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Digital closet: Why Grindr and other apps show how far we are from true equality

Digital closet: Why Grindr and other apps show how far we are from true equality

Phones with hook-up apps

I consider myself a late-comer to the whole dating app scene.

Despite having an iPhone for several years, it was only after my last relationship broke up in 2014 that I decided to dip my toes in the water of Grindr, Growlr, Planet Romeo, et al, to see what all the fuss was about.

Whatever you want to call them (hook-up apps, dating apps, introduction apps), GPS-assisted digital dating often provokes a strong reaction, despite the fact that it’s increasingly the way in which many people meet one another.

A study from 2013 estimated that a third of US marriages are now the result of online dating. Other research from the same year found that 59% of Americans polled regarded online dating as ‘A good way to meet people’.

Last month, it was announced was snapping up PlentyOfFish for a whopping $575million, demonstrating the sort of money involved in online introductions. Rumors abound that Grindr, with its 5million users, is preparing to sell.

Like it or loathe it, digital dating is here to stay.

However, besides the money that is to be made from hooking people up online, what has struck me more is how it has widened the type of men I’ve come into contact with; and how many of them are still in the closet.

Gay online: straight in life

I’ve met more men in the past year who keep their sexuality a secret than I have in the past two decades; a fact that I find shocking.

Living in London in 2015, where gay people have the same rights as every other citizen, and where we’ve enjoyed legal recognition of our partnerships for the past 10 years, I’d kind of assumed that most gay people are out these days.

I now realize that was naïve of me; the privileged viewpoint of an urban-dwelling gay man living in one of the world’s biggest metropolis who has been working in the liberal environment of the media for the past 20 years.

Of course, many people still choose not to be out in every area of their life – such as the workplace, for example, but given the increasing number of role models and LGBT representation in the media, I thought things were changing for younger generations.

When I started dating guys in the late 80s, I met those men in gay bars. The very fact that they ventured into gay bars made it more likely that they were out to some degree in their lives. I knew that some individuals kept themselves ‘off-scene’, but because bars and clubs were where I did my socializing, I never really met those people.

It continued this way in the 90s and 00s. Now, with GPS-dating apps, the closeted and non-closeted cross paths with much more ease.

I recently met a man for a sort-of-date in central London. He was in his mid-20s. We arranged to meet in a coffee shop. We seemed to hit it off, and I suggested we move on to a nearby gay bar, and he politely but firmly refused, saying that he couldn’t do that, ‘in case someone saw him.’

Then there was a 40-something guy who messaged me from Texas. It was only after several days of conversation that he confided that he wasn’t actually out to anyone. He worked as a teacher and considered it too risky.

Another guy told me that despite being gay he had a girlfriend and, ‘would probably get married’, as he wanted to have kids and it was expected of him by his family.

Another told me he’d been married to his wife for 30 years; something of a passion-killer.

Then there was the other guy – this one again in his late 20s – who messaged me via Growlr. Lengthy messaging ensued, but I was aware that he avoided providing any personal details about himself, including where he came from or what exactly he did for a living. By this stage, I was beginning to wise up; again, eventually, he told me he was deep in the closet.

And why?

‘It’s complicated,’ is nearly always the reply.

In my experience it’s rarely ‘complicated’; One stays in the closet because one fears the reaction of others.

Then again, I’m not in their position so who am I to judge? It just makes me realize that I’ve been lucky, and how far we have to go in achieving true equality.

We can change laws, but changing laws is not enough. Changing hearts and minds will take much, much longer and be considerably more difficult.

What more do you want?

‘You’ve got gay marriage – what more do you want?’

So asked someone on a Facebook post I spotted recently.

Well, have you ever heard of a heterosexual person who kept their sexuality a secret? A straight person that was ashamed to tell their family that they are attracted to people of the opposite sex?

Thousands of LGBT people, in countries such as the US and UK, still choose to remain in the closet. The situation is far worse in Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East and Africa.

Online dating is a good thing. Thanks to GPS-technology, gay people now have amazing opportunities to meet one another and to fall in love. But it also highlights that gay people continue to live very, very different lives – some of which continue to be hidden from view.

What more do we want?

A world in which nobody feels ashamed to be gay. It’s that simple.


David Hudson
David Hudson