It’s interesting to be spending time in Greece during my adult years. I left my country when I was 22 and didn’t get a chance to get to know many different aspects of it. The truth is that I got disappointed in so many ways growing up here that I actually refused to get to know it better. Things have been a bit different lately. I’m now writing this while sitting by the beach. It’s a nudist beach where apparently a lot of gay men come and hang out in the summer. And it’s not that far from where I live. It’s the first time I come here and I didn’t even know that such a place existed.
One of the things that I’ve been exploring anew here in Greece is online dating. If you go on a gay dating site the first thing you’ll probably notice (or at least that’s what I noticed) is in what frequency people’s profiles are faceless and generally try to be as anonymous and unidentifiable as possible. One of those profiles was someone named ‘without photo?’ (WP) who I started chatting with. I still don’t know his name.
I live in a village of 2000 people at the north of Greece. One evening I receive a message on Grindr rom WP. As usual there’s nothing on his profile and his main pic is a generic pic of a mature man cooking some eggs on a grill. It looks like a screenshot from TV. Apart from this, his age and the fact that he identifies as a “daddy”, there’s nothing more. On his profile text he writes in a funny/sarcastic tone about how nowadays we tend to reveal everything about ourselves and we don’t leave room for imagination.
I notice that he’s 200meters way. As I see that I freeze. It’s too close to home, I’m thinking. I live with family and the cost for my family’s life and therefore partly mine if people living in the village find out is too high to risk. I reply nevertheless, asking him if he’s from here. He’s actually not, he’s from a village nearby.
We exchange a few messages and WP asks if I’m free to meet. I tell him that I’d be up for it but I’d need a photo first. He replies that he doesn’t send pics before he meets. This is such a strange concept to me and my first instinct is to say no; but I actually decide to be curious about it. I ask him if he meets people without a photo himself and he says he does. I also ask him what happens if he doesn’t like the other person; he responds that he’s just being honest, which makes me think of how hard being honest in such an upfront way would actually be for me. On the other hand, I’m thinking that there have been numerous times when I met people and they either looked or felt different from what I expected when seeing their pics. I decide to leave it there and do not respond further. I expect him not to write again.
He does send me again a couple of days later though. In a casual and friendly tone he asks me if I want to meet again but I say I can’t. Which was true, but only half-true, the other half of the reason being that I wouldn’t do it if I hadn’t seen how he looks like first.
A couple of days later, on a very hot day and while cycling back from the city I receive his message: ‘are you on your bike, in the city?’. I’m a bit shocked. I say yes and I ask him if he saw me. He asks for more details to see if it was indeed me. He said that he saw me from his car entering a super market. It was me. I didn’t see him myself; the truth is that when I’m out walking or cycling I spend most of my time in my head. “I missed my only chance to see how you look like!” I write back. He says “stop right there, tell me where you are and I’ll come and find you!”. I think about it for 5 mins but by the time I say yes, he says he’s already met his friend for a coffee. I go back home feeling disappointed. I send him a text telling him half-jokingly how unfair it is that he even saw me in real life while I have no idea how he looks like.
As I reflect on what’s going on I see a different side of the story. I first see how indirectly pushy I am being. WP was clear from the very beginning about how he prefers to meet people without a pic exchange. Having lived abroad for long I’m used to the majority of people being open online so my assumption is that he does it because he might not be good-looking, or because he wants to hide something intentionally. I see that the fact that I’m able to put my face pic online is a matter of privilege, not courage. WP might have a million valid reasons why he doesn’t do it. His whole social existence might be at stake if he does.
The other interesting thing about what’s happening with WP and the fact that he knows how I look like but I know nothing about him is this: I like it. I find it so incredibly interesting and my curiosity about what’s going on is getting so deliciously intense that I want to keep playing this game. On the other hand, the mystery of how he looks like makes my imagination go wild. And interestingly, the more I keep chatting to him the less I seem to think about his looks.
The last thing is something even more unexpected. I actually start being more curious about the people around me when I’m out. I keep looking around in case we spot each other again. But the result of this is even more exciting: random men who I normally wouldn’t notice, look back with the same curiosity. Some of them even say hello. Others wink at me, or say something funny. And it makes me think that even if rigid and less open-minded societies like Greece want us silent and invisible, we are still out there. We’re in the smiles and the eye contacts we exchange, the casual jokes we tell each other, the ways we indirectly flirt with each other. We are everywhere.
I haven’t met WP yet but we’re still in touch. He’s actually the one who’s recommended this beach to me. I don’t know if I’ll ever end up meeting him but I’d like to. And even if it doesn’t go well, even if he’s not the person who I imagine him to be, he’ll always be the person who got me out of my head and made me notice the other men around me.