Being gay has never been more mainstream in the UK and, rightly so, young people feel empowered and able to come out as LGBTQ+ at a time that is right for them. With the government and major corporations in full support, we have everything to be proud about, but what about people who just might not be proud at all and in fact are living in secret either by choice or self-imposed necessity?
Growing up gay and living in rural England can be a lonely place. If you’re not living in a satellite town of a major city the chances of bumping into someone like you is slim to none. The emergence of smart phones changed all that, with dating apps springing up for people of every age and walk of life, there is a rich cornucopia of different sites to choose from, depending on your preferences, the first and main one is Grindr.
On the surface, it is an app for gay men for meeting other gay men. This very much a male (and occasionally trans) dominated arena. By using your GPS location you can see who is close to you, chat and maybe arrange to meet up with anyone who takes your fancy. You can see their picture if they have chosen to use one and using private messages you discuss your likes and dislikes and take it from there. No matter how it may be marketed, it is seen as primarily a ‘hook up’ app where no rules of social engagement seem to apply.
In the shadows
The key word here is ‘discreet’. Discreet is a code word that they are on Grindr for secret meet ups and they are not publicly out or they have a reason not to want to be found out.
On Grindr you are free to name your profile in any way you please, often even stating ‘Married4Now’ or ‘Bi-Curious’ etc and there are also various categories to be found in your ‘blurb’. Most people are honest on this front. If you don’t have your own picture on there then it doesn’t matter if you have entered ‘Relationship Status: Married’ as you’re pretty untraceable. A simple few questions into the conversation they would freely admit that they are with or married to a woman.
If you are an ostensibly straight man living and working in a town that’s a million miles away from a thriving gay scene, there was no outlet for someone in such a predicament until smart phones.
Clandestine meetings are not unusual throughout the UK
It’s almost like a compartmentalisation of their feelings. They already have the guilt of having homosexual feelings so acting on it is just a way of relieving the pressure in order to not feel depressed.
We already know how repressed homosexuality can be deadly. With suicide being the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, something as large as this can wreak untold damage on someone’s mental health. Could it be that being on Grindr actually provides the relief that people need to go back to their regular lives?
Essentially being on a dating app is with a view to finding someone and getting off it. A ‘regular’ gay person is always striving to find someone that would facilitate getting off the app altogether. In fact, most modern day gay men look down on it as a last resort, to address the basest of instincts. There are so many other dating apps that aren’t centred around sex and discretion that there is only really one reason to be on it, to hook up.
Married men hook-ups
So if you’re a straight man already in a relationship with a woman, you aren’t there for dates, you are there for one thing.
Being on the app can of course render men vulnerable. In February 2019 in Perth, Scotland, a man was convicted of blackmail after trying to extort money from someone he had met on Grindr, threatening to expose him.
One of the benefits of Grindr is the ability to ‘block’ someone. While it’s used regularly by most people on there to end a conversation or when you don’t like or fancy someone. If they think someone is getting too close, blocking wipes out the conversation and any pics they might have sent. Of course, you can screen grab but for the most part, a straight married man can pull the plug and any worries can be annulled there and then essentially.
Is gay shame a thing of the past?
Is this the last generation whereby growing up with the stigma that came from being gay now simply isn’t there so you wouldn’t feel the need to get married and hide your true self? The majority of these men are in their mid-thirties to late forties meaning they were in their formative years in the late eighties and nineties.
The world was a different place for gay people back then with almost no positive representation in the media and if being gay wasn’t bad enough, the stigma of HIV and AIDS brought with it the threat that it could even kill you. With the medical advances now, HIV isn’t a death sentence and can be repressed with drug to undetectable levels. So will the amount of men in this situation dwindle as they feel more able to come out or to live in a more modern family structure with single sex parents for example?
One’s first instinct is to immediately see the man as a cheater and no amount of reasoning can escape the fact that they are being unfaithful to their spouses. Get past the initial crude advances and not far beneath the surfaces are men resigned to living a double life.
More than meets the eye
Would coming out be the answer or would that be tearing these men’s families apart. Of course it’s not uncommon for this to happen late in life but we are at an age where when they got married they were at the cusp of it all, a mere ten years later and they could have felt emboldened to ‘live their true selves’. Ultimately being gay or bisexual isn’t a choice but to hide it is.
Whether they wanted to live a life of 2.4 children and knew they couldn’t or they wanted to fulfil their parents’ wishes at a time when they felt being gay wasn’t an option, it’s clear that underneath the bravado there is pain. Some of these men find themselves in a situation they can’t see a way out of. It’s easy to judge but spare a thought for the men that cannot be honest with themselves or their family for whatever reason it may be.