Confessions of a Gaydar junkie

The MP Chris Bryant may lose his seat after appearing in his pants on a gay website - but others see Gaydar as the future of dating. So what is it really like? Mark Simpson speaks with the (exhausted) voice of experience
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The Independent Online

Gay men are having sex! Lots of it! Every night! With a different man! And they don't even have to leave the house! There was more than a hint of sexual jealousy surrounding last week's "exposing" of Gaydar, the cruising website where gay and bisexual men exchange instant messages, personal pictures, addresses and then sexual positions, sometimes in less time than it takes to get served at a West End bar.

To condemn it is to protest against the inevitable, since Gaydar's methods look like being adopted by everyone from 18-30 dating agencies to golden oldie matchmakers - and, judging by the envy on display, its sexual mores will soon follow.

Oscar Wilde once famously defined a moralist as someone who likes to lecture on the evils of vices of which he has grown tired. In this accele-rated age, a moralist is someone who likes to lecture on the evils of vices that they are about to try. However, as a former internet cruiser, I'd like to report from the frontier of human degradation/ innovation in the more traditional, Wildean form - as a sinner who has grown jaded. If internet cruising is the future of dating, then there is certainly no future - or place - for romance and probably no future for sex either.

At the height of the summer heatwave I visited the gay reservation of Hampstead Heath in the naive hope that the torrid weather might have made gays more (anti)social, more retro, more inclined to leave their pokey, humid bedrooms. But the heath was deserted. There were one or two punters, but these were men of a certain age who had not yet figured out how to get online with the obsolete computer that a nephew off-loaded on them.

Now, call me old-fashioned, but what is the point of sex to a single homosexualist if it doesn't get you out of the bloody house? On the hottest night of the year? Gays - all of them, every last one of them, especially those in relationships - are "logged on" with lob ons, looking for someone who will "travel" while they "accom".

If Joe Orton had his time again his diaries would have been just printouts of thousands of Gaydar profiles and alarming digicam photos. I, for my part, look back on my pre-internet days of compulsive cruising of the heath in the rain as a golden age of warmth, romance and human contact.

Moralists who protest at gay e-promiscuity should be encouraging the Government to provide gays with grants for permanent broadband connections, since the internet not only keeps them off the streets and out of the parks, it turns all that messy sexual energy and appetite into ... typing. Gays have become the unpaid secretaries of desire, filing and cataloguing human weakness. Promiscuity is now a form of bureaucracy. Tedious, eye-straining, number-crunching slave work. Don't bother feeling jealous, all you sexually frustrated, non-online non-gays: internet cruising is its own form of punishment, Dante's e-ferno where thousands of disembodied souls in e-ternal torment constantly prod one another with inquisitorial malice: "stats?", "into?", "travel or accom?" and "how big are you?"

The evil of internet cruising - and the reason why it will become irresistibly, devastatingly mainstream - is precisely its efficiency. IT plus a wired world means lust can be much more productive, much more accurate, much more all-consuming, and much more pointless. Internet cruising allows you to pursue endlessly and ever more obsessively your ultimate "type". Like an especially well-organised, if unfriendly, Roman orgy, there are chat rooms for every (legal) fetish and taste. Gaydar members can search the database on height, age, hirsuteness, ethnicity, hair colour, pec-size and sex role (passive, active, or variable). There isn't a box to check for "twinkly eyes" or "great sense of humour".

But efficiency is precisely what sex is not about. Sex is a journey where, if you're lucky, you get lost - like Hampstead Heath on a foggy night. Arriving is not really the point, it's the confusions, the collisions, the diversions that are (sometimes) rewarding. With internet cruising there's ultimately no escape from your own desire. Even when you actually meet someone off the net - one of you, reluctantly, agreeing to leave the house - they never really exist, and nor do you. You are both merely each other's computer-generated horny hologram, one that dissipates with orgasm - "Cheers! 'Ave a good one" is the universal, embarrassed e-kiss off.

