I’ve probably read too much gay fiction from the Seventies or Eighties to be as fascinated as I am with the seedy, anonymous hook-up spots that most cities still have these days. Be it around the back of the swimming pool, as was the case in a city I used to live in, parking lots off motorways or public parks, those places saw a lot of the action when being gay was still too taboo to happen in broad daylight. They still see some action now, particularly from folks who can’t or don’t want to be out about who they’re into.
For the most part though, the purely sex-focused hook-ups got the more social add-on of the gay pubs and bars, booming in the Eighties and Nineties. Both as face-to-face meeting spaces to talk amongst yourselves and as a place to find someone you could take home for the night or more, a large part of the gay scene stumbled from the dark of the parks into the bright lights of the nightlife.
Gay relationships and gay life happens in the mainstream these days, gay couples alongside straight couples a regular sight at least in the big cities of the world. While it’s far from universal and homophobia still lurks even in those places, gay social life is no longer hiding in the dark.
While pubs and bars are still somewhat of a staple of gay social life for a certain demographic, most of the younger generation sticks to the clubs and/or, as all other social interaction these days, to internet hooks-up. In the days of Gaydar or Grindr, with Craigslist already mostly a thing of the past, with a blowjob or “just looking for a chat” being a thumb press on your smartphone away (cleverly sorted by proximity), many of the older generation of gay folks lament the death of social interaction with pubs and bars being forced to close for lack of customers.
What separate social spaces used to offer was a sense of community and a sense of shared experience aside from the mainstream. The question is though, with gay life turning into part of the life of the mainstream, how necessary and needed are separate and secluded community spaces? The Facebook generation shares its life in bite sized status updates, usually unfiltered to their 500+ friends — how much does this demographic of the socially and sexually active need its own sexual spaces?
They’d likely argue that they don’t. Their social lives don’t discriminate by sexual orientation and if they want to find someone for a spot of sex, well, there are ways about that. A great deal of social interaction happens at the crossroads of the virtual and the physical world and Grindr just provides the hook-up equivalent to Facebook, occupying a similar space and allowing to make up the disadvantage in numbers by seeking out the specific interest, be it type or preferred interaction, penis size, top or bottom or just friendship.
Gay (sex) life no longer occupies a spot that is necessarily separate to that of straight sex life — Grindr is expanding into the straight hook-up market as we speak.
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Life on the dole in a dying town is defined by drinking when you can, smoking to pass the time, and, if you’re gay, going down to the barracks at the old port to get some. Iwan’s got the cigarettes and the booze down pat, but he lacks experience, which has him sticking to online porn and watching other people.
Everyone else seems to have moved past getting what they want, while all Iwan can think of is what could go wrong. He knows who he is, regardless of labels. But no matter how often his best friend Lyn tells him to just go for it, he doesn’t trust other people to see past his mismatched body.
Paying for what he’s afraid to get for free is a long shot, but it’s better than just watching, and it’s better than porn. It doesn’t change the world he lives in, but it changes him.
Elyan Smith lives in the southwest of England. He works in research during the day and spends most of his free time writing LGBT fiction. Portside is Elyan’s debut release. You can find him at his Website and his Twitter, and purchase a copy of Portside at Riptide Publishing.
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