Friday, February 23, 2007

Gaydar, or “The Thrill is Gone”

The death last week of Gary Frisch, the founder of the UK based on line gay dating service, “Gaydar,” and the outpouring of expressions of mourning from the gay community (topped only by that occasioned by the death of Lady Diana), has suggested an evaluation of the on line dating phenomenon. As an article in the Guardian on Frisch’s death states, on line dating has produced radical changes in the lives of perhaps millions of individual gay men and a radical change in our sense of community. Some of the benefits of on line dating are obvious; others are less so, but nonetheless important. Its drawbacks and dangers, however, while quite serious, are somewhat less readily apparent; moreover, it could be argued quite convincingly that when the pluses and minuses of on line dating are weighed together, we ultimately come out on the negative side.

One of the most obvious benefits of gay on line dating is that it facilitates contact between gay men living in small towns and cities with no gay facilities where they otherwise could meet. The guy in Moosejaw doesn’t have to wait until he can get to the big city to enjoy the company of another man; he can get in his car and drive a mere 50 or so miles to Slippery Rock to meet a guy he’s met on the net that evening. Of course, the guy might not be as sexy as he appeared in the dating service photo, or he may not even show up for the rendez- vous, but at least our horny lad from Moosejaw has a chance, even a good chance, to get his rocks off.

Even for guys in big cities, on line dating holds very definite advantages over the bars/ baths/ parks/ docks/ trucks, etc. It certainly is cheaper than the bars and baths, and safer--- at least in reference to marauding homophobic bands--- than the parks, docks, and trucks. Of course, in reference to safety, it is important to meet the guy you contacted on the net in a neutral place, a bar or a café, so you can chat with him in person for a few minutes; that will give you at least some chance of determining if you would be going home with a thief or a homicidal maniac. Actually, you are probably less likely to meet up with someone dangerous on the net, since it’s possible to leave an electronic trail of your contact. At least the smarter potential trouble- makers know that they can be traced.

But perhaps even more important than on line dating’s helping to overcome the practical problems of physical isolation, it helps to overcome the problems of emotional isolation. Many men of the pre- electronic generation complain that for years they thought that they, and the local hairdresser, were the only gay men in the world. Now, with large dating services such as Gaydar, the closeted, withdrawn, even the totally inexperienced gay man can see that even his kinkiest tastes and fantasies are shared by hundreds, if not thousands of men, some who live in his own neighborhood and are hot to meet him. Gaydar may not really help you to meet Mr. Right, or even dependably get your rocks off whenever you want, but with gay dating services, combined with gay blogging, no gay man need ever again to feel the sense of isolation that some of us felt before the development of electronic communication.

Those of you who have read my post on the pleasures and perils of gay blogging know that I am concerned with the complications relating to “keeping it real” caused by electronic communication. To be fair, however, some of the problems in this context are not exclusive to on line dating. There were problems in this regard even in the bar and bath scene; many of us remember the mind fuckers in the bars who would engage us in heady, sexy conversation for hours and then disappear into the night when it came time for any action; or the cock teasers in the baths who would cruse everyone but never connect with anyone. They probably are on the net now, engaging you in sexy dialogue, making appointments, and then breaking them, or never even showing up--- essentially the same problem we had in bars and baths, and perhaps even with the same neurotic people.

Of course, the electronic dating services are the mind fuckers’ paradise, with possibilities way beyond what is possible in a bar or bath. Not really wanting to connect physically or emotionally with anyone, a mind fucker can invent a sexy persona that may or may not be at all similar to himself. Sometimes he even posts a fake picture. There’s nothing wrong in wanting to live out one’s fantasies and to imagine someone else excited by them, but this is essentially a game at someone else’s expense and without the other person’s consent.

As one becomes a bit more practiced in the manipulation of electronic dating, he also becomes more skillful in identifying the mind fuckers and out and outright frauds. “Keeping it real,” however, is a problem even in cases where the parties involved try to be sincere and truthful in their presentation of themselves.

The projection of oneself through just words and a few photographs is, in most cases, very difficult for the person not to control subconsciously. When we meet someone in an actual social context, in a bar, through friends, or even in a bathhouse or in a park, we project ourselves by what we say about ourselves spontaneously (in contrast to the contrived verbal presentations in our Gaydar adds), which is only partially under our control, and our body language, facial expression, etc., which are sometimes even less under our control. Our interlocutor has a fighting chance to see us, understand us, and react emotionally; we, in turn, must react spontaneously to him.

