The Single Files: Gay girl crushes and Grindr guys
Ireland's gay scene has changed radically in 10 years and with it the experience of being single. Hook-ups are easier than ever and rigid stereotypes have broken down
Being gay in Ireland has changed utterly within a generation. The decriminalisation of homosexuality, the growing visibility of gay people in the media, entertainment industry and politics, the advent of civil partnership and the ongoing movement for marriage equality have all contributed to make gay Ireland a more diverse, open, and younger scene.
Being single and gay in a social scene that is traditionally made up of bars and clubs is also changing. In Dublin, with a population too small to sustain an exclusively lesbian bar, for example, the scene is mixed along gender lines, spreading out of gay bars to individual nights catering to niche as well as mainstream tastes.
New events are constantly cropping up, at which gay and straight people mix: there is the upcoming new queer night Orange, and the new lesbian night Crush. There are polysexual club nights such as War, and old-school venues such as the front bar of The George, which has been nicknamed “Jurassic Park”, because of the age of the clientele.
And it’s a diverse scene. Walk into a gay bar in Ireland on any weekend and you’ll find an assorted crowd, one that crosses age groups, racial lines, nationalities, social class and professions. But in many ways, the gay bar’s pull as a setting in which to, well, pull, has evolved. It’s now also a place of entertainment.
For 16 years Declan Buckley aka Shirley Temple Bar, who is in a relationship, has overseen Ireland’s longest-running gay night, bingo on Sundays at The George on George’s Street in Dublin. “Maybe gay people aren’t as interested in being on a scene as they used to be. All of the various things the scene provides gay people – partners, the sense of community, solidarity in a greater environment – are those things disintegrating as gays become more integrated in mainstream society?”
Being gay and single throws up the same diversity of opinions among gay men and women as it does among straight people. There are some marked differences, however, such as how gay men use technology to access encounters.
Online dating is embedded in gay and straight worlds, and gay men were early adopters of technology, using the social network Gaydar.co.uk and populating Grindr, a geolocation online app where men hook up for dates and sex. Nearly every gay person has an opinion on Grindr. Some blame it for the demise of gay bars. Others say it’s a great way to meet people. Some highlight its addictive nature.
“What are your options?” asks Stephen Byrne (26), an illustrator. “You can go out to gay bars . . . talk to lots of different people, but . . . people wait until ridiculous o’clock to make their move and everyone is only interested in one thing . . . Option two: Grindr. It’s like alcohol. If you want, you can use it in moderation.”
Byrne recently gave up both Grindr and alcohol. As for the former, “You can use it in a healthy way, go on once a day, check your messages, say hi to someone. For me, and for the majority of guys I know, it’s an addiction . . . Grindr is stopping guys in bars from making moves because they know it’s there, and they know they don’t have to try.”
John Sullivan (31), a commercials producer, has a more neutral outlook on Grindr. “Grindr is what you make of it. You could be sitting at home on a rainy night and end up striking up a conversation with someone you might have a lot in common with. You could be chatting to them over a couple of weeks and end up going on a date, as I did last week.
“Then, of course, Grindr facilitates sex as well. Some people use it for just sex; some people say in their profiles that they’re not interested in that and just want to go on dates. I have a good friend who celebrated a year together with his boyfriend recently, and they met on Grindr.”
A Grindr for lesbians never caught on. Victoria Curtis, a single 31-year-old gay woman, points to the more collective social behaviour of lesbians. That too has changed over the past decade. “I came out 10 years ago and I was single for a long time; there were absolutely no prospects. It was all dark corners in Kiss [a long-running lesbian night at the Tivoli on Francis Street in Dublin]; you’d have to get really drunk to get a score. You might go on a GaydarGirls date and that would be kind of weird, and you wouldn’t tell your friends. Ten years later, everything is out in the open. Even if you’re in a straight bar, there’s no stigma attached to it.”
Curtis says the rigid lesbian social groups have also broken down, “There’s not that butch/femme divide. Ten years ago bull dykes [butch lesbians] stuck together in the corner of The George and the femmes [‘feminine’ lesbians] hung out in the Front Lounge. Now, everyone is approachable.”
