When I first joined Gaydar – back in 2003 (dear God!) – I was a fairly lonely young RAF officer who had only recently come out to his colleagues. At the time I was based at a windswept radar station on the east coast of Scotland, 30 miles north of Aberdeen (or, as I liked to call it at the time, ‘civilisation’). For me, Gaydar was a lifeline; a way to meet other guys, to flirt, to ogle and to date. Looking through Gaydar’s garish orange windows was like looking into a world where I could be openly, fabulously gay.
Obviously, it also had its downside, in the ungainly shape of the serial willy-waver; the sort of guy who thinks a full-colour photograph of his arsehole is more likely to attract attention than his face – which might not always be so far from the truth. Until I’m chugging endless Rekorderligs in Soho, I’m a pretty sedate, polite guy; blurry digicam pics of sweaty man-bits really don’t do that much for me. Nor, as I learned, does that other Gaydar regular: the unwelcome proposition from faceless cruisers. ‘FUK M8?’ Errr… no thanks. I’d rather staple myself to Jan Moir.
While I was finding my Gaydar feet, I found my first date – a very sweet guy who travelled across half of Scotland to meet me. Amid the nervous preening, the panicky practice-chatting (don’t ask) and the endless fretting about my hair, I couldn’t help but feel cheerful about what that odd little website had done for me. Despite managing to get a tiny bit tipsy during the date – okay, I nearly vomited on his shoes – I felt like I was walking on air. Still, though the date went well, it didn’t go further. Retching is not erotic.
Eventually I tired of the weirdness and superficiality of a site that boils you down to a pageload of pixels, optimism and lust. The ‘encounters’, as our beloved Daily Mail would call them, became progressively more bewildering. I found myself on a date in Newcastle with a man who tried to pull my jeans down on Powerhouse’s flashing dancefloor. A particularly peculiar message from a gimp-masked ‘senior manager’ (aged 18 – impressive in so many ways) invited me to do things to him that could have made the final cut in Hostel. Ultimately, it was an unfortunate meet-up with a man who I suspect strangled pigeons for fun that finally broke my patience. When I left the RAF, I left Gaydar.
I didn’t miss it. I met a wonderful guy, and for the first time in years lived a life where the anonymity and entertainment of online dating seemed completely unnecessary. That’s wasn’t just down to monogamy; even unattached, if you’re looking for anonymous ‘encounters’ with trouser-pullers, pain lovers and pigeon stranglers, London seems to be the place to live. But old habits die hard. After we broke up, and following a two-year hiatus, I rejoined the ‘Dar, via Grindr and its sinister parade of headless torsos.
Why rejoin? I guess I could spend my time lurching around Soho in search of the sort of unhinged boy who finds my albatross-like dancing endearing (they do exist, poor souls), but something tells me that Gaydar has more to offer than shallow encounters and scary photos. Almost the first person I found myself chatting to was my Aberdeen date, who now lives with his boyfriend a mere fifteen minute walk away and seems to have forgotten the horror of my bilious dating debut.
Maybe there’s hope for me yet.