It’s 2004, I’m 29 and new in London. It’s a fresh start for me in a foreign country. I’ve decided to go back to studying and as a means to support myself I’m working double shifts night and day, pulling pints in a pub and doubling as a receptionist at a publishing company.
I exist like a rat in an underground tunnel. My life revolves around studying, working and sleeping, 7 days a week, 18 hours a day. To and fro. To and fro. Knackered most of the time and with very little time or energy to socialise, I make no friends. For all intents and purpose, I don’t exist: My phone never rings and the only familiar face I see is the man who sells me my cigarettes.
On the odd chance that I have an evening off — perhaps once a month — I visit a gay sauna in the naive hope to find some connection or smidgen of intimacy. This of course doesn’t happen and after a while the seediness and desperation of it all start to wear thin on me.
I open a Gaydar profile. Maybe I’ll have better luck in meeting someone who will show an interest in me… even if it is just for a short while… perhaps we can even negotiate a ‘special arrangement’ between ‘friends’.
It’s the first time that I try ‘online dating’… and I am not familiar with all the ins and outs — ‘etiquette’ if you like… That’s to say, if flashing ones bits and being blatantly sexual can be classified as a display of social graces.
I quickly learn that there is ‘method to this madness.’
Initially, I am fully clothed in all my photographs, but soon realise that less is more… less clothes = profile views. I adapt. It works. Guys actually view my profile and sometimes even leave a Track — the Gaydar version of a Facebook Poke.
I haven’t been held or kissed for nearly a year. Suffice to say, this new form of ‘intimacy’ and the hope of meeting someone in person appeals to me greatly.
Saturday evening 8pm. I log on. Trawl through thousands of profiles. Even behind the anonymity of my laptop screen I don’t have the confidence to instigate any contact. Nothing happens.
Sunday morning, 1am. I’ve been staring at my screen for hours feeling much more intimidated by all the buff bodies and toned muscles than aroused.
A message. The third one since I opened my profile a few months ago.
It’s ‘GingerBoy’… (I’ve always liked a red head!) He describes himself as a ‘Horny boy next door with a bubble but.’
The conversation is interesting and even engaging at times. He seems fairly average and normal… well enough to appear human, instead of ‘over-produced.’
5am. He invites me to come over to his house and sends me his address. I hesitate. It’s not in the safest part of London.
I need this.
I’m standing in front of a green front door in a council estate in South London. A fog of marijuana smoke hangs in the corridor. GingerBoy answers my knock. I can barely see inside his apartment through the thick cloud of smoke. It’s strong stuff. I can see he has not slept for days.
His head gestures for me to come inside.
“Is it ok if we don’t do anything?” he asks and closes the door behind me. “I just want to cuddle.”
Blood rushes to my face. I’m relieved. Having sex is the last thing I want… but I am happy to snuggle.
We strip down to our underpants. Pause. Then take them off too.
He has the most beautiful, smooth, milky white skin. Tiny freckles speckle his back… (Bubble butt. Check.)
We lie down. His skin is warm and soft. I fall asleep as he kisses me softly in the nape of my neck.
The coffee next to my pillow smells cheap. Instant. GingerBoy sits on my side of the bed and watches me as I wake up. His apartment is unorganised and chaotic, similar to the look in his eyes… they are blue.
I want to get up and leave. I also want to stay. It’s awkward. I don’t know him. It’s Sunday. I don’t want to be alone.
He feels the same.
I stay for a bit. It’s the first cup of coffee someone has given me in bed since… God, I can’t remember.
Six months pass. I have been ramming the hours working and studying and have forgotten about my Gaydar profile.
I get a moment and I log on… Loads of messages are waiting for me. I feel flattered.
They’re all from GingerBoy:
New Message: “I really enjoyed last night. We must do it again.”
New Message: “Would be great if we could hang out again, I liked your company.”
New Message: “Hey I haven’t heard back from you. I think you are a lovely guy. Let’s try to see each other soon.”
New Message: “Hi, is there anybody out there?”
New Message: “? 😦 !“
That was the last message… he left it three weeks before I logged on again. I try to reply, but get a notice that his profile is ‘marked as inactive.’ I never saved his number and deleted the text message with his address.
It’s 2007. I am meeting a friend for brunch at his place. I’ve never been to his place before. When I get there, I recognise the building.
“I’ve been here before. I once spent a lovely evening with a handsome redhead. I think he lived on the 6th floor.”
“I knew him,” my friend says, “he committed suicide.”
Images: Francois Lubbe.
Text: FR Lubbe