This is an entry about firsts.
It was the summer I graduated from college. I met up with him in a busy night market in Tainan. He was a teacher, and we talked for quite a while about our respective lives in his apartment and cuddled. Afterwards, we had beef noodle soup at a very small restaurant nearby and continued the conversation. It was his favorite place. He said I was cute and it was nice spending time with me.
That was my first meeting enabled by a dating app. During college, I was never very comfortable with my sexuality. I avoided talking about dating with friends and sat quietly in a corner whenever the topic of relationships came up in social gatherings. The idea of meeting guys in a romantic context, or even dating, was foreign and scary. My first forays were restricted to reading online erotic fiction and chatting with anonymous guys in some unknown corner of the world. I had heard of apps like Jack’d and Grindr but never tried them. But at that time, having just graduated from college and traveling in a foreign country where no one knows me, I discarded my usual cautiousness and summoned the courage to download Jack’d, and that was the beginning of my experience with dating apps.
The first experience was exciting – a real-life connection with a gay guy. Even better, it was someone who thought I was cute and with whom I shared a connection. I started conjuring up all these expectations for this new tool – perhaps new friends? New connections? Finding people who are similar to me?
In the fall, I started professional school in Southern California and started using Jack’d more regularly. Using apps was nothing like what I had expected – it turned out to be a rather self-esteem crushing experience. I talked with people, opened up and thought that I made new friends, but more often I was quickly blocked or ignored after sending a face picture. I learned all the lingo: “top”, “bottom”, “looking” and it took a while to realize what “friend and fun” really meant. I learned that it was socially acceptable to ask to fuck in the first message. It wasn’t long before I started dreading the inevitable question of “pic?” and became afraid to show people my face. I was never felt so disrespected and judged in my life.
Going through these rejections, I developed intense emotions that I had not experienced before. I felt ugly, undesirable, and worthless. For the first time I discovered the concept of my own body image and it was a very poor one. The elusive vision of belonging and romance that I hoped to find in the virtual world never materialized. Instead, I found my first heartbreaks, shame, meaningless hookups and fear of catching some unwanted bugs.
At one point, I met this guy while spending my break in LA. He was really nice, and we chatted, met up and got along well. We decided that it would be cool for him to take me to a gay club in LA since I have never been. It was about a year and half into my graduate school and a while after that trip to Taiwan. I was a busy graduate student, and I rarely went out; I was still very discreet, and the concept of gay club only existed peripherally in my mind. In fact, I barely even went out to school parties.
On a Friday night, we had Brazilian food for dinner and went across the street to one of the busy clubs in West Hollywood. All I have to say at this point is that it was simply eye opening. To see the go go boys dancing, with perfect abs and glistening muscles. Troupes of hot gay guys drinking, dancing and grinding. Occasionally, I would see people I recognized from dating apps, many of whom have always ignored me.
Then, we went to Asian night Gameboi at the notorious Rage. I had heard of these places before and knew some guys who would spend 3 hours driving up every weekend from San Diego just to go clubbing here. So that was a taste of life in Hollywood. The glamour and debauchery that I had only read in books. The energy, sweat, cologne, alcohol, EDM music, lust all blended in the nauseating but intoxicating dance floor. The sex appeal of impossibly beautiful bodies and overwhelming flow of lust. Guys everywhere grinding, making out and putting their hands in god knows what places. I had never experienced anything like this before. I was so focused on school and academics. I was a good student.
Since then, I started clubbing. After my (really important) school exam, I got pretty drunk and for the first time grinded and made out with a boy on the dance floor. I felt so bad about it the next day I found him on Jack’d and apologized for my poor decision making while under the influence. I was fascinated by that life. I went more regularly, sometimes by myself because I didn’t know many people in LA. That glamourous life was so alluring and addicting.
Through clubbing, I picked up a few new emotions – jealousy and bitterness. I was jealous that no one hit on me. I was jealous that hot Asian boys would desperately try to get with the white guy. I was bitter that I would be too busy with school to ever look anything close to a go go boy. I was bitter that people had boyfriends but still grinded with strangers while I was just standing in the corner, watching. I learned to be vain and superficial. I learned to buy skin tight t-shirts and skinny jeans that didn’t quite fit my thick thighs. I learned to work out and learned to stop eating carbs. And I learned that I was seriously ashamed for all the potato queens. I had no idea what I was doing anymore, and I craved answers… I was hurt, jaded and cynical, and I hated gay guys.
I was online stalking this guy I met on Jack’d one day and stumbled upon his Tumblr. I had no idea what a Tumblr was at the time – California boys just have all these random social media things that I have never heard of. Snapchat what? When I finally met up with that person, the encounter was completely different from all my other app enabled meetings. I had stayed up all night reading his Tumblr. I read about his school struggles, body image issues, dating mishaps and other experiences that resonated with me so much. It was like getting to know the story of a person before I even met him. He was inevitably super embarrassed that I had read his Tumblr, but our conversation was deep and personal. It felt more like I was talking to a person and not an objectified app profile. I realized me and him were not so different after all.
That was when I started exploring the world of gaysian Tumblr and subreddit where others shared their stories of romance, heartbreak, insecurities, fears and bitterness. It was such a surprise to find these stories. When I stumbled on stories of successful romantic relationships, I became more hopeful. I realized that there is a community of people who were not as concerned with superficial traits. They also voiced their dissatisfaction with the things I had observed in the gay community and reflected deeply on many issues. After snooping around for a while, I finally summoned enough courage to create my own Tumblr and messaged the people whose writing I loved.
Through that, I discovered friendship. Despite the physical distances, I found people who understood my experiences and shared my struggles. Reading stories provided insights and answers to my questions. It was the pivotal point where I began to reflect on and compare my own experiences. I had a better understanding of why people act the way they do, of their insecurities and of the past traumas that still drive people’s behaviors. From their stories, I came up with my own answers and reoriented myself with new directions.
Feeling burnt out from professional school, I decided to take a year off to get a Masters of Public Health on the East Coast. During orientation, we were challenged to take leadership roles and put our efforts into improving a community in need of public health professionals. I realized I was in such a community all along. As a gaysian, I felt incredibly isolated and that my feelings and experiences were not well captured by existing groups. My formative contacts with the gay world were anything but positive. I was in a community where people like me lacked guidance and role models in a critical period of self discovery.
So along with my good friend Jeff (met through Tumblr of course), we decided to found Gaysian Third Space (G3S), a place for gaysians to share their stories and provide mentorship for those who are still finding themselves. We named it Third Space because we wanted it to be different – a place outside of dating apps and the clubbing scene – where individuals can find a supportive community that encourages each other to grow and mature as they explore their own identities.
These were my series of “firsts”. Through the work I am doing with G3S and collaborating with other gaysian organizations such as GAPIMNY, I hope the next generation of gaysians coming to terms with their identities will have different, more positive and supportive “firsts”.
If you are interested in learning more about the work at G3S, please follow our Tumblr at gaysianthirdspace.tumblr.com. We run a number of different programs for the G3S Community, including Follower Fridays, tinychats, and the newly-formed G3S Mentors program! We are always looking for more people to engage in discussions on gaysian issues as well as additional collaborators to further our mission. Join us to create a supportive and thriving safe space for gaysians and feel free to contact us on Tumblr or at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or suggestions.