Dating Apps Are Changing Queer Culture, Sure, But Not for the Worse
A few months ago, during a work dinner in Manchester, England, a colleague of mine asked my boyfriend Noah how he and I met. The dinner was all gay men, and we had been talking about gay apps and whether or not they were laying waste to the queer dating scene.
Noah smiled shyly, turning to look at me, and told the group, “We met on the apps.” Everyone at the table laughed.
“Really?” Someone asked. “I didn’t think dating was possible on those things. They’re always about getting high and random sex.”
“Not for us,” Noah said. “I met my last three boyfriends, including my husband, on gay apps,” I added. “And I think the guy before that I met on a phone chat line. Remember those?”
The conversation turned to lurid sexual adventures people had on the apps, but it got me to thinking. There is so much talk right now about slowly disappearing gay bars, and how gay nightlife is changing, becoming less about men and cruising. I hear guys moan about women in gay bars and how straight people shouldn’t be invading our spaces. A lot of this talk includes gay apps, the implication being that because guys are cruising the apps and meeting potential sex partners there, there’s no more room for gay bars.
Well, I think that’s total bullshit.
I have always felt gay apps have opened the world up for us and created a larger community than just the local ones we inhabit in our day-to-day existence. And yes, gay bars and the gay community are changing. Maybe some of that is due to the apps.
But I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
By freeing us up from the constant hunt for sex, gay men can focus more on coming together as friends, on hanging out and having a beer, on playing pool and on getting to know each other beyond just random hookups.
I have friends all over the world. People who I have had the chance to meet in person while traveling, all because we sparked a conversation on gay apps. My world is larger because of these apps.
Noah and I met on the apps in June 2016. He was living in London at the time (though he’s since moved back to Berlin, where he’s from), and I live in Los Angeles. We began a long conversation, and despite sometimes going weeks without talking, we somehow always ended up back at each other. We got to know each other in a slow, meandering way. When I had to go to London for work, I let him know and we made plans to meet.
Now, don’t get me wrong, my intention was sex. But my intention is usually sex, so that isn’t saying much. I figured we would meet, have a drink, go home and fuck, then continue our online chats.
But that isn’t what happened. We met, we talked, we got to know each other and we ended up spending the whole seven days I was in London together.
I mean, we also had sex (a lot of it), but that wasn’t the end of it. We formed something that led to a real relationship. I have spent the past year flying back and forth from L.A. to London to be with Noah, and now that he has moved back to Berlin, I will be flying there.
A few days ago, while having coffee at Neumanns Cafe in Berlin, I spoke with my friend Clint, who had recently moved to the city with his boyfriend from San Francisco, about his experience in recently opening their relationship up.
“For us it’s so much easier just meeting guys on the apps,” Clint said to me. “It takes the pressure of immediacy off us that we found when we tried to meet guys at the bars. Like, we get to spend a little time exploring this new person together, getting to know them at a distance, before committing. It’s important that we both feel comfortable, and that we take the time to really talk to each other about how we are feeling. This can’t happen when you just meet someone randomly. Look, if we met a hot guy and it was spontaneous, we’d go for it. But I think for now, while we are still exploring this, the apps allow us a little distance. Some space to feel comfortable.”
I told Clint that in the context of my relationship to Noah, we allow each other to be on the apps. We are allowed to have sexy chats and to form friendships if we want. This allows us to have our version of a monogamish relationship while still exploring fantasies and flirtations with other guys if we choose.
“Exactly,” Clint said. “And sometimes you get to explore things you might not have thought about exploring before. Neither of us are really into the dom/sub thing, but a few weeks ago we were talking to this sexy guy from Vienna who was all about being a sub for two masters. He was going to be in Berlin. We spent a week chatting with this guy and exploring his fantasies around this, and we realized, hey, maybe this could be a fun thing to try. It doesn’t have to be a lifestyle, just an experience.”
I asked if Clint and his boyfriend went through with it and met the guy from Vienna. They did.
“I don’t think I’d want to do it again, but I’m glad we did it,” he said.
Gay apps can become a safe place for men to explore their sexuality, to try new things and to discover different versions of ourselves, all without having to commit to anything.
Back in L.A., my friend Bruno said to me, “We only fuck around with other guys together. We created a profile on the apps that is both of us. That way when someone meets us they know what they are getting. And we can all talk. Both of us can see and participate in the conversation. We like this kind of transparency. I think I would get jealous if we were completely open. It’s just not something I’m capable of. But this kind of thing, I don’t know, it works for me.”
Another friend, who lives in Algiers, is 21 years old and gay. I met him on one of the apps, too. We talk a lot about our lives and what we want out of them. He tells me about being Muslim and about being gay in a place that is intolerant of homosexuality. I get to share with him my own experiences, and we learn from each other. I recently told him what it means to be HIV-positive and undetectable. He had never heard of this. A few days later he came back to me asking questions about Treatment as Prevention (TasP) and PrEP. He asked me about my experiences being a poz man. We began an amazing dialogue.
If it wasn’t for the apps, we never would have met. The world is large and full of potential. It’s amazing that we have these tools to bring us closer together.
When someone tells me gay apps are destroying our queer bars and culture, I realize what they are really saying: the world is changing. But the world is always changing. Trying to stop the change or insisting on holding onto the past never works.
There is a way to embrace the direction our community is heading. We get to decide how we behave and how we treat each other. I’m a fan of diversity — racially, sexually and otherwise. I don’t have a problem with straight people or women being at our bars, and as long as everyone understands these are still our spaces, everyone should be welcome. That, for me, is what “queer” is becoming: the whole spectrum. Not just gay but those who love us, those who celebrate us and those who come to party with us.
When it comes to gay apps, the whole world opens up if you let it. I have found some incredible partners on gay apps. I have explored some of the wilder sides of my sexuality, I have made amazing friends and I have fallen in love.
I think we are lucky to live in an age when technology has made the world a smaller place, bringing together people the world over. Gay apps are merely one way this can happen.
I want to live in a world that is connected. I want to live in a community that reaches beyond my tiny little life. I want to feel connected to all the ways queerness happens in the world.
And I’m not against collecting a few butt pics either. As far as I can tell, it’s a win-win situation.
Jeff Leavell is a writer living between Los Angeles and Berlin. He specializes in queer social commentary, relationships, sexuality, art and Nightlife. His novel Accidental Warlocks will be released by Lethe Press in May 2018. You can find him at his website or on Instagram.
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