Rizvaan, 20, and Sumeir, 22, met each other on Instagram.
Somewhere over their matching flower crown filters and millennial names, they found and added each other, and (over a period of many Instagram stories and inappropriate GIFs) hopelessly fell in love.
Rizvaan calls it fate; the other calls it public privacy settings. It’s been a relationship of many ups and downs, but they’ll always agree on one thing — they look their best with the puppy dog filter (which they use extensively to woo each other).
Dating is that simple today.
There’s no denying that Rizvaan and Sumeir have had it easy.
Before Instagram became an overnight phenomenon for men (and women) to flirt with each other, the dating world for the quintessential gay man was a very different place (even sans the filters); over the past few decades, we’ve come a long way — and it’s nothing like the world we live in today, or the one we read about.
It all starts many thousands of years ago.
Throughout our ancient texts, there have been various descriptions of a multitude of saints, gods and demi-gods breaking gender norms much before Jaden Smith even knew what it meant –– Vedic literature speaks of Mitra and Varuna, gods of great intimacy who were often mentioned together. They ruled over the universal waters; the former controlled the ocean depths and the lower portals, while the latter governed over the ocean’s upper regions, rivers and shorelines (no wet jokes allowed by the editor).
Then, there are mentions of Agni, the god of fire, wealth and creative energy, having various same-sex sexual encounters that involve ‘accepting semen’ from other gods. Elsewhere, Mohini, the ‘female’ avatar of Lord Vishnu has been worshipped throughout Indian culture — gay, bisexual or transgendered — it’s evident that LGBT men have existed ever since mankind did.
And they’ve been finding each other ever since.
Over the decades, we’ve gone past searching for the next big something under the neighbourhood streetlight — we’ve fondled other men in unused washrooms, signaled each other with colourful handkerchiefs at traffic signals, and bumped into one another at seedy, dingy bars (and then a few drinks later, in bed). Was it the whirlwind marathon that I make it sound to be?
Not really. That’s close to four decades of gay cruising, concised in four sentences.
And then everything changed. The nineties happened.
In 1990, the country saw its first LGBTQ platform in the form of Bombay Dost, also the nation’s first queer magazine. It welcomed men seeking men to write letters to each other, making personals popular much before Shaadi.com did. But that’s not all — as we excitedly filled in our classifieds and preferences, trends changed once again. Online portals like Yahoo Messenger and MSN Chat provided a substitute to the magazines in the mid-nineties, and we moved from personals to personal chat rooms. We hid behind usernames and blank silhouettes, stepping into a new sexual revolution that would slowly fashion itself into the one we know today.
This was the beginning of a new form of liberation. Now, we got to type out our ASLs in anonymous Yahoo chat rooms and giggle over gay personals in queer magazines. The trip from the streets to the sheets has been long and hard (no pun intended), but it’s been an interesting journey indeed. Vijay, a 40-something friend who runs an NGO, has seen both sides of the millennium, and he has a lot to say about it.
‘I’ve found myself in a public washroom more than once,’ he tells me over drinks one night. ‘And I found myself loud and clear, if you really know what I mean,’ he adds with a lecherous wink.
I really don’t — he’s an activist, so I think that nothing he says can be inappropriate (politically correct, yes).
‘What do you mean?’ I still ask, not being able to help myself.
‘I’ve had help, and it was beautiful.’
It turns out it was very beautiful, indeed — and a lot of men helped over the years. A cab driver from Bhilai, a student from an Arts college in town, two stockbrokers who work in the financial district, a waiter from an Udipi restaurant down the road and a television star with a girlfriend who stays by the sea (the one time). His list goes on for 10 more minutes — detailed musings of his encounters and escapades, as I drink glass after glass of diluted rum. ‘I know it’s easier now, but there was an adrenaline rush every time you found someone new — was he gay? Would he understand the signal? What if he told on me? What if someone walked in? That made up for more than half of the excitement of having sex.’
Where do we go from here?
Not the restroom.
We evolve (So did Vijay, who is a veteran). We’ve moved on from clandestine trysts in wash rooms to ones on our phones in ways that were previously unimaginable. It’s 2018, and dating apps today are the manifestation of what mankind has been doing for centuries — devising new forms of communication, and then manipulating them for finding love, sex and long-term relationships.
Technology is revolutionising romance. Over the past few years, we’ve sent ‘footprints’ to torsos on Planet Romeo, favourited boys on Grindr, woofed at hopefuls on Scruff and super-liked our way through a dozen matches on Tinder. And we’ve even got the numbers to prove it. With more than 10 million users worldwide, Grindr recorded a surge from 11,000 to 69,000 active new users every month — simply within a span of four years, and that was back in 2015. Scruff, on the other hand, deals with smaller pools of men. And even though they only have an outreach of about 15,000 users in India, they still saw a 25 percent growth within two months of their launch. Numbers never lie; unless it’s the phone number you pass on at the end of a drunken night.
Today, even though online dating has been in the headlines (of mostly trashy online magazines and internet sex columns) for ‘hijacking modern love’ and trivialising the concept of everyday romance, we are at the dawn of a new age. Every year, new dating apps and websites sprout, making it easier for men seeking men to find each other, and fall in love (or in bed.)
And now, we are only moving on to better things — retweeting tweets to rekindle romances through Twitter, poking men indiscreetly on Facebook and waiting for them to salaciously poke us back, sending Instagram love to anonymous strangers, sharing their intimate brunches, birthdays, all the while gushing at pictures of Bobo, their cocker spaniel, when you’d rather be gushing over a romantic breakfast in bed for two. If you look at it, things haven’t changed much. We still scout the roads and send winks, only now we do it from our smartphones — social media has never been more sexual.
Technology makes trysting easier, because now you longer need to explain to a policeman why two grown men are parked in a side alley at midnight, with their pants (and inhibitions) lowered all the way down to their knees. The underworld of gay romances is so out and about, it could be a badly written Karan Johar movie.
And yet, we are nowhere near the end.
Like I said, this is just the beginning. All you have to do is break in.
Just make sure you use the right Instagram filter.