Monday, August 26, 2013

Planet(Romeo) of the Apes: Love and War Online in Europe

When it comes to soul mates, it's not how they meet (regardless of what cutesy Hollywood romantic comedies condition us to wish for) but that they meet at all. And these days, the Internet is as valid a means to that end as any other. I have a number of friends, gay and straight, who found the current loves of their lives while surfing the Web. I don't see it ever going down that way for me, but I remain open to the distinct possibility.

So if there are any gay men left who still object to online-dating websites and hook-up apps like Grindr, Hornet, PlanetRomeo and Manhunt (the ones I've used in the past few years, though there are a million more), they should reconsider. For guys who are still in the closet, it's the perfect way to reap the sexual benefits of gay life without participating in it full on. For those who've come out but couldn't be bothered to get ready to go out, you can find your match while lounging around unwashed and unclothed. If you're looking for fastlove (like George Michael in his hit from 1996, back when sex clubs and public parks and loos were still the best options), it's the perfect place to find it with minimal effort.

And finally, for those who think they'll meet higher-quality people in real life, judging from the number of guys who have messaged me after spotting me in a bar, a club, in the supermarket, running in the park, or walking down the street, the men you encounter online are the same ones you'll find off. The big difference: They're less inhibited online, free to express their true intentions from the safety of in front of the computer screen ("I want your body, not your heart," as Christina Aguilera sang on "Get Mine, Get Yours"), so if you don't fall for fake photos, artificial sweet talk and other assorted lies, you'll end up wasting less time with great pretenders. You no longer have to sleep with a guy to know that he won't call you the next day, and you will probably be spared the unwelcome discovery that you're dating a racist. People are far more likely to boldly and blindly spew their racism online.

On the downside, if you're looking for more than fastlove, or a conversation that doesn't include questions like "Top or bottom?", "What are you looking for?", "What are you into?" or "Horny?", you'll have to weed through a significant number of undesirables. I thought it couldn't get any worse than it was in Bangkok. After all, one would expect a city so dominated by the sex trade to be full of guys who are looking for only one thing online. Hence "fun" is usually the fresh catch of the day. What's love got to do with it?

I heard it through the grapevine while I was in Bangkok that European guys aren't the same online in Europe as they are in Bangkok, and for a while, that's all I had to go on. Before my arrival in Berlin in mid-July, I'd never experienced the online-dating scene in Europe first hand. I'd been told that guys would be more polite and less forward, and I figured out on my own that since I wouldn't be as much of an ethnic rarity as I was in South America, Australia and Asia, there probably would be fewer allusions to my skin color and that annoying myth ("Is it true what they say about black men?"), the bane of my existence for most of the past seven years (since I left the U.S. for Argentina on September 15, 2006).

In Germany, my expectations proved to be more or less on the mark. Most of the guys who contacted me were only looking for fastlove, but dominant opening line ("Sexy!") aside, they went about it in pretty much the same way that they would in person, usually asking my name and origin before "Top or bottom?" Curiously, in my entire month in Germany, I don't believe a single guy approached me speaking German, only English, which was different from my experience in Thailand and in South America. The guys that I did end up meeting face-to-face impressed me more on a conversational level than most of the locals I encountered when I went out.

So with my guard down, I was unprepared for the onslaught of crudeness that greeted my arrival in Italy a week and a half ago, mostly from Italians but also from horny guys here on holiday. I've seen more body parts shot at unimaginable angles in the last week and a half than I did in the two and a half years since I left Buenos Aires. (Who takes those graphic butt shots?!) And the guys had come-ons to match. Most of them were in Italian but by using my Spanish (to which Italian bears obvious similarities) and Google Translator, I caught their drift. (I also learned that Caio, which I always thought meant "Goodbye," also means "Hello.")

Why waste time asking my name or where I'm from when you can kick things off with a simple "Sex?"? And of course, as in every country into which I've stepped foot in the last two and half years, there's the dreaded "Top or bottom?" (or "Attivo o passivo?"), though for the first time since I arrived in Bangkok two years ago, no "fun" for "sex," or "Fun?" "XXX?" or "Hot pics?" some guys ask, suggesting that the shirtless ones in my profiles aren't hot enough. And while we're on the subject of my ego, I'm not sure whether to take the alarming number of guys who have asked if I am an escort, or if I would be willing to take money for the pleasure of being serviced, as a compliment or an insult.

