Whenever one moves to a new place, there’s a period that’s spent learning how the people do things and trying to integrate into the community. It’s very different from being a tourist in that place and London is no different. The learning curve was no joke. Knowing how important the things that are not said were just as important as understanding what was being said (in clipped, polite tones of course). I had to learn how to make friends all over again. A friend recently told me that she’s been in London for 15 years and she still doesn’t know how to make friends here (she’s from Paris). Aside from weathering the culture shock of a new environment, us gay people have to learn what’s acceptable in any gay society and how to fit in. It hasn’t been easy but it has definitely been fun and illuminating. Some of these may be slightly NSFW. Either that or I’m more prudish that I think:
1. Colour-blocking – This is one of those things that’s hard to talk about. Skin color has never been an issue for me. I’m not going to say that I’m colour-blind because I’m not – I definitely understand how race has shaped the world (and continues to influence how people relate to one another) but it has just never been that important to be when deciding to go on a date with someone or even be friends with them. But the reality is that skin color is a big part of who we are and what we look like and unfortunately it comes with such political associations as to make people choose to see it outside what it really is – just another physical attribute. While it isn’t as bad in London as some other places I’ve been, it certainly does exist and always leaves me feeling weird when I cannot figure out if I’m being rebuffed/chatted up based only on the colour of my skin and nothing else.
2. More Fun With Stereotypes – Everyone assumes here that if you’re black, you’re hung and top and your sole interest in life is to satisfy any hungry bottom AKA a “Walking Black Dick”. I have had people simply ask if I have a big cock even before a simple hi/hello. It’s always amusing how black guys clearly state online “I’m not a top” just for this reason. However if you’re African, then you must be a dom top that will bring the full power of the “Dark Continent” (as well as a sizable third leg) down on their backsides. This is a view shared by many men in the UK including black men! On some level I don’t blame them as most African guys will claim to be top when asked due to high levels of “bottom shame”. A friend joked that the only way to know if an African man is bottom is if he’s the first to put his legs in the air in the bedroom!
3. “Are You Rent?” – While I’m nowhere near hot enough to be considered a rent boy, this happened to a friend at a sauna. We had both gone in to satisfy our voyeuristic appetites and were walking around checking out the action. My friend is a 6’2 black male in his late twenties, smooth, muscled, very good-looking. Throughout the entire visit, people kept asking him if he was rent. Someone even asked him how much he charged, after he had said already said he wasn’t rent. He was very upset. I’ve also heard that men in their twenties to thirties who look like out-of-towners (meaning black, latin or Asian) and go alone to gay bars are assumed to be rent boys and often no one will talk to them. London definitely isn’t the city to go out alone in. This is one of the things I miss about being home because I could comfortably go out alone and know that I’d meet people to talk to and hang out with and many great nights I’ve had were with people I just met.
4. Free Condoms For Everyone! You can get free condoms and lube from most gay bars. Often you see people come into a gay bar just to load up on these essential supplies and leave without even taking off their coats. Once I saw a guy who had loaded up on supplies only to have his bag fall open as he was running across a busy intersection, spewing packets and more packets of condoms and lube. Some people stared at him like he was the biggest pervert ever while others burst into laughter. He just ran off – the embarrassment was too much for him to bear. If you do get a sexually transmitted infection, there are men’s sexual health clinics with professional staff that offer free testing and treatment. Even gay bars occasionally have people on hand for HIV testing and the like. Compare with some African countries that still actively try to limit gay men from accessing healthcare – sad really.
5. The More People There Are, The Lonelier You Feel – It is easy to get laid in London but not so easy to find someone who’d go for a beer with you. Personally, I think it’s a problem that has arisen from online dating where sex is so easy to find and suddenly everyone is hyper-sexual and no one tries to be social in public places. People in the same room with you are often more likely to message you on some gay dating application and invite you over for ‘bedmatics’ than try to strike up a conversation. It took me a very long time to finally start meeting people who wanted to be friendly and do things outside the bedroom. Even then, people are so PC all the time that conversations seem like a political talk show. Thankfully I’ve made a great group of friends here where no conversations are ever taboo (well most conversations!).