The most familiar cliché/ complaint about internet dating is that when they turned up "they weren't the person in the picture". The real disappointment is that they were exactly the person on the profile, to the inch: it was a profile rather than a person you met and got groinal with. You were tricked, not by the flakiness of others, but by the emptiness of your own desire.

And no matter how "hot" the sex was for both of you, and no matter how much you both say you can't wait to do it again and even make explicit arrangements to do so, it won't happen. Come the appointed time, you'll both be online again, looking for another profile that more exactly matches your requirements. What the internet giveth, the internet taketh away.

You see, the real efficiency of online dating, just as with internet anything, is not the way it delivers you lots of pointless sex without leaving the house, but the way that it ensures that you will be spending more time on the internet. The web is a jealous lover, and will countenance no infidelity that lasts longer than a hurried shag with some data it has selected and loaned you for an hour or so. Like a Las Vegas casino, the internet always wins. I've never met Mr and Mr Gaydar, and don't know anything about them except that, having figured out a way to tax gay lust, they must be living in a penthouse apartment atop their own luxury skyscraper in Manhattan.

This kind of fierce fidelity can't be supported indefinitely, however. Something has to give. Martin Luther may have described marriage as a curative for lust, but today that role has been usurped by the internet. Burn-out is the inevitable consequence of on-line dating. Or heart attack. Certainly, I found myself cured of lust, or at least disenchanted. By allowing me to focus on the boring "sex" to the exclusion of the arousing "journey" or "travelling" aspect of desire, internet cruising and the spinning bedroom turnstile it proffered utterly demystified sex. It was like working as a hustler but for free, and having to do all that hard work of choosing your clients instead of the other way around. Unforgivably, the internet has deprived me of the illusion of every homosexualist: my faith in sex.

Which is unfair. I mean, what am I supposed to do with the rest of my life? Not that I expect anyone to feel much sympathy. But let my jadedness be a warning to you all: internet dating will ruin your sex life. By giving you one.

Mark Simpson's new book 'Saint Morrissey' is published by SAF (£16.95)

Why the rest of the dating world is watching

In the four years since it was launched, Gaydar has grown into the third biggest online dating site in the world, with 1.3 million members. It has inspired a lesbian spin-off site and a digital radio station, and attracted a number of high-profile users, most famously the pop star-turned-DJ Boy George.

Its success is such that major players in the straight dating market are paying close attention. Lorraine Adams, the woman credited with bringing speed-dating to this country, is one of them. Ms Adams, the marketing manager for One Saturday, a company that owns six online dating brands including Elite, Premiere Services, Dateline and Club Sirius, is full of praise for Gaydar. Its success, she says, persuaded her own company to plan a gay dating site of its own for next year.

"Most heterosexuals can tell the world they're single if they want to, but it's much more difficult for a gay guy or girl to do this," said Ms Adams. "That's why things like Gaydar are so successful - it makes the whole process a lot easier. There's a big market out there for this, and we think the time is right for us to get involved."

Gaydar's success, users claim, is that it has evolved from a simple dating site into a bona fide online community. Members use it to arrange social gatherings, sell goods and get advice from foreign users on travelling abroad, as well as using it for finding sex or relationships.

One such user, "Paul", describes his experiences of the site. "Gaydar is vast," he explains. "Within the gay community, everyone knows about it. The underlying reason for the site is so that people can find partners for consensual sex. But they also use it to find flatmates, friends and accommodation."

A spokesman for Gaydar says that, despite publicity surrounding the predicament of the MP Chris Bryant, membership of the site is continuing to grow. "Human beings are tribal and to a certain extent need to be with a group who share their ideas and beliefs," he says. "That's what it's all about. Some singles join a drama group to meet others, but that kind of social networking isn't necessarily as easy for gays. A lot of people aren't interested in the tight, white T-shirt brigade, and the opportunity to meet people online is easier and safer."

Jonathan Thompson