Social media has all but killed gay social life. You may disagree, but if you’re over 40 you’ll want to read on!
At a holiday gathering this past December, a few friends of mine were sitting around the tree, laughing, drinking wine, and discussing pretty much every subject under the mistletoe. It was an evening filled with joyous, elevated patter, until someone asked the one question no one knew how to jump in and answer.
“So, where do gay people go nowadays for fun?”
The room grew so quiet you could hear the candlelight blowing.
Growing up queer in New York, that question would have been the opener to “where are we going once this shindig ends?” and the answers would have been a myriad of places, people, and things to do on a cold Christmastime night. Now, more often than not, we just look at our phones until it’s time to go home. Who knew E.T. was ahead of his time?
Social media, for gay men and women of my generation, has become a sort of uninvited party guest: We weren’t nurtured by it from adolescence, but it’s still ubiquitous in our day-to-day lives, it’s still taking over how we relate to (or don’t relate to) our friends and acquaintances, and we’re still pretty much forced to embrace it as a means to cultural survival.
Or are we?
The advent of computerized living started out as a queer instruction manual, first with Facebraggers (those barely dressed gays who showed off their fabulous vacation posts with their barely dressed friends), who then moved over to Instagram with basically the same motive, only with added filters. They became sort-of stars themselves, like the porn industry reborn—and like porn “stars,” a lot of the guys weren’t even into guys. For a while it felt as if new gay life was meaningless unless you posed for the camera wearing nothing but briefs, a cup of coffee, and an inspirational quote above your head. Who needed real-life clubs when the sexiest guys on the planet were now on your phone?
On a professional level, when social media exploded, I was warned I needed to constantly post, tweet, and photograph, or else my career, and by extension, my life, would be meaningless. As Warren Beatty once famously prophesied, “What is the point of existing if it’s off-camera?” For the most part, I’ve ignored that rule, and, well, in case you didn’t get the text, I’m still around, and, since you’re reading this, obviously still managing to work as a writer. Granted, I use Twitter, Instagram, and, holy Aughts, Facebook, and I’m still a narcissistic fan of a good selfie, but I don’t spend days strategizing how I’ll build an audience that affirms my existence. As time goes on I plan to utilize all of these platforms less and spend more hours enjoying the remains of the day.
It’s infuriating to read that acting roles and other high profile media jobs are often doled out based on who has the most Instagram followers, as opposed to say, talent, but I’m not interested in competing with millennials or Gen Z. Nor do I think it’s required of me. Should I write a best-seller tomorrow, my audience will more than likely build organically, so until that time I’ll concentrate on the work and not creating a fictional character of myself to mass-market. My only brand is that I have no brand. I think a lot of older gays are realizing that living life online is not required to be successful. And those who still do are starting to rethink their priorities. Every time I read one of those “The things to say and not to say on social media” advice articles, my first thought is “No wonder Kim Kardashian rules the world. We’re all aiming to be bland.”
Socially, media is going to be severely restricted. I don’t understand the appeal of Tik Tok, which might be a blessing in disguise, and due to a recent change of management, I have no intention of spending my days trolling the Twitter trolls. If there’s something of interest I want to share or say, I’ll pop in for a bit. But any site that regularly trends the likes of James Woods, Kevin Sorbo, and Scott Baio can’t be all that integral to living a healthy lifestyle.
As for Facebook and Instagram, they’re fun places to share ideas and photos (and the memes, oh those memes) and to explore the interests of others—in addiction to thirst traps, Insta has dozens of feeds just about penguins!—but they’re not where I want to spend all my free time. Facebook is awful for talking politics, unless you enjoy getting into arguments with dumb and Trumper, and unless we’re related, I’m not a huge fan of perusing your Instagram photos. Remember when strangers pulled out family wallet pics and everyone tried to leave the room? Same thing, different century.
The other criminal aspect of Facebook is its ridiculous “jailing” of people for making benign comments. I’ve been behind those cyber bars so many times I ordered striped pajamas for Christmas, and it’s more often than not because I made a sarcastic comment to a real-life friend, something I wouldn’t hesitate to say in the company of others. If the Facebook police don’t understand sarcasm or irony, then my entire gay generation is pretty much lost on their algorithms.
And, I’ll get into trouble for this, but isn’t “liking” photos just so people will “like” yours back the most infantile way to spend your time, next to, maybe, reading what Elon Musk thinks about anything? Read that sentence back and tell me I’m not right. If I like what I see I’ll let you know, and I expect nothing in return. Then there are those who follow you for the follow back, then dump your cyber ass three seconds later. If I was seven and still wet the bed, maybe…
Our phones are addictive, and there was a time when the “wow” factor of the new technology was novel and understandable. That era has faded, and many of us who grew up hands-free are craving a return to “nature.” Covid has brought an abrupt end to a lot of large social gatherings, at least for now, and at least for some of us, and I’m still figuring out ways to spend my days and nights in a more organic fashion.
I also don’t think it’s just age that is making gays want to connect more, in a less frivolous manner: I think it’s equal parts aftershock. We need each other’s warmth now, so long lines and elitist rules feel like relics of a more innocent, easier past. Pretentiousness doesn’t really belong in a world that almost just killed itself with an uncommon cold-like flu and is currently at war with its Fascist side. As we get older, we can no longer afford to be unkind.
For my part, I’m dismissing my old tradition of checking social media first thing in the morning. I do like Wordle after a cup of coffee, and I’ll read a news article or two, but there’s something refreshing about keeping computers at bay during that all-important recharge time. I love my a.m.’s, and I don’t need to dampen it by finding out who’s Twitter’s douche of the day…then adding my own thoughts. For those of us with media-heavy jobs, it’s harder than might be believed to nix the chatter, but if you can get rid of just a bit of the noise, I strongly advise it.
I have a dog, and our early morning walks are a little slice of heaven: very few people, just the weather, the vendors opening up their doors, the quiet hush of a New York sunrise. It’s priceless, especially without commercials. It’s also mine and mine alone. We’re losing ourselves a little bit when we’re constantly connected to outside, foreign forces that share little in common with the actual world we each inhabit. I wouldn’t invite most of the people on social media into my living room, why would I want them in my pocket?
I’m also a huge fan of physical community, and love get-togethers, dinners with friends, yes, even going to the movies—although that one’s pretty much a solo act now. If gay life for the over-40 set is no longer about Studio 54-like aspirations or having the biggest beach bungalow Fire Island has seen yet, I’d like to see it become more family friendly. For my part, I have small gatherings as often as possible, people I’ve long cared about and need to see. When these meet-ups occur, no one pays attention to their phone, except to check the weather forecast or find out if Theo James’ personal white lotus was prosthetic—important tidbits.
My 2023 credo: When in doubt, call a friend.
The older I get the more physicality I crave, whether it’s reconnecting with old friends once forgotten, or meeting up with new ones. I’m not nearly as fascinated with computers as I used to be, and one of the biggest thrills I get in life is running into an old pal, on the street, in the store, at a cocktail party. It’s life, not media, that’s life-affirming.
I have no intention of throwing out the computer that’s helping me write this piece, or the one right next to it that I use for texting, or that big smart machine in the next room that entertains me with the latest binge suggestions, and, if you’re interested, once you’re done reading this you can follow me on Instagram! Mine’s completely different than everyone else’s because it’s exactly the same.
But I’m not going to get trapped inside a world of artificial un-intelligence. I no longer have the time.