Tinder and Tenterhooks: Undoing And Reclaiming The Pains Of The LGBTQ Experience

Ed Farley

I OPENED DATING APPS. I was finally open to witnessing the mind-boggling, dizzying heights of venturing outside the platonic. I wanted to know what the big fuss was about. I looked at the catalogue of faces and wondered, which pair of eyes will look at me, find me appealing, and therefore – validate my presence in a space I’ve been scared to fill?  

These questions can’t be answered by a screen. They can only be answered by a lot of self-love and care. I don’t think you can have a healthy relationship without it. I find the terminology of finding your “other half” a myth because of this. A relationship consists of two individuals. I see you for who you are, and you see me for me. If you’re searching for someone to complete you – you’re whole in the first place. You need to acknowledge that you are a fully formed being, with attributes you are comfortable with first. I learnt this through a months-long journey.  

I became used to telling myself that I was unable to love or be loved in certain ways others could

First, the terrifying idea that others knew who I liked. I couldn’t dodge a question about “if I was” this – or “if by any chance” I was that. I was alone, only answerable to myself. For many queer people, the online space – however scary – is the place they must go. LGBTQ folks couldn’t talk about it around school, or round conversations at tables… and God forbid there was more than one queer couple on television at any one time. Before dating is even an option, there’s years of harmful imagery that affects queer youth. I had experiences of bullying from a young age that mirrored this. Despite never coming out, what my sexuality meant to my peers was pre-determined. Words crafted at break time, painted with homophobia – created deep rooted vulnerabilities I became ashamed of. On a couple of isolated but unacceptable occasions, I was touched unsolicited with these taunts also. I have spoken about this before, but the mediation of my body resulted in it not feeling exclusively my own. It had lasting effects, to a point that there wasn’t a single part of myself (physically and emotionally) that I could be 100% vulnerable with… and therefore, anybody else.  

From nights showering in the dark, replaying voices, and a whole host of other deflection tactics; I became used to telling myself that I was unable to love or be loved in certain ways others could. Whether it was from societal messages, or people I had interacted with, I was bad meat. It’s been a while, but now that I’m standing on my own two feet. I know that I’m allowed to hurt, I’m allowed to be angry. To have a positive conclusion, you must explore the dark spots that lurk undiscovered. Positivity and negativity can coexist, and they don’t have to eliminate each other. Being who we are is extremely important, but in the same breath, it’s exhausting that my sexuality (one of the least interesting things about me) kept me up at night. Anger melted into sadness as l learned to backspace the narrative that I had to punish myself for something I couldn’t change.

Despite my protests, was I trying to find someone to fill the part of my life that was closed off to me?

Why must we internalise feelings to prioritise the comfort of people who don’t have our best interests at heart? If I was the “norm”, I wouldn’t worry or be defined by it. It’s something I, along with many, have had to consider. Love or attraction in any form, is something that transcends norms or hatred. It’s an instinctive thing. It makes all of us human, and it would be against nature to deny it. Speaking of love, I’m lucky that I have an extremely supportive family and friend network. They wouldn’t care, they’d still love me unconditionally. Yet, through no fault of their own, I kept those things to myself, shutting them out to a part of myself that they would have bear no ill-will against.  Dangerously, I told myself that if they were just my fears, they’d be less real and somehow go away. They didn’t… I’m here, writing this after all. 

At the start, there was also a subtle disdain I had for the dating apps I was joining. “Too many people.” …. “God, I have to talk”… I would question the process of reducing people to a bunch of pixels.  But to a community that’s reduced to their sexual or aesthetic value regardless, it’s a dance many already know the choreography to. Dating apps known for shallow consumerism, facilitators of commodifying the face; are still in practise – safer places compared to the real world. I was told that it was okay to look. By extension, it allowed people to look at me too. Statistically, most swiped left, but it was strangely inspiring. You can swipe any direction. Regardless, you’ve seen my face, and I’ve got the power to allow you to. Sometimes I think it was all a hollow gesture. But something inside of me pushed me to at least test the water. I was told from others that online dating wasn’t that deep. But back then, for me it was. Was I being a hypocrite? Despite my protests, was I trying to find someone to fill the part of my life that was closed off to me? Of course not. I needed this to understand my personal value. Sometimes it takes what you “shouldn’t do” to find what you should. No one has a roadmap for self-discovery.  No one can truly go into anything planning on what they’ll feel on the way out. If we did, we wouldn’t do it.  

It was nice knowing the people behind the pictures. I spoke to genuinely kind people with different life paths, perspectives, needs – all in a lens I hadn’t looked through before. I might not speak to these people again, but unbeknownst to them, I have a lot to thank them for. I was able to use these conversations and reassess what I needed. It wasn’t a relationship, it wasn’t a hook-up, it was the emotional vulnerability that I refused myself for too long. The possibility of uncovering emotional discomfort is a strange one. We confront fear and worry, scared that it will end in embarrassment. Yet every time you can tell yourself to stop, you can realise that those feelings will never be as bad as learning not to feel at all. To feel one’s heartbeat with warmth for at least a temporary time is a medicine many crave, even if it dissipates as we become resistant to its workings. 

Self-worth is dependent on the person we are, not the one we feel we have to be

Reflecting on those months being on dating apps and one isolated week I re-downloaded them – I can now say I currently do not use them, and don’t plan to for a long time. They might’ve turned into symbols of self-discovery, but they also signified the pain I was stepping away from. This, and another quick-to-pass “situation” gave me a sense of self-autonomy. I can’t rely on another being to feel comfortable, and I certainly don’t have to equate only meeting their needs as meeting my own. Self-worth is dependent on the person we are, not the one we feel we have to be. I’m accepting what my reality is, and its more cathartic than being hypnotised by false truths and promises. As much as it hurt (and still does), I needed to look in the mirror and finally see the man I was in a constant relationship with. The man who knows my secrets, my pain, my vulnerabilities. I can’t say this experience has made me totally more self-loving because it hasn’t. Like everybody, I still have a penchant to feel disgust, self-loathing, and self-doubt. But now, it’s more about the journey I’m on to emotionally recover and mature from, opposed to perpetuating the old cycle that told me I couldn’t.  

All too often, the acknowledgement that we must be nice to ourselves is difficult. We must be unapologetic and sometimes ruthless to constantly strive to make a form of happiness that fits us. The world can feel lonely, but on days we let ourselves understand it’s not the be all and end all – we can also acknowledge that it’s a little more open that it was before going through tribulations. The world is vast and it’s there waiting for me to walk around it on my own for a bit. Writing this and understanding these facts have made me also realise that not only can I enjoy my own company, but I can share it with people who I know deserve it. They’re already here, and I can’t wait to share it with them more. 

Ed Farley

Featured image courtesy of Ed Farley. No changes were made to this image. 

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