindr, a geolocated hook-up app that allows you to chat to gay men in your proximity, flirt, meet and fuck. And ever since it was released in 2009 it’s been a curiosity: an object of both envy and disgust… for straight people.
Nico Hines, writing for the Daily Beast, used Grindr as a new angle to cover the recent media obsession with the sex culture of the Olympic Village. In it, Hines – a straight, married man – posed as someone who wants to have sex with other men, going on Grindr to peer into their private lives. (Hines denies he ever disguised his heterosexuality, but it’s fair to say most people who use Grindr assume, fairly, that others are using it for the same reason. It’s another of those precarious but necessary gay codes).
By gawping at the gays for the amusement of straights, pruriently putting his nose where it isn’t wanted, he virtually outed athletes, providing their nationality, height and weight stats – as well as describing their messages asking to meet for sex.
I can’t imagine how dull his sex life must be for this to be of interest to him; “hot gay men like fucking hot gay men” must be news to none but the most sheltered of readers. But that doesn’t make it any less dangerous for the athletes involved, or malevolent for gay communities in general.
Most gay men don’t use Grindr, but for many who do, it’s a lifeline of friendship, affection or sex in hostile environments. Pointing and laughing at the sex lives of others is distasteful at best, but it also introduces an unnecessary element of paranoia and danger for people whose desire is dangerous enough.
Only yesterday a friend told me over dinner how at risk he felt after having been blackmailed by a straight man on Grindr. He didn’t even feel safe in his own apartment; this explains why he’d called me from three different numbers in as many weeks.
These are realities for many gay people around the world, which the Daily Beast might have realised if it had asked a gay journalist to write the article.
Look, straight people: you’ve made the world this dangerous for gay people. You’ve introduced fear and paranoia into that most beautiful and complicated of emotional worlds: sex. You’ve created the need for discreet other-worlds of homosexual desire. The least you can do there – the very least – is leave us alone.
But to then come into those worlds, and expose them on a major news website, and imply that we’re sex obsessed because we’ve had to concentrate so much desire into such a small, private, straight-free platform: sorry, but this is bullshit. Hateful, dangerous bullshit.
You’ve not even begun to consider the very real physical dangers you’ve created for these athletes, on their teams, in their home countries, let alone the emotional and psychic implications of making even private desire a place of fear and risk.
I get it, Nico Hines: your sex life is probably extremely dull if you get your kicks off time-wasting on Grindr. But you can hold your wife’s hand in any restaurant. You can kiss her goodbye at any airport. You can walk into any hotel bar in Rio and drunkenly hit on any unfortunate woman you want, and your privilege as a straight man lets you get away with it, virtually risk-free.
And you can pay for all her drinks by poisoning the discrete, private sex lives of athletes who have done everything society has asked them to – trained hard, honoured their country, been good role models, all that bullshit – and yet can’t even be public in their sexuality in return, let alone chat up a stranger on the bus.
Just delete your account. Delete your Grindr account, delete your Twitter account, delete your career… and leave us to fuck in peace.