Mix It Up With Meet Cute: An Old-School Mixer For New-School Folk

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Words By Jessica Alice
April 21, 2015
Like many Australian kids raised on a diet of American television, it was impossible to miss the differences in how we approach dating from the rituals I saw played out on my favourite shows. Phrases like ‘going steady’ were part of a recognisable but alien cultural lexicon, with the closest equivalent in the Australian vernacular something along the lines of ‘seeing’ or being ‘with’. Most of us would also never dream of just straight up asking a stranger out on a date irl. In a country where courtship is so informal and ill-defined, yet still quite conservative about sexuality, how do non-heterosexual, non-monogamous or just plain kinky Australians find safe spaces to explore lust and romance?

When Karen Pickering started ‘dating’ it wasn’t even called that. “I started seeing guys and hooking up in 1990, the year I turned 13.” Queer writer and HIV advocate Nic Holas started going to gay clubs when he was 14. “A bit has changed since then,” he says. “I mean, we didn’t even have mobile phones.”

Dating apps like Tinder or Grindr are probably the first thing to spring to mind when we think about Modern Dating. Kate Iselin of Thirty Dates of Tinder is into it. “I really like being able to communicate with people who I otherwise would never get a chance to talk to,” she says. Like with all things, though, there can be down sides: “Getting a dozen messages on Saturday night saying, ‘U up, wanna fuk???’ isn’t exactly erotic or romantic.”

As a result of these constantly updating, novel dating tools, Nic reckons our desires haven’t changed, “but our modes of connecting and filtering have. Apps have replaced dance floors, crystal meth has replaced ecstasy, undetectable HIV+ has replaced AIDS. They’re all significant modifiers of expectation and behaviour for gay men in the ‘scene’.”

It seems, though, like Australia’s dating scene is evolving in a style all its own. Nic’s female American friends “can’t believe the basic-bitch way straight Australian guys try and pick them up. There is an emotional immaturity to the way Australians hook up.”

The awkward stoicism we inherited from the English, infused with our signature laidback larrikinism seems to make Aussies go a bit daft when it comes to confessing our feelings. Karen, a feminist event organiser and writer, loves the American-style ‘cold approach’. In the States, “it’s not considered weird or too desperate to find someone attractive and give them your number,” she says. But this in-your-face way of expressing romantic interest can have its own problems, she adds, particularly when the advances are unwanted. “Especially for feminists and women, who might be like ‘leave me the fuck alone I’m just getting a coffee in my slob clothes forchrissake.’”

“Apps have replaced dance floors, crystal meth has replaced ecstasy, undetectable HIV+ has replaced AIDS. They’re all significant modifiers of expectation and behaviour for gay men in the ‘scene’.”

When it comes to expressing interest in a hottie, it’s important to balance protecting our pride and respecting the hottie’s agency and autonomy. “I think all people feel vulnerable and exposed when they’re expressing romantic or sexual interest in somebody,” Karen says. “Even and maybe especially the people who don’t act like they’re nervous. It’s a real leap of faith to put yourself out there, and I’d love to see people be able to do that in person more, as well as have strategies for dealing with rejