TUESDAY, MARCH 10, 2020, 7:30 pm. At the Comedy Bar in Toronto, people are shuffling into the small auditorium for the evening’s stand-up stage show, Gay A*F* (and funny), featuring four local LGBT comics and an MC. The audience is seated on either side of a center aisle, shoulder to shoulder, ten seats across and ten rows deep. It’s a full house. None of these people knows this will be their last face-to-face date, their last social outing of any kind, for many months. Over the next four days, such venues would be shuttered in Canada and in much of the U.S. Sports seasons would be canceled, Broadway would go dark, and several celebrities, notably Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, would announce that they had tested positive for Covid-19.
That audience may now remember that Gay A*F* at the Comedy Bar is where they were the night before the world started shutting down. By week’s end, most were either ordered to begin working from home or facing unemployment as their workplaces closed up shop. Social life changed rapidly, too. Within four to six weeks, the LGBT community’s social life had been transformed. People no longer met up in person; everything had moved online. Comedy, drag shows, book launches, fashion shows, naked boys reading—all in-person events were suspended indefinitely, replaced with online versions. Pride celebrations around the world were canceled, though efforts were made to keep them alive as online events.
Physical human contact, or even proximity, could now be deadly. So what about dating? hooking up? sex outside the home? Surprisingly, Grindr, Scruff, and their ilk have not disappeared. In fact, reports indicate that they are as busy as ever, but in a different way. Welcome to dating without meeting, hooking up without being there, virtual Tuesday night orgies on group video. Some of the hookup and dating apps themselves have adapted, adding video links for users who are so inclined.
At the same time, for every Grindr user who’s looking for a sexual scenario, there’s a user who’s isolated at home and just looking to chat. It’s true: around half of all Grindr users appear not to be looking for sex at all, but instead for conversation. It is not uncommon now for a guy to become indignant when being pursued too aggressively—something that was once a rarity in this corner of the gay world.
Bruce Skeaff is an ex-newspaper reporter and longtime communications expert and college instructor. He currently lives in Toronto.