The Queer Take: Dating apps promised a world of possibilities, but may have caged us further instead

  • On the promise of opening up our world to possibilities, dating apps push us into the gilded cage of the private, allowing us to grasp at things within our reach alone.

  • They restrict us to whispering our desires instead of letting our desires propel us.

  • Dating apps are the new impasse in the possibilities for conversations, coming together, and coming.

The Queer Take is a fortnightly column by poet-writer Joshua Muyiwa. Read more from the series here.

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In all these years, I’ve never found much traction, trade or titillation on dating apps. At first, I blamed myself; I thought I didn’t have the chops to deal with these new waters, having navigated desire in a different time, in a different manner. And it is partly true: I didn’t have the skills at all (and still don’t) to tap, swipe or whatever else is needed to declare attraction to another. It does take something else — a different kind of risk — to find love via these apps.

In re-looking at the ways I made a connection with someone — for a single night, for a short or long-term relationship — in the past, I’ve come to see that it was always something about the way that individual occupied space. I have liked each of these men; firstly, because they were steady, stern, but were also able to sidle. In a way, I’d liked to have imagined that they’d make space for someone, for me (though it hasn’t always worked out that way). And if I look at the reasons we didn’t work out, it was because either I suddenly wanted too much space, or wasn’t taking up enough. I don’t blame them — I always knew the length of the bench beforehand.

 The Queer Take: Dating apps promised a world of possibilities, but may have caged us further instead

Dating apps restrict us to whispering our desires instead of letting our desires propel us. Illustration courtesy Satwik Gade

One doesn’t get to ascertain this about attraction on an app. I mean, they all had beautiful faces and wonderful eyes, but I always thought I’d fall for taller men although that hasn’t happened yet. It is like they didn’t have to be tall, they took up space. And I’d never asked these men their sexual preferences in the bedroom, or even in their sexuality — all of this was all their business. And if we were going to be something, then it had to be something that we decided together. We had to be satisfied with our lot in the game. What’s that Sheryl Crow hook? Ah! Yes: If it makes you happy / It can't be that bad / If it makes you happy / Then why the hell are you so sad? And that’s all it had to do: it had to spark joy. (See Ms Kondo: excess can spark joy.) And when it stopped, we stopped. It did take time. Unclasping, unhooking, unmaking something isn’t easy work. And this is one kind of risk: here, it is the kind that gets your heart broken. I’m sure rejection hurts too.

That’s the thing with these dating apps: on the promise of opening up our world to possibilities, they push us to the gilded cage of the private, allowing us to grasp at things within our reach alone.

They restrict us to whispering our desires instead of letting our desires propel us. Before these dating apps, I knew that being femme wasn’t popular, it didn’t get you all the boys — but some of them stayed on. However, I never believed that it was unattractive, unappealing or unassuming. I didn’t know that I wasn’t already wearing my sexual preferences but had to scream and shout them as well till they weren’t preferences anymore but rather, permanent fixtures. Some of my friends went from femme to butch with a change of clothes. In urgent times: it was simply by rushing their fingers through their hair, the smudge of kohl, the tuck of the tee, the little things. Who did I want to see me? Who do I want to see? These were the simpler motivations that preoccupied, pushed and prompted the ways we occupied space, public or private. I seem to tell myself that I wasn’t ever interested in distinguishing between them.

Everyone wants easy-to-read labelling on everything now, even on the side of our bodies.

We aren’t willing to try, or at least in my own experiences, I am less willing to try too. But also, we have been sidetracked by the superficial in pursuit of the super. At a recent public conversation around dating, romance and dating apps in Bengaluru, a young woman in the audience asked a question [and I paraphrase]: ‘Over the years that I’ve been on these dating apps, I’ve noticed that I have become shallower and shallower as a person. What can I do about that?’ Her words resonated with me. On my few forays onto these dating apps, I’ve found myself reducing people to the very things I don’t want to be reduced to.

The game has changed though and if I have chosen not to participate, then can I really critique, complain and crib about it? In a manner of speaking, I’m not complaining about this game, I’m complaining that this game has destroyed all the other ones. While visiting a different city recently, I decided to give it another go, I downloaded one of these dating apps. Based on my previous experiences with this app, I understood that my face doesn’t get much play on it, so I remained ‘without face pic’. In doing so, I was breaking the cardinal rule of this space which is no picture equals no reply, helpfully truncated to NP=NR. Though, one does get some messages from other anonymous users, I usually don’t engage because most of these profiles are quite clear that they’re not into femmes, sissy and weirdos — and since I heartily subscribe to all of these tribes, I leave them on read. On this trip, I decided to reply to one of these messages, I just sent my ‘face pic’ and immediately got a rant from this other anonymous account that told me, in short, ‘People like you who confuse others about gender are messed up. You should kill yourself.’

I have been in many situations, not all of them safe; but here, cocooned on a couch in my friend’s apartment in another city, I didn’t feel safe, I felt scared. I’m not against the ways that we choose to get our rocks off. We are human, we will always find our way to each other. I’m afraid that people like me — who can’t always be read as one easy thing — are in danger in more and more spaces now, and now, even from our own. I’m afraid that we have stopped looking for things other than respectability and such. I’ve come to see that it was never really the problem that the state held sway over our goings-on in the bedroom, it is that we still don’t seem to have taken any control back. And that dating apps are the new impasse in the possibilities for these conversations, coming together, and coming.

Joshua Muyiwa is a Bengaluru-based poet and writer

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Updated Date: Oct 09, 2019 14:15:45 IST