“It’s not really easy to be single,” says Tracey McDonagh (28). “A lot of my friends are in relationships. You’re constantly looking for something. I think people say there are a lot of crazy single lesbians, and there are lots of them on dating websites. I think that there are a lot of women on online dating sites who are bisexual, especially on PlentyofFish. They find it easier to hide behind a computer and are looking to find someone to have an intimate encounter with. I think they have higher rates of anxiety because they’re not only single, but they also haven’t expressed aspects of their sexuality, so they’re dipping their foot in the water without fully getting in. In other words, they might not be willing to get into a relationship.”
Byrne believes the stereotypes bandied around about gay men are more about being male than being gay. “Traditionally the man is the active one, the pursuer. And when you have two pursuers, it doesn’t take long before something happens. For lesbian women, historically they’re more predisposed to having an emotional connection and relationships.”
Curtis says there is less loneliness attached to being single and gay because people are so approachable. “A straight girl won’t go up to a guy unless she’s got balls, because that means she’s coming on to someone, and straight people seem to freak out about that . . . there’s that weirdness and fear of rejection. That’s not a thing with gay people, because there’s a community feeling. You can say hi to anyone.”
Maybe because the single gay life is tapped into a community, there’s a feeling of positivity. “I think being single in Dublin is great fun. It’s what you make of it. Go out, chat to people. I’ve no problem talking to random strangers. Irish people are good like that anyway, gay or straight,” says Sullivan. “I hope I’m not single in 10 years’ time, but honestly, it doesn’t affect me, it doesn’t bother my everyday life in any way whatsoever. I’m very happy being single. That said, if Will Young proposes tomorrow, I’ll consider it.”
As part of The Single Files series, Jason Kennedy and Joanne Hunt take a look at life as a single traveller, a gay person and a doctor:
Being single and ...
. . . a Traveller
“There is a belief that I should be married now, not just in a relationship, but I’ll get there when I’m ready and I want to do it,” says Martina Hutchinson, a 22-year-old member of the Travelling community who has recently moved into a rented apartment on Limerick City’s Dock Road.
Though in her early 20s, Hutchinson feels pressured to conform to beliefs associated with her community. Plenty of her friends are in relationships or have married, which she says can lead to uncomfortable situations. “We often go to the cinema or out for a drink and sometimes I just sit down and feel like a spare tyre,” she says.
Hutchinson says she is giving herself “between five to 10 years to get married and have children”.
She says she would have no problem striking up a conversation with men on a night out and says Traveller stereotypes don’t hold her back.
“It can be harder to strike up a conversation with the image that sometimes surrounds the community, but I’ve dated people from the community and people outside the community and it’s all the same to me.”
. . . gay
Stephen Spillane, a 27-year-old who uses the dating apps Gaydar, OkCupid and Grindr, says that the majority of people who use those apps are there for one reason only, and it’s nothing to do with relationships.
“It’s very hard to meet people who want what I want, as I’m not looking for sex when I log on. I just want to meet people for a coffee and meet new people. It can be a very poor reflection on the people who use the apps. You’d get a message saying ‘I’m horny’ and I normally just send a message back saying ‘good for you’,” Spillane says.
The Grindr app, aimed at gay men, shows people in goegraphical proximity to you who are also using the service. The app has more than one million users worldwide. “I’ve been using online dating since I came out around eight years ago and have made friends off those apps and websites more than dates, even though I am talking to a nice guy from Limerick now,” Spillane says.
. . . a doctor
Medical consultant Aoife (39), who wants to remain anonymous because of her work, says her late 20s and 30s were taken up with study and work. “The option of trying to meet someone wasn’t there because my priorities were often just about getting enough sleep, eating and getting my laundry done,” she says. “When I went out, it was to meet my friends, to unwind.”
She says the medical career in Ireland doesn’t help, particularly for those wanting a family. “They push you to meet milestones much quicker here than in some other countries,” she says. “Do I resent my job or the skills that I have? No. But I do resent that I have to achieve it all to the beat of someone else’s drum.”
Now qualified, she says her level of responsibility can also be an impediment to meeting someone. “When I’m not physically at work, I’m on call every third night so I have my telephone with me . . . ”
Meeting someone is still very much a possibility for Aoife. “It’s not the end of my life. It’s very much the middle of my life and my life romantically may work out fantastically. But I don’t know that now. I can only speak for the moment and at the moment, I would like to be with someone.”