I think it was the great man of letters Jean Paul Sartre, who said: Hell is other people on Grindr. In a country such as Portugal, where the weight of the closet can even be felt even amongst those who consider themselves ‘out’, plunging into the emotional trenches can often be an unpleasant experience, overrun by the headless at their most toxic.
So, thanks to a certain amount of frustration with practically everything circling me, I downloaded another app, Scruff. It wasn’t long before I was being bombarded with messages and woofs from people in another country, and sometimes other continents.
What one-stop-shop was this? What good did it do speaking to guys in Fortaleza, Brazil or China, who said: Shame we’re not closer? How about – shame we don’t share the same systems of government?
I felt a little sad to think we’re so dissatisfied with our daily lives and our gay identities, that we seek the comfort of strangers in the furthest reaches of the Internet.
Nevertheless, I force myself to see people as a box full of sometimes nice surprises and so I started chatting with a few of these gentlemen, at least those who I didn’t suspect had a knife hidden under their pillow. Some of them said they were coming on holiday to Lisbon, and invited me a/ for a shag, or b/ a coffee, when they arrived.
And, miracles do happen, I met a few – very few – of these people. I even spent the whole weekend with even less of them. We did coffee, we did dinner, we did it. We slept together one, maybe two nights. It was as if we were boyfriends. We went together to the bars, all over each other and in love. One weekend was with an Egyptian-American who lived in the Czech Republic, a teacher, and the next was spent with a stock market trader from London, while weeks later it was yet another. And then they left. No big deal. We vaguely agreed to do the same again, either here (in 2020!), or in their country, or who knows, in another mutually-agreed destination (and I actually did go on holiday with the Londoner months later on a road trip through Andalusia, where we slept together, had a threesome, and ‘divided and conquered’, over 5 action-packed nights.
I’m 50. I’m from a generation that woke up in the morning with a new hangover called Aids, as if prejudice, the real threat of physical violence, and fear weren’t enough. The generation before mine (I’m talking about the magnificent and awful 1970s, for all those who can only count on their fingers) in a grand and opulent closet of their own making, believed in free love as a defining condition of their identity (gay marriage being nothing but a pipe dream). Changing our behaviour took years, wrapped in controversy, with many cut down on the way. Were we selfish? Of course we were. Read, if you can, Faggots by Larry Kramer. It’s all there.
Almost a year has passed since I’ve been using Scruff. Next week a lad from Kuwait gets here (he found me on Instagram, we’ve only video-chatted the once, and he’s going to stay in my apartment with me), and then I’m off to Art Basel with a Swiss fella in June (we rented an apartment, thus far we’ve only spent two hours together in October last year).
I’m a struggling artist, I don’t have enough money to head every month to a new city, on one of the (expensive) gay circuits – on which Portugal now is included. I don’t feel much like it either. The circuit is tacky, and squeezed for profit down to its very last cent.
The trader from London goes away once, maybe twice a month. Since we’ve known each other, he’s already been to Vienna, Milan, Valencia, Bilbao, Athens and Lille. He regrets the fact he’s never had a boyfriend. He’s 35. He clicks on his apps when he arrives and dives in. We enjoyed each other’s company a lot, though we never spoke about dating. We also like our freedom too much. He’s coming here again this weekend, with a German he’s only ever met online till now. He’s already made it clear they’re just friends. But he and I didn’t speak about getting together, this time. We had a falling out on WhatsApp.