Returning to my native Tyneside, after many years living and working in London, one evening I partook a vodka and tonic with a friend in ''the throbbing heart of Newcastle's gay village''. It wasn't long before we both began mourning the almost total loss of gay bar cruising.
There wasn't a single person doing so much as looking at anyone else. Not even the once universal and simple ''Betty Grable'' (an over the shoulder look) - once the bread and butter of a night out in a gay bar. Endlessly versatile and universally understood, you had a change of one of the four basic modes (barefaced lust; winsome smile; back-off bitch, forget it) and that was your entertainment for the night. But sadly now that's as obsolete as cave painting. Everyone was too busy fiddling with their phones.
Woofs, oinks, blocks, profile hides are so very dull by comparison; lacking nuance. They are all fuck and no friend. The camera can indeed lie. Your Adonis dream isn't what you'd ordered from the catalogue and hopes can fade with anything from bad breath to stupidity, arrogance to anxiety disorder.
Spotting pathological liars or nasty pieces of work, as they remain unpredictable, can be a challenge; though so often the signs are quite unmistakable in hindsight. The methods have mutated, and in my opinion technology has slipped ahead of our collective and individual judgement.
There's a whole generation of gay men for whom social norms around HIV and sexual health have been learned from brief text exchanges on hook-up apps like Grindr or sites like BBRT.
Technology has moved so swiftly, social mores have dissolved and mutated around what is possible and the result is not necessarily desireable. You so easily get sucked into the herd mindset - no pun intended. Even an old hand like myself can find themselves in situations where you're tolerating behaviour you'd never have permitted just a few years ago. Worse still, is when you find yourself colluding, excusing or even behaving in the same ways yourself. I reckon we could all do with a hard look at our moral compasses and check if they need to be reset.
What alarms me is the lack of basic factual knowledge around sexual health, understanding of rights to set personal boundaries, and for them to be respected. The complexity and etiquette of 'sero-concordance negotiation' and 'The Swiss Statement' are sadly reduced to, ''are you Poz? I'm clean, want raw loads - you Neg or Undetectable?
The agenda is totally set by this infantilised peer discourse, and frankly piss-poor social responsibility from gay media businesses, the distinctions between porn and hook-up apps are becoming increasingly blurred to the point where you can easily find yourself acting as a free online whore service. With feeble or non-existent efforts to counter these opinions, not even a simple 'it's more complicated...find out more here', I wonder if the genie is already too far out of the bottle?
My experience of teenage life in North-East England was tough and grim, but I wouldn't swap it for today. You knew your enemies. There was some sense of collectivity, and for the activist-minded of striving hopefully toward something better. The risk of abuse or violence was from homophobes on the street. Yes, there was bitchiness once you'd got into the one gay pub. And I always ignored the black plywood sheets where glass ought to be.
There's a spreading element of contempt for sexual partners, and an increasing pressure to whore oneself online. Whilst there are condom packs in the saunas, and in the 'kissing cupboards' in the bars that have them. More often than not, reach for one and you'll get a look of surprise, disappointment, the 'naff, prissy queen' look. Even verbal abuse isn't that unusual. Being bitched about or derided to all around, and across various social media seems the norm.
And we're not just talking about youngsters. I had to explain recently to a 40 year old that he must go for a STI screen and treatment since I had clear symptoms of an STI and he was the only possible source. He was ignorant of asymptomatic infection, confused about different window period's lengths, and variances between different infections. His 'all clear here' a week later turned out to be (at best) misleading. It was not as a result of a full sexual health screen or any kind of actual diagnosis, but because he'd used antibiotics bought online.
Whether that's about ignorance, pointlessly needing to remain 'unproven' that he'd been the sources of others infection, or just winding others up for entertainment - I'll never know for certain.
But there's little doubt he's a one man 'patient zero' in waiting. Especially since he's bareback obsessed and 'HIV negative' you'd have thought regular sexual health screens ought to be a priority, if not for oneself bur for a sense of respect for 'shags'. At best here's someone with a total lack of social responsibility.
I'm going to stick with my first instincts in future.
When next I meet someone who pulls out their iPhone to show me a video of him ''breeding this lad I got of Scruff to come over to fuck raw in the Travelodge'', I shall politely decline. I've reset my moral compass and I'm going for the old-fashioned gobshite approach to community activism.
If I'd simply acted as I would now, clearly challenging an ignorant person with repellent values, I'd have felt a lot better about myself and saved myself an awful lot of bother.
Better late than never. Here goes:
''No I don't want to see the video of you 'hard-fucking him raw; least of all because he looks uncomfortable and afraid. I'm not confident that he agreed to either what you did or for it being captured on camera. The look on his face when you came in him is neither amusing nor is what you did an acceptable act. You claim that was against his clear boundaries. If that's true, you are vile. If it's just a brag, you're culpable and vile.
I have no need or desire to conform to your values. Goodbye.''
Plink, plink, fizz; the sound of an iPhone in a pint of beer!
Article written by Jack Summerside and sourced from BaseLINE magazine.