Contrast this type of interchange with that taking place between even the most sincere, frank, and honest people on the net. The verbal presentations are almost always carefully calculated, as are the responses. They are just as likely to correspond more to what the sender wants to be than what he actually is, and they are calculated to produce a specific, desired reaction. The photos, even if they are of the person involved, are also calculated to project the image of the sender wants to project. We are sending essentially the image of what we want to be, even when we are trying to be honest. All of this misrepresentation can occur without any conscious lying on anyone’s part.

The projection of this level of unreality can lead to something much worse than a disappointing evening. We all fall in love not with a 100% authentic person, but with a combination of that person and our projections of our own needs onto the other person. It supposedly takes about two years in most cases, for most of the vestiges of that projection to wear off. In relationships that work, the partners then proceed to love each other more or less “authentically.”

In relationships that begin on the net, a guy can very easily fall in love not only with his own projection, but also with the image that his partner is projecting, which may have more to do with what he wants to be than with what he is. This is also possible in actual encounters, but the likelihood is much greater with relationships that begin on the net. While there is a level of “unreality” to most love affairs, that level is much more complex and difficult to unravel when a meeting and the development of the relationship takes place electronically.

It has also been quipped that sites such as Gaydar have broken up more relationships than they have brought together. This is true not only because on line dating makes extra marital liaisons more available; it presents you with a selection of potential paramours that even the greatest lover on earth couldn’t consistently, successfully compete with. In the development of your relationship, you and your partner have stripped away your illusions about each other and about yourselves, but the on line paramours are open to all your, and their projections. Even if their photos aren’t air- brushed or professionally posed and lighted, most photos try to show their subject at what he feels is his sexiest. Simply stated, reality will have a hard time competing with fantasy. Even if you don’t contact or try to make a liason with one of the sexy guys on the net, cruising around the site and taking in the highly charged, over simplified sexuality the guys there project presents a real risk of diminishing your partner just a bit in your eyes. Unlike your partner, the guys on the net don’t leave the top off of the toothpaste tube. Not much good can come of this.

Don’t get me wrong. Far be it for me to diminish the role of fantasy in our lives! If sex is the spice of life, sexual fantasy is the hot pepper. But with sites such as Gaydar, the fantasy is created by supposedly real men out there, who also claim to be, or sometimes actually are, available, thus blurring the boundaries between fantasy and reality. Lots of couples in stable relationships spice up their sex lives by looking at pornography together or going together to a place with a sexually charged atmosphere. But the fantasies generated by such events are clearly fantasies, appreciated and enjoyed as such. They are quite different from the fantasies generated by sites such as Gaydar, which claim to be real and realizable.

These problems would be of diminished importance if on line dating could coexist comfortably with the more traditional ways of meeting and making contact with potential sexual partners. But as many of us have experienced, and as the Guardian article brings out, on line dating has resulted in the radical contraction of the more traditional contact possibilities. In many cities gay bars have closed down and open air cruising areas have disappeared; they can’t compete with the comfort and ease, not to mention the economic advantages, offered by the on line sites. Gay human relations, as are all human relations, are difficult enough, in and of themselves, to keep from flying off into a whirlwind of fantasies and projections. Now that we are forced, more and more, to make contact through the abstracted world of Gaydar and its like, our hope of really being able to connect with people, not just as tricks or lovers, but even as friends, seems to be fading.

This gradual transfer of our emotional lives to the virtual, electronic world not only threatens to rob our lives of substance, it also takes away much of the thrill of encounter. Less and less frequently will we be able to experience the heart stopping excitement of a glance from a sexy stranger across a crowded room, or bathe in the warmth of his smile. When I met my partner (It was at a gay beach), we talked for about two hours, the intellectual, emotional and sexual excitement building by the minute. That, my friends, just doesn’t happen on the internet.

What to do? I don’t really know. But it’s quite clear that there’s no going back. Somehow we’ll have to find a way to rebuild our ability to connect with each other in a thrilling and substantial way in the context of, or perhaps despite, electronic communication.

