It’s 10 pm on a Wednesday night. I’ve just Uber-ed it home from yet another disappointing date, and the last thing I probably want a well-meaning friend to tell me is that: “There are plenty more fish in the sea.” Screw the sea. I’m done sowing my wild oats. I tell myself that I should prioritise myself for a while because—as Harry Potter found out in the Sorcerer’s Stone—if I’m not searching for love, that’s when I’ll actually find it. Right? Well, maybe.
I'll have to keep that thought on the back-burner though because I quickly find myself in the deep end, swimming (or in my case, swiping) through a seemingly never-ending list of potential future dates, courtesy my dating app. With a pocket-sized directory that makes it easy to meet new men every day, it’s no wonder that the hunt for a meaningful connection can feel overwhelming at times. For most LGBTQIA+ individuals looking for love in the digital age, this is a familiar feeling.
A lot has changed since Section 377 was read down by the Supreme Court a year ago. There have been more pride parades, more gay men finding support as drag artists, and a lot more acceptance at work. But, the dating scene still remains the same. No amount of unicorn dust is going to change that narrative. And no, this isn't me being the Grinch. It's just the way it is. Also, being gay is confusing. There are so many questions that populate our thoughts: Who do we want to date? Is marriage something we want? Do we want kids? Do we want to ditch monogamy for something more convenient?
We find ourselves craving the single life one day, and looking for love the next. It’s a vicious cycle, and truly causes so many dating problems. So, it becomes beyond difficult to meet someone we’re attracted to in every way, and keep our pants on.
I think we've started to treat dating like shopping. If the guy doesn’t fit our checklist, we put him back on the shelf. We often create this unrealistic idea of who we want to meet, and anyone who doesn't meet our standards, we set aside and continue our search. There's still no room for "chubs" and "femmes". While coming out as gay is often pictured as the ultimate act of queer defiance, let's not kid ourselves: The pressure to be perceived as “normal” by society makes many men unable to come out, even in a post-Section 377 India. Gay shame is a deeply systemic condition, and it's infiltrated into the way we date. Cisgender masculinity is still celebrated as the ultimate triumph in almost all gay spaces (most of my hookups usually ask me if I'm straight-acting).
“But still, ever since Sec 377 has been read down, we’ve seen more queer people publicly out on dates and other experiential activities,” says Ishaan Sethi, co-founder and CEO of India's first homegrown dating app, Delta. “With the threat of being arrested no longer relevant, people are more confident & are putting themselves out there—whether they’re mixers, dates, gay parties and so on. This aside, a lot is still the same too because legal changes are one thing and societal acceptance is another. You won’t see two guys kiss on the street, for example, because chances are that it’s not going to go down well. The only thing that has really changed is that people are less fearful of prosecution and that, in turn, offers a great deal of freedom to members of the queer community to be themselves.”
For New Delhi-based client servicing executive Vivian Baptist, the reading down of Section 377 has made queer folk a lot more "ballsy" "We are not afraid to express our emotions in public,” he tells VICE. “The fear that would accompany these relationships in the past is now not the case anymore. On the flip side, this has made some people callous, it’s made them look down on people who are in the closet. Recently, a friend was spoken to quite rudely by a date he met online because he wasn’t open about his sexuality. This guy told him that it’s legal now and he's fool for hiding his orientation. It defeats the purpose."
A friend of mine, who wished to be quoted anonymously, was quick to point out that "muscular, gym-toned men" also find it hard to date. "I thought six packs would widen the dating pool for me,” he said. “Unfortunately, I'm looked at as a sex object. Most of the men I meet on dating apps don't really want to talk. All they want is a quick fuck," he says, adding that he refuses to get into bed with a man on the first date. "The concept of dating in the gay world hasn't changed at all. In fact, we've become more vain, a lot less accepting of different body types, and we clearly don't want to engage in conversation. Most men can't sustain a conversation for more than 15 minutes."
Dr Mona Varonica Campbell, India's first transgender and plus-size model, says it's been a mixed bag for her. "The dating game hasn't changed much for me,” she says. “I've always received a lot of acceptance. But, it isn't the case for other transwomen. They're still treated like sex objects, which is disheartening. None of my dates have materialised into any serious or worthwhile, unfortunately. It's still all hush hush.”
In an age where options are open more than ever, we need to remember to be more responsible with the freedom we've been given. I now have a new 60-day rule: If a guy is really interesting, he gets two months (a few of my friends feel it's too long a time frame) to keep me hooked. Let's say I have a low tolerance for bullshit. How's the rule working for me? Well, let's just say some of the men I've met haven't lasted for more than two weeks.
Check out other stories on where India stands one year after Section 377 was read down here.