I had no trouble, however, telling whether stern_mark, the 27-year-old with a photo-free profile who contacted me on PlanetRomeo yesterday meant to compliment or insult me. Yeah, I was a bit of a snarky jerk from the start but mostly because sometimes the only way to deal with the preponderance of inane introductions and profiles without photos is to have a little bit of fun with them. Why do people expect respect or a response when they aren't brave enough to show themselves?

All it took was an offhand sarcastic comment aimed at his opening line to set him off. He would have received a better response had his message come with a photo and without immediately identifying himself as "Asian," which insulted my intelligence and open-mindedness with its suggestion that he was in a hurry to get what he apparently saw as the one potential deal breaker out of the way. Or maybe he was bragging -- either way, I was thoroughly unimpressed. My response led to a breakdown of his composure and a complete expression of his true colors, which overshadowed any good points that he did eventually make (in message No. 12 below).

I forgot that sarcasm doesn't always translate well -- or maybe I just didn't care in that moment. But I don't think anything I wrote warranted his sweeping negative generalizations about black men -- "gorillas," as he calls us. Just because I was being a bit of an asshole, does that mean Joseph (the super-nice black guy from Washington DC whom I met on Friday night) is one, too?

I'm slightly ashamed of myself for baiting him in the first place, for not taking the higher road and for engaging him as long as I did. But a show of restraint on my part wouldn't have given me such a great view of stern_mark, a much better one than any photo would have offered. Tellingly, a non-Italian is one of the few guys in Italy who has even referred to my skin color or to race at all. Thanks to PlanetRomeo, another bullet dodged before it had a chance to be fired!

Here's how the battle (stern_mark vs. I_Travel) went down.

1. stern_mark 25. Aug. 2013 - 16:19
Hi Asian here now in rome
2. I_Travel 25. Aug. 2013 - 16:40
good for you lol
3. stern_mark 25. Aug. 2013 - 16:41
What u mean good for me. In what sense??
4. stern_mark 25. Aug. 2013 - 16:48
Why are u lol is there sny reason why u hv to laugh
5. I_Travel 25. Aug. 2013 - 16:49
let's just let this go. i'm not interested.
6. stern_mark 25. Aug. 2013 - 16:50
I'm not also I trested on u. I'm not interested on block guys
7. I_Travel 25. Aug. 2013 - 16:50
well then, you're the idiot because YOU messaged ME.
8. stern_mark 25. Aug. 2013 - 16:52
Sorry I'm just messaging a monkey like u want to give u a banana.
9. stern_mark 25. Aug. 2013 - 16:57
Pls observe respect in this site . U black people wherever u go ur true colours appear., u want to fight. Look back to ur origin famine drought. So be carefull what ur saying.
10. I_Travel 25. Aug. 2013 - 17:04
you are being ridiculous. i made a little joke and you got all bent out of shape about it. you are the one who brought color into it, first identifying yourself as asian, then going on and on about my being black. to me you just sound like a stupid racist. game over. you lose.
11. I_Travel 25. Aug. 2013 - 17:05
hahaha! thanks for confirming what i thought about you after getting your first message. you are a racist, chasing after a black guy when you actually hate black people. and you don't even have the guts to show your face. THAT is why i was not interested from the start.
12. stern_mark 25. Aug. 2013 - 17:13
U know in this chat . U should be carefull on what u write because it would mid understood., I was asking the reason why u laugh for no reason that's wh I ask u? N u don't answer . Lol means u are insulting me!!! For no reason . U don't hv to joke at me coz were stranger for both of us . U know what I mean. Be polite if I'm asking u just answer. Are u educated person . Did u ask my photos no coz u didn't., yes we here racist for black guy who act like u. U know I do t want to hv enemies here
13. stern_mark 25. Aug. 2013 - 17:15
Just be careful in Asia we do t want our blood to genes like u
14. I_Travel 25. Aug. 2013 - 17:18
whatever, dude. i'm done with this. i have more important things to do than engage in petty back and forth with a humorless racist. good luck in your search. i have a feeling you are going to need it.
15. stern_mark 25. Aug. 2013 - 17:23
U black people wherever u go ur always a troublemaker it's in ur blood gorillas!!go back to school. Educate urself .. Next time don't laugh if there no being funny I'm a nurse ur like my mental patient ill enter u to mental hospital
16. stern_mark 25. Aug. 2013 - 17:27
I'm not I tested never on black guys u spread d dideases u know that it's come from ur continent

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