15 Comments:

Blogger Lotuslander said...

The most evil gay person I've ever met lived in Moose Jaw, and you'd be surprised how many gay people live there. We are everywhere.

10:23 AM  
Blogger thephoenixnyc said...

Interesting and wonderfully written as always. I wonder though. It seems that what you are talking more about is the internet providing for a wider, better and more supportive gay community.

The dating bit is a benefit as well, just as it has been for breeders (I met my wife on Match LOL).

3:38 PM  
Blogger Bruce said...

Phoenix,

As you say, the internet does provide some very definite advantages. But for me, the key word in your comment is "supportive."

As I've said in other posts and comments, real support for me involves committment and responsibility. It is, of course, very important for the isolated gay man to feel that he is not alone in his sexual choice and desires. The internet clearly provides that confirmation. But whether people he has never met, about whom he really knows very little, and who can disappear from his life with the click of a mouse actually constitute support?--- Well, I'm not so sure.

The illusion of support is quite clearly there, and thereby, it can even have temporary positive effects. But, as I have said in my blog on gay blogging, such electronic support, which comes quite easily, can lure some people away from forming real friendships and attachments, which can be fifficult and messy.

4:06 PM  
Blogger Todd HellsKitchen said...

I recently gave up on Online Dating altogether...

And bars, too...

For me, it's about Gay Clubs, or Activity groups...

That's where you can have a conversation that doesn't start based completely on sex.

5:28 PM  
Blogger Bruce said...

Todd,

There are lots of strong arguements to support your "game plan." Sure, there are lots of great, long lasting relationships that have started in sexually charged environments, but meeting someone in more neutral, natural territory makes it easier to integrate affection and emotional compatibility with sexual attraction.

Of course, Gay activities and social groups are probably best suited for this purpose, but even bars and other gay venues (as I said, I met my partner at a gay beach) do offer some possibilities. You and your potential partner don't have to buy into the sexual frenzy of such places, although I realize it's hard not to. My partner and i met at the beach, talked for two hours about non overtly sexual topics, exchanged telephone numbers, and arranged to have dinner a few days later.

But with on line dating, it's only about sex. There are really very few options.

2:12 AM  
Blogger Joshua said...

You have too much time to think :)

2:21 AM  
Blogger Joshua said...

What I'm driving at is that people are not that stupid! For example, I've interacted with a few on the net who I thought may be a love interest. I immediately require they show me their face on the cam. I also require regular phone conversations; once it's established that a connection is there. That's the best one can do if the person you are attracted to doesn't live in your town. And most people do this. You often write like we are fools which need to be educated by you LOL What's up with that?

2:43 AM  
Blogger Bruce said...

Joshua,

The amount of time one spends thinking is not a function of how much time one has for that purpose, but rather how much time one makes and the priorities one sets. Many people with very few obligations spend very little time thinking, while others, with very full lives, still devote a good deal of their lives to thought. From your comment one might get the impression that you do not place a very high value on thought; I sincerely hope that such an impression is mistaken and that you do not share the antiintellectualism that plagues much of contemporary American society.

And no, I do not believe that my readers are fools. I know many very intelligent and even worldly wise men who have been drawn into the illusory eroticism and promises of affection purveyed on the internet. Intelligent and sophistication don't always protect us from the effects of loneliness, despiration, or simply the force of our hormones.

In addition, if you read my post carefully you will see that I do allow for the development of a certain degree of skill in detecting fraudes or willful deceivers on the net. The dangers of beginning and allowing a relationship to develop on the net are much more subtle and not necessarily handled by the tactics you describe.

Moreover, what I really lament in the post is not just the emotional dangers involved but rather the net's role in reducing the availability of more "real" and potentially thrilling ways of meeting a guy for an interesting trist or the love of your life.

5:29 AM  
Blogger Joshua said...

No it isn't any of that Bruce. It's just that you have all this ambivalence over the net. Rather than deciding where you stand on blogging (whether you want to continue or not) - you choose to write censorious commentary about the rest of the internet population. You talked a lot about projection in your latest story. Me thinketh Lady MacBeth Protest too much; that's all. As far as your attempt at insulting my intellect. I too watch. I've been watching you for a while, and it seems like you spend a lot of time trying to cut others apart. People like that are usually hiding something. But then again - what do I know - being an unintellectual American and all???