6. “Partnered But Open” is The New Single – It sounds unreal but it is. Most single men don’t know what they are looking for. Yes I’m aware that’s a big generalization but this has been my experience. The ones who claim to be looking for “real love” seem to want to sleep with the whole world before they decide while the ones “not looking for anything serious” are quick to start bombarding you with messages after a date. However I didn’t expect to encounter so many men in open relationships. Even more surprising was how open they were about being in open relationships. I still compare homosexual to heterosexual relationships and I imagine that openness of this nature is less common in heterosexual relationships since often the couple has a lot more invested – house, extended family, kids take up so much time and open relationships are still considered “alternative” for lack of a better word, but it’s all the rage in gay London. There are more partnered but open guys that there aren’t but they are often friendly and well-adjusted although not emotionally available. My one problem is that dating someone like this means that I will always be second-best and that’s not acceptable to me. I’ve never been in a relationship that lasted more than two years so I don’t know what it’s like to be with one person for 15 years. Maybe being in a long-term relationship will change my mind but right now I don’t think it’s something I would ever want.
7. Sex, Drugs and Alcohol – People take drinking seriously. There are pubs everywhere which goes with the UK’s drinking culture. Walking around in central London on a Sunday morning involves looking clearly at the road in front of you to avoid slipping on someone’s vomit. Drugs are also big in London gay life. One of the things I had to Google was “PnP” which means Party and Play, a term for people who like to have sex whilst high on recreational drugs. There are so many that are common on the scene that I’ve lost track. I remember trying to get into a bathroom once in a club and standing in a queue for 35 minutes yet only moving two spaces. When I went to see what was causing the holdup (my bladder was in danger of involuntarily releasing its contents), I realized that the urinals were free but the stalls were super busy. There was a security guard in the bathroom to ensure single occupancy in the stalls. I wondered if everyone came with full bowels to the club or if there was an epidemic of “pee-shyness”. I was told later on that the stalls were busy because they were the only places people could get high without being caught. I’m yet to go to a club and not see people so high that they may as well be in another galaxy. It’s literally an “everybody is doing it situation”. Once, I got talking to this really good-looking older guy who worked in public sector but looked a bit spaced out. After awhile he admitted he had taken MDMA which really surprised me. I’ve been in places where gyrating dancers suddenly collapse, ambulances are called, the OD’ed folk are carried away and people continue dancing as if this happens every night. I also learned a new term – “disco-damaged” – which refers to guys (often quite muscled) who have a tired, washed-out look from using too many club drugs.
8. Variety Is Really The Spice of Life – There are so many types of men in London – twinks, bears, cubs, chubs, otters, jocks and the list goes on. No matter what your taste is you will find it. No matter what activities you like, no matter how kinky you are, you will find people who enjoy activities you like. While I’m closer to the vanilla end of the spectrum, there is something great about knowing that when I’d like to try something out (should I ever want to), I could do it easily.
9. Discretion Doesn’t Really Pay – Back home, no one uses a face pic online. If a guy uses a face pic, either he doesn’t care who knows he’s gay (meaning he doesn’t have much going for himself and you should avoid as he could get you into trouble) or he’s a scammer. If he’s really hot and muscly, he’s definitely a scammer and you should stay far, far away. It’s rather different in London – no face pic no response. No one will talk to you without a face pic which makes sense in a society where being gay is legal in the eyes of the law. I finally understood why most Brit visitors in Ghana had their face pic up – they come from a place where everyone does it and it’s the norm. This is not to say scammers don’t exist here: they do and are called “catfish” 🙂
10. There Are No Safe Havens – Gay bashing still happens in London and this year alone they have been a few brutal ones. Sometime last year, a drag queen was beaten up in Soho, London’s gay capital. People still report discrimination at work and their private lives. The good thing is that the law is on your side here, something sorely lacking in many African countries. You’re also allowed to publicly celebrate the freedom to be gay and it’s called the London Gay Pride, which is fast turning into a yearly tourist attraction and not only for gay people. I watched the pride march last year and it felt great to be a part of it, even if only from the sidelines.
It’s been fun so far living in London and exploring gay culture, and I hope to see and do more things in the coming months 🙂