I felt incredibly fragile as I watched the beautiful blonde man stood in front of me. Naked and holding a knife to his throat – he was considering whether or not to take his life.
When he finally lifted the sharp blade away from his delicate neck, there was an indentation in his skin where he had held it so tight.
The pain in that short moment, felt like the culmination of a lifetime of shame – had finally exploded.
Watching Consumables, the story of the pornstar and escort Blaze who meets his leather daddy client for the first time – I very quickly got to thinking about my relationship with online hookups.
Because alongside the raw kinky and at times violent sex this play explores, there is a surprising sense of vulnerability that permeates its entire narrative.
And that’s because at their heart, though these two characters had met in person; they did so in pursuit of something more complicated than sex. They did it because they were lonely.
They met online, like so many of us do
Are you more of a chemsex or chamomile tea gay?
Online it doesn’t matter because it’s easy to find every subculture and niche.
In Consumables, two unlikely friends are brought together by the internet. But ultimately, neither really found what they were looking for.
When I caught up with the writer Matthew Baskott after the play, it quickly became obvious why it had spurred me to think about hookups. Baskott’s own online hookups had directly inspired the play.
Admitting in our chat, ‘I have a complex relationship with dating apps.’
Don’t we all.
He told me, ‘On the one hand, they liberated me. They meant that I no longer felt shame about what I wanted sexually. Suddenly there was a whole open world out there, where every persuasion was catered for.
‘But, for someone like me who was really just craving acceptance, defining myself as a sexual fetish or product became a trap. I began to believe that the only reason anyone would want me was because of the things that I was into.’
We often refer to the internet as a liberating and democratizing place. And a lot of the time it is.
However, just like any platform, it’s down to the way us humans use them that truly shapes our relationship with them.
Let’s take Grindr, it’s the app of choice for many gay men after all.
For many, it brought cruising into the digital age and lets us find gays anywhere in the world. And for many others, it opened a world we could have never even hoped to tap into before.
But when the platform reduces our complicated beings to a mere digital avatar – is it any wonder we up-sell ourselves to get us beyond the digital contact, to an in real life, ‘IRL’ hook-up.
Is Grindr racist, or are we?
Last week I attended the open-mic night Let’s Talk About Gay Sex and Drugs, which had the theme of Grindr.
‘No fats, femmes, Asians or blacks? Well as I’m all of those things, I guess that makes me the Grindr anti-christ’ the Trinidad and Tobago activist Jason Jones exclaims.
The evening covered many examples of how the dating app, was part of the issues our community grapples with.
They might not be something we all see of do, but from racism to chemsex – to loneliness; Grindr is at least part of the mess that feeds all of these facets of modern gay life. Does this mean it’s up to them to change things?
So if the app is part of those stories, does this mean it’s up to them to change things?
Afterall, ultimately it’s us as humans that truly shape the Grindr experience. Indeed any community online and offline.
If we are racist, use drugs or even something more innocent, like being fan of the new Steps album – it’s likely this will permeate our conversations and follow us online into the apps.
For me where platforms should take action and step in, is when they have a duty to protect their users.
It’s a debate we hear about all the time in the UK. We have some of the toughest laws on trolling and there is much discusion on whether the sliding scale of responsibility should be tipped towards tplatformsrms or the people using them.
Just today, UK ministers announced plans for a tax on those who face ‘undeniable suffering’ on their platforms.
However, I feel it’s arbitrary for the platforms to decide what harm is.
When we’re the ones who use the platforms, shouldn’t we be driving this conversation?
We’re the ones who have faced the homophobia, shame and the hiding.
Yes Grindr should do more, but the multi-billion dollar company shouldn’t be allowed to do it on their own.
Our community should be leading that conversation.
Loneliness is universal
David Stuart the Chemsex lead at 56 Dean Street also spoke at the open mic night. His call to action was: ‘be kinder on Grindr.’
Catching him after, we got to chatting about all the suggestions we’d have for the platform if we had the chance to sit down and speak to them about it. I bet you have a few too?
If we want Grindr to be a place that can liberate us, maybe it’s time for some old-fashioned activism to get us there.
Because right now, it’s a space that is amplifying the pain that we feel offline by keeping our kinks and labels categorized and shamed.
And as for the racism and other woes; to take an addiction phrase, we can’t do a geographical with online spaces – our problems will follow us.
Even though online spaces can help us to find new people, we’ll only be liberated when those connections become meaningful.
If they are only ever fleeting conversations about fucks, buttholes and swapping dick pics – are we really getting everything out of this platform we’re looking for?
It’s time for us to take the initiative. Liberation is the LGBTI communities bread and butter. So let’s stop moaning about platforms being the problem, and recognize it’s up to us to kick-start the change.
The reason I felt such an affinity with the story of a twink escort and his leather daddy is because they were lonely for the same reason I am – they were looking for meaningful connections in a place that right now isn’t able to deliver them.
Let’s do what queers do best and take the action for our community – that others won’t.
Jamie is Gay Star News’ Young Voices Editor – Follow @jamie_wareham on twitter
Consumables is playing at the Kings Head Theater in London all this week.