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How Instagram became the new gay cruising ground

By Samuel McManus

Sometimes love begins with five likes. It did with me, or at least it nearly did. I was in Paris a few years ago doing all the things you do in Paris – drinking wine and seeing art. Having done a bit of the former, I decided to do the latter, and went to the Louvre, and put a picture on Instagram, with the statutory geo-tag.

Like all good millennials, I waited for the likes to roll in, returning to my feed like a bee to jam. And then I saw it.

Someone else, someone else I rather liked the look of and followed, was in the same place. “Message him, go on,” my friend said. So I did. We met up by Mona, had drinks, and later that night made Archimedes proud in the hotel bath.

Years later and he’s still a pal – and occasional shag ­– and I will remember to my dying day that the Mona Lisa was the cause of our shag. Well, Mona Lisa and Instagram, of course, because without the pic-based social media platform we would never have met. Instagram is the cruising site of choice for the tech-savvy millennial – and with 600 million users and counting, it offers considerably more flesh than Hampstead ponds.

What you get from Instagram is quite different from any other cruising spot, as my friend Tim points out. “It’s handy as it’s a filter,” he says. “You can figure out if they’re successful, see a variety of pics and if they’re fit. Even for a shag, I like to know if they’re a certain type of person. First, a cheeky message in the DM, then to WhatsApp and the rest is history.” And he’s right, you can deep-dive into someone’s life – see their likes, their friends, where they hang out, the physiological standard of their ex – and if things don’t stack up, there is no awkward chat. You just flick through to the next feed. Little wonder Facebook valued it at $1 billion back in 2012.

Because it exists in the strange nowhere world of cyberspace, it has a way of emboldening people who would never dream of cruising in real life. “It’s open 24 hours, seven days a week. No one sends dick pics straightaway. You don’t have to tell anyone your preferences. It’s real without being real.”

Of course, its ambiguity is not always the bonus it might seem. “I have died with embarrassment before when I have got gay vibes from a guy on it and it turns out he is practically married. He took it in good part but now when I see him at parties I want to curl up into a tiny ball,” says one anonymous friend.

The key is decoding the language of both their pictures – are there, for instance, no picture of girls in their 3,000-pic feed? – and your target’s response. It’s a sort of polari, a gay language for a modern idea, though instead of ‘bona basket, you dolly old eek,’ you just like every second picture for a few lines, sit tight and hope for the best. It’s certainly less cold than Hampstead Heath in Feb.

Max Wallis’s first book Modern Love was shortlisted for the prestigious Polari Prize. His new art book, Everything Everything, draws back the curtain on millennial sexuality in a world populated by swimming pools, piss and cum. It can be bought at ‘Read this book.’ ­— Russell T Davies

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