12:33 PM  
Blogger Joshua said...

I guess what i'm trying to say is that just because it doesn't work for you (I mean obviously it doesn't as you provide no picture of yourself, no email address, as far as I know you've never shown your face on a cam or talked on the telephone) doesn't mean that one should rain on the parade of people who find it enriching. Many bloggers have met. I'm going to San Francisco in JUNE where I'll be meeting 100's of people who I've interacted with by way of blogging and telephone. That's real and viable. A real-life friendship can as quickly disappear, and deception abounds in reality - as well. There are no absolutes in or off the net; but you speak as though non-net life is absolute. As far as meeting a love interest. I'm too old-fashioned to put my bets on the net. If it happened, that would be cool. But I'm not counting or relying on it. But I will add that I have 5 straight friends who've been married for years - that met on the net. I have 2 gay friends, who met their partners on the net. One of them has been coupled for 12 years!

12:54 PM  
Blogger Bruce said...

Joshua,

I think you have missed much of the point of my post. Please read it agin carefully.

Also, I have no problem with disagreement, even very strong disagreement, with the ideas put forth in my posting. I do, however, find personal attacks uncalled for. For the sake of openness, I will let what you have already written stand. However, if the personal attacks persist, I will have to remove such comments, not because they particularly bother me, but because they distract from the level of argument I want to develop in my blog.

I have developed my blog to exchange ideas and observations on gay issues of interest to me and, I hope, of interest to others. I have made it clear that I do not consider it to be a vehicle for personal expression or a way to form personal contacts. I have no problem with others using their blogs as they see fit; However, I must insist on using mine according to my own designs.

12:57 AM  
Blogger Joshua said...

I'm sorry you felt as if I were attacking you. I don't think I'll return :) It is odd to me - to criticize what other blogger's choose to do - when you offer nothing personal about yourself; whatsoever. Good luck to you.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Oso Raro said...

Oooo, the drama! Have I wandered onto a Lesbian site? LOL I'm sorry Joshua didn't get what you were trying to communicate here. Your post is interesting in that it does touch upon some of the strange effects of the internet on gay communities, although I think our interests in that phenomenon are probably slightly different.

I was never a big fan of GayDar, although I know several who were/are. I used other, companion services in my salad days, and since I started an online life in earnest sometime around 1998, certainly consider myself someone who has been around the block (more than once) in the internet scene.

My private notion is that online culture has actually returned us to a pre-Stonewall state, where lies, falsehood, and dissimulation are the prominent and preeminent themes (the closet, rough trade, anonymity and fear). Online culture has relieved the closeted from being forced to look in the social mirror, and enabled a large number of men to participate in gay sexual culture while maintaining their privileges in the closet, often married to women.

It has also had a networking or social aspect, especially for out gay men, as well as giving a certain amount of validation/support to men struggling over their sexuality. So there are positive aspects to the phenomenon. However, for the most part the devolution of that potential into cock and ass shots, the incredibly detailed and laundry-list like desires on display, the fast food sex aspects of online culture (which mimic but accelerate what was already going on in the 1970s) are both pleasurable and cause for concern, as well as redolent of the depoliticisation of gay sexual politics rapidly following Stonewall (Out of the streets and into the Baths, might have been a nice slogan).

Online culture, because it is not material, can reflect fantasy more often than not, something your post speaks to in terms of mind-fucking. Again, not so much something new as an aspect greatly accelerated by the phenomenon. In the end, online territory is the new frontier for gay men, and you're correct in observing the need to deal with it, on some level or another, rather than attempting to dismiss it. But I find that as a whole it offers not so much redemption as a distraction that is apolitical, fantastical, and dangerous to those who cannot approach it skeptically.

My two cents...

9:42 AM  
Blogger Bruce said...

Oso,

Thanks so much for your comment. Your point that on line dating actually helps men to stay in the closet is one that I frankly had not noticed, but it is obviously valid.

I think we both can agree that "keeping it real" is one of our major problems, at least in the West, in the first decades of the XXI century, and that electronic communication has to be taken into consideration in the development of any approach to this problem.

3:16 PM  
Anonymous Impact of Technology said...

thanks for sharing,great post.

10:35 PM  

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