There are two sorts of people whose use of Twitter and Facebook is notable and interesting, but about whom little is written for fear of causing offence. The first is black tweeters, who have taken to Twitter like ducks to water, but about whose feisty tweet battles barely anything is said – in part because no one likes to talk about race, and in part, perhaps, because the hashtag wars dominated by some black male users can come across as so disturbingly sexist and misogynistic.
The other is homosexual men. Gay-specific social networks are both socially troubling and rich with comic potential, but it’s not on gay-oriented websites that the most sociologically compelling interactions are happening – at least, not any more. Because friends of Dorothy are re-colonising mainstream social networks for romantic (and pragmatic) purposes, adding a distinctive flavour of their own to traditionally heterosexual playgrounds.
This abandonment of sex-centric sites and services by the gay elite comes at an opportune time, as gay celebrities voice concerns that Grindr has had a devastating effect on gay culture by reducing footfall in clubs and elbowing lesbians and transgender people out of the conversation. They claim that a shared club culture that helped to glue these marginalised groups together in the past is being eroded by hook-up apps that focus exclusively on gay men.
After the successes of gay civil rights advocates in the last half-century, the ties that previously held gay men, lesbians and transgender people together in Britain were already beginning to weaken at the start of the decade. An unintended consequence of Grindr and its ilk was a fracturing of the LGBT scene, after decades in which widely disparate social groups were beginning to consider themselves part of the same community.
Speaking in her hotel room before a show in Dublin this weekend, transgender pop icon Amanda Lepore told The Kernel: “Yes, I think it’s true, it pushed people apart because it’s only gay men on there.”
“I don’t even bother going out any more,” says one 28-year-old London-based public relations executive with expertise in the gay entertainment sector. “I used to go to Heaven, the bars in Soho and maybe Vauxhall to pick up guys, but with Grindr, well. Now I hang out more with straight friends and women. I don’t think I’m alone in that.
“It’s also to do with how comfortable gay men are these days about their own sexuality. They don’t feel the need to identify with other gays so much. These days I’m more likely to go somewhere that plays music I actually enjoy, rather than follow the herd and go to a club just because it’s full of other gay men.”
Removing the largest subgroup from the equation left a vacuum in gay nightlife. It was a particular problem because gay men spend more than their lesbian and transgender counterparts: coupled with the recession, some gay pubs and clubs are now struggling to break even. At least four well-known gay pubs in Soho are understood to be on the brink of insolvency, and the so-called “golden era” of gay clubbing in London, remembered for Trade at Turnmills and DTPM at Fabric, is long dead.
Meanwhile, G-A-Y promoter Jeremy Joseph has been overheard saying that his tacky Porn Idol nights are a response to the new challenges of making money from gay men who are turning their back on conventional clubbing – in part because they no longer need to leave the house or office to find sex. Amping up the titillation with real-world nudity is one of the few ways nightclubs can compete with the ready availability of tans and torsos in every punter’s back pocket.
But, in so doing, Joseph pushed gay clubbing back into its seedy, sex-drenched and exploitative past, refashioning the gay clubbing experience along the model of a strip club and diverting attention from the musicians, DJs and performers struggling to make ends meet with reduced appearance fees and – shock, horror – economy class travel.
The pendulum is now swinging back, however. On the internet, Eurotrash-heavy social networks like A Small World, generally derided and often now abandoned by heterosexual high society, are being rediscovered by gays, the ego massages they provide enthusiastically welcomed by this new audience.
And it’s on more open, mainstream networks, that gay influence is being most keenly felt and can be readily observed. Gay men, never knowingly self-effacing about the results of their time in the gym, are discovering the benefits of sites like Twitter that enable them to show off to a global audience. And they’re discovering partners there, too: six of the ten twenty-something London professionals we interviewed for this article were in stable relationships with men they had discovered on Twitter or Facebook.
“Facebook is my Grindr,” says Lepore. “People are so sick of the weird people you meet on Grindr. On Facebook, I can get to know someone, investigate their friends and check them out properly before meeting.”
Jason, 32, an administrator from Camberwell, agrees: “I see what Grindr did to me and my friends, how it stopped us seeing each other, how I missed going out… I deleted the app. These days I get to know people on Twitter. Maybe Facebook too, although you can come across as a bit creepy sending unsolicited messages there.
“Basically I think Grindr was a bit of a disaster for gay men. I got plenty of sex out of it but it kind of killed my social life. I realised a bit too late that a quick fuck is no substitute for a good night out.”
Grindr’s user numbers continue to skyrocket as the app seeps into new markets elsewhere in the world. In many places, it has liberated gay men who would not otherwise have been able to meet or communicate with one another. But in those markets with thriving gay scenes, its hegemony in the dating environment has apparently come at some cost.
The tastemakers might have moved on. But could it be too late to rescue Grindr’s collateral damage?