How did gay men connect with each other before dating apps?
It’s hard to imagine what queer dating was like before we had the benefit of technology such as online dating, smart-phones, and location-based hook-up apps.
Online dating has its ups and downs, but it’s definitely given us a new set of tools to help guys who are into guys to connect with each other.
But how did we get here?
Life before Gaydar
You may not be old enough to remember what queer dating was like before the emergence of online dating platforms such as Gaydar. Cruising, bars and clubs, and saunas and bathhouses were some of the most effective ways to meet other guys for a hook-up or something more. The other main option for finding a date was personals ads.
Gay magazines would all have a Personals section, where you could list your profile. There generally wasn’t any photos, just a few lines of text that listed your age, your location, and what you were looking for. If you liked the look of someone’s profile, you had to send a letter to the magazine – the magazine would then send it off to the guy that you wanted to contact. If they were interested, they would then write to you or call. It took some patience, but it was worth the effort.
Taking personals ads to the next level
Henry Badenhorst and Gary Frisch created Gaydar when a friend told them that he was too busy to find a date.
The emerging technology of the internet enabled the founders of Gaydar to take the principles of the printed personals ads in the magazines and speed up the whole process. Being able to send and receive messages in real-time was a total game-changer.
Gaydar became the first LGBTQ social network – a platform that brought queer men together and created a safe space for them to talk and connect with each other.
The rise of the smart-phone has seen a further evolution in the way that we all access and share information, and how we communicate.
With our phones ever-ready, we’re now always online – constantly multi-tasking. Our phones enable us to be simultaneously working, being entertained, keeping up-to-date with our friends, assessing global trends and emerging issues, as well as looking for love and hook-ups.
Still here. Still queer.
Throughout Gaydar’s 20-year history, it’s a business that’s been founded, owned, and managed by people who are proud to be part of the LGBTQ community.
Our home is in London, but we’re part of a global queer community that helps to bring people together around the world.
Other dating apps and brands have come and gone, but we’re still here, we’re still queer, and our focus remains firmly on the needs of our LGBTQ community.
Gaydar is here to help people connect with each other, because everyone who works at Gaydar knows from personal experience how important that is.
Gaydar advocates for equality, and fights against discrimination and homophobia – again, because everyone who works at Gaydar knows from personal experience how it feels to be treated as less than equal. The Gaydar team are waving flags at Pride marches around the world because we respect and honour the people who fought for our rights, and want to create a better future for the generations of LGBTQ people who come after us.
Put the technology to work, start a conversation, and see who you can connect with today.
I first created a profile on Gaydar in the early 2000s, not long after it started – it was only available on desktop at that time. I didn’t have a proper laptop back then, but I was using an internet box for access through my TV, it was a cheaper way to access the internet at that time.
Throughout the 2000s and beyond, I had this profile – regularly updating pictures and adding new content to make me more dateable – whatever that meant. For me, it was always a work in progress.
There were a few dates and booty-calls, but friendships were also made. Sometimes, sex wasn’t even involved! I wonder if this has been lost since the birth of the app-based dating sites?
You see, back in the day – only a bit over a decade ago, but now seems like a lifetime – your Gaydar profile had content. It was like a mini Facebook profile. I probably used to have more information on my Gaydar profile than I do on my current Facebook profile – I don’t want a work colleague knowing the type of guy that I’m attracted to, or what I do under the duvet.
A Gaydar profile could really open a person up. Most people had a picture on their profile, so – in a gay fish-pond like the Glasgow scene was in the 2000s – you were regularly bumping into people whose profile you’d seen on Gaydar. Gaydar was pretty much it at the time.
The coffee date was a thing. I met one of my best friends on a coffee date we’d arranged through Gaydar. We got on fine, but it was quite clear from the start that we would be better as friends than as a hookup – sex was pursued elsewhere.
Gaydar used to make a noise when a new message was received. There was one guy – I liked his profile so I’d sent him a message. I spent a week waiting for that noise to indicate that he’d replied. Eventually, we happened to bump into each other out and about. We started meeting up and developed a friendship over a number of years, regularly seeing each other and socialising. Sex was never involved but, if it hadn’t been for Gaydar, I might never have noticed him or spoke to someone who was as interesting as he was.
The chat-rooms were a big thing. Each region had their own chat-room. Entering the chatroom for Glasgow really felt like entering a gay bar at nineteen or twenty in the mid 1990s. You were suddenly the new person and were clocked. A lot in there already knew each other and comments were made, or you were immediately hit upon by private chat requests.
The chat-room was a social space – an appendage to the pubs or saunas in the city. For many, it was a point of contact with a scene and a community that – for reasons personal to themselves or location – they couldn’t physically access.
Sometimes, drama from the chat-room would spill over into the real world. I’d sometimes overhear a conversation in a toilet queue or words snatched near the bar. There would be talk about something that had been said in the chatroom, or a recognised face that had ignored someone’s online advance.
Nowadays, dating apps have become more succinct with the initial information provided. It really is about being direct. People don’t have time to make a listicle of what they like and don’t like. Guys don’t need to upload lots of extra pics – you can just link to an Instagram account.
For a certain demographic of guys, Gaydar was a milestone in being able to instantly connect through the internet with other guys, with a culture, with a community. It has had to adapt, but who in this world hasn’t?