The MP Chris Bryant has faced calls for his resignation for appearing in his pants in messages sent via a gay website – but others see Gaydar as the future of dating. So what is it really like? Mark Simpson speaks with the (exhausted) voice of experience
(Independent on Sunday, 7 December 2003)
Gay men are having sex! Lots of it! Every night! With a different man! And they don’t even have to leave the house!
There was more than a hint of sexual jealousy surrounding the ‘outrage’ in the British press last week’s over Gaydar, the cruising website where gay and bisexual men exchange instant messages, personal pictures, addresses and then sexual positions, often in less time than it takes to get served at a West End bar.
To condemn it however is to protest against the inevitable, since Gaydar’s methods will probably end up being adopted by everyone from 18-30 dating agencies to golden oldie matchmakers. And, judging by the passionate envy on display, its sexual mores will soon follow.
Oscar Wilde once famously defined a moralist as someone who likes to lecture on the evils of vices of which he has grown tired. In this accelerated age, a moralist is someone who likes to lecture on the evils of vices that they are about to try. However, as a (mostly) former internet cruiser, I’d like to report from the frontier of human degradation/innovation in the more traditional, Wildean form – as a sinner who has grown jaded.
If internet cruising is the future of dating, then there is certainly no future – or place – for romance. And probably no future for sex either.
At the height of the recent record-breaking summer heatwave, for old time’s sake, I visited the gay reservation of Hampstead Heath in the naive hope that the torrid weather might have made gays more more inclined to leave their pokey, humid bedrooms. But the Heath was deserted. There were one or two punters, but these were men of a certain age who had not yet figured out how to get online with the obsolete computer that a nephew off-loaded on them.
Now, call me old-fashioned, but what is the point of sex to a single homosexualist if it doesn’t get you out of the bloody house? On the hottest night of the year? Gays – all of them, every last one of them, especially those in relationships – are “logged on” with lob ons, looking for someone who will “travel” while they “accom”.
If Joe Orton had his time again his diaries would have been just printouts of thousands of Gaydar profiles and alarming digicam photos. I, for my part, look back on my pre-internet days of compulsive cruising of the Heath in the driving sleet and rain as a golden age of warmth, romance and human contact.
Moralists who protest at gay e-promiscuity should actually be encouraging the Government to provide gays with grants for permanent broadband connections, since the internet not only keeps them off the streets and out of the parks, it turns all that messy sexual energy and appetite into … typing. Gays have become the unpaid secretaries of desire, filing and cataloguing human weakness. Promiscuity is now a form of bureaucracy. Tedious, eye-straining, number-crunching slave work.
Don’t bother feeling jealous, all you sexually frustrated, non-online non-gays: internet cruising is its own form of punishment, Dante’s e-ferno where thousands of disembodied souls in e-ternal torment constantly prod one another with inquisitorial malice: “stats?”, “into?”, and “how big’s your cock?”
The evil of internet cruising – and the reason why it will become irresistibly, devastatingly mainstream – is precisely its efficiency. IT plus a wired world means lust can be much more productive, much more accurate, much more all-consuming, and much more pointless. Internet cruising allows you to pursue endlessly and ever more obsessively your ultimate “type”. Like an especially well-organised, if unfriendly, Roman orgy, there are chat rooms for every (legal) fetish and taste. Gaydar members can search the database on height, age, hirsuteness, ethnicity, hair colour, pec-size and sex role (passive, active, or versatile). Strangely, there isn’t a box to check for “twinkly eyes” or “great sense of humour”.
But efficiency is precisely what sex is not about. Sex is a journey where, if you’re lucky, you get lost – like Hampstead Heath on a foggy night. Arriving is not really the point, it’s the confusions, the collisions, the diversions that are (sometimes) rewarding. With internet cruising there’s ultimately no escape from your own desire. Even when you actually meet someone off the net – one of you, reluctantly, agreeing to leave the house – they never really exist, and nor do you. You are both merely each other’s computer-generated horny hologram, one that dissipates with orgasm – “Cheers! ‘Ave a good one mate!” is the universal, embarrassed e-kiss off.
The most familiar cliché/complaint about internet dating is that when they turned up “they weren’t the person in the picture”. The real disappointment is that they were exactly the person on the profile. To the inch. It was a profile rather than a person you met and got groinal with. You were tricked, not by the flakiness of others, but by the emptiness of your own desire.
And no matter how “hot” the sex was for both of you, and no matter how much you both say you can’t wait to do it again and even make explicit arrangements to do so, it won’t happen. Come the appointed time, you’ll both be online again, looking for another profile that more exactly matches your requirements. What the internet giveth, the internet taketh away.
You see, the real efficiency of online dating, just as with internet anything, is not the way it delivers you lots of pointless sex without leaving the house, but the way that it ensures that you will be spending more time on the internet. The web is a jealous lover, and will countenance no infidelity that lasts longer than a hurried shag with some data it has selected and loaned you for an hour or so. Like a Las Vegas casino, the internet always wins. I’ve never met Mr and Mr Gaydar, and don’t know anything about them except that they must, having figured out a way to tax gay lust, be living in a penthouse apartment atop their own luxury skyscraper in Manhattan.
This kind of fierce fidelity can’t be supported indefinitely, however. Something has to give. Martin Luther may have described marriage as a curative for lust, but today that role has been usurped by the internet. Burn-out is the inevitable consequence of on-line dating. Or heart attack. If I didn’t find myself cured of lust I certainly found myself disenchanted.
By allowing me to focus on the boring “sex” to the exclusion of the arousing “journey” or “travelling” aspect of desire, internet cruising and the spinning bedroom turnstile it brought, utterly demystified sex. It was like working as a hustler but for free, and having to do all that hard work of choosing your clients instead of the other way around. Unforgivably, the internet has deprived me of my most cherished illusion: my faith in sex.
Which is really unfair. I mean, what am I supposed to do with the rest of my life? Not that I expect anyone to feel much sympathy. But let my jadedness be a warning to you all: internet dating will ruin your sex life.
By giving you one.