I’m no psychic but I’m willing to wager there’s a gay man somewhere on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean wishing he’d never introduced Paris Hilton to Grindr. It was as the result of an alcohol-fuelled conversation in the back of a taxi that Hilton, not renowned for her tact or subtlety, has found herself embroiled in a scandal over some rather unfortunate comments about the ‘sleazier’ side of the smartphone.
For those of you who have been living in the far reaches of Greenland without 3G for the past week, Hilton, in response to her gay friend’s explanation of his use of Grindr to elicit easy sex, stated: ‘Ewww. Eww. To get f**ked? Gay guys are the horniest people in the world…They’re disgusting. Dude, most of them probably have AIDS.’ Later she’s heard saying, ‘I would be so scared if I were a gay guy…You’ll, like, die of AIDS’. The twittersphere and beyond positively imploded under the weight of those taking to their keyboards to denounce Hilton as ‘homophobic’ and ‘ignorant’.
If one stops spewing projectile bile in Hilton’s direction for a second and considers the context of the conversation, then the furious reaction in certain quarters may turn out to be a tad excessive. This was a supposedly private conversation between Hilton and her gay friend in the back of a taxi. Anyone acquainted with Grindr will know that, to the outsider looking in, the fact you can log onto the app and get laid within the hour can appear seedy, to say the least . It could be argued that choosing to introduce a friend to the app in such a casual fashion is bound to provoke such a reaction. Yes, the language used was less than eloquent, but given the context of the situation, did anyone expect Hilton, or many others for that matter, to simply say ‘Oh, that sounds interesting’? No – I would stake good money on Hilton’s friend sharing his experience of Grindr with her precisely to provoke the kind of reaction he got. Indeed, it may well be that Hilton merely substituted the word ‘you’ for ‘gay guys’ to spare her friend’s feelings. That’s what friends do.
How many of us have been in the situation where we have made slightly crude comments to our straight friends? How many gay men have made offensive remarks about lesbians and vice versa? That does not automatically make you hetero- or lesbiphobic. Given that Hilton had been partying into the early hours with this gay friend, I think it is safe to say that the charges of homophobia levelled against her are unfounded.
Perhaps what lies at the heart of this whole furore is the issue of what we gay men ‘expect’ from our straight female friends. Observing the average ‘gay man-fag hag’ relationship can throw up a veritable encyclopaedia of fascinating psycho-social quandaries. Is it beyond the realms of possibility that Paris Hilton has become something of an icon to some gay men precisely because she fulfils some key criteria in the aforementioned relationship? If so, it is easy to understand why the reaction is so fervent when she veers off course from the typical ‘fag hag’ persona. On this occasion, it seems that Hilton has overstepped her remit by responding to a friend’s boast of being able to obtain casual, anonymous sex using his smartphone. How rude.
Cut through the hyperbole, however, and there may some uncomfortable elements – and I stress, just elements – of truth in Paris Hilton’s ill-chosen words in that taxi. Are you more likely to expose yourself to the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS through regular casual sex with strangers? Yes. Are gay men more at risk than many others? Absolutely. To deny those facts would be to cover your ears to medical science. While Hilton’s remarks were brimming with crass generalisations, most notably the lack of the word ‘some’ before ‘gay guys are the horniest people in the world’, only the most hyper-reactive of sensationalists would claim intentional homophobia on Hilton’s part.
Worth further contemplation here is what the response to Hilton’s drunken statements tells us about our relationship with HIV/AIDS. Experience tells me that many gay men respond with blind contempt when any suggestion is made that they are more susceptible to the virus than others. While I totally understand the desire to distance oneself from the horrors of HIV/AIDS, I would suggest that it is only by taking partial ownership of the disease that we will ultimately consign the burden of stigma to the dustbin of history. Stigma is precisely what keeps many gay men from undergoing regular tests for the illness. Until we, as gay men, accept that as a social group, we are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, we run the risk of perpetuating the veil of shame which has blighted so many sufferers over the years.
While accepting that what Paris Hilton said that night was inappropriate, it is undeniable that at least some of the circumstances are mitigating, not least the fact that this was intended to be a private conversation with a friend. Inebriation will not have helped Hilton to articulate her thoughts eloquently either. Many will express shock at her having any thoughts at all, frankly. In Hilton’s defence – and a small piece of me dies each time I plead her case, believe me – anyone introduced to the ‘delights’ of Grindr for the first time could be forgiven for being slightly baffled by its seeming promotion of easily obtainable, casual sex in this day in age. Naturally, it would be highly insidious to presume that all Grindr users log in for anonymous liaisons, or that such encounters are inherently wrong. It is, of course, also hugely misguided to suppose that safer sex is not the norm among Grindr fanatics. Who is qualified to make such a judgement? Not me – and certainly not Paris Hilton.
What we are dealing with here is a drunken ramble between two friends at the end of a night out. Perhaps Hilton is disgusted by the idea of an app, one function of which might be to find a willing partner for a ‘quick fix’. That’s her right. Did she express herself elegantly? No. Is that what gay men want and expect from her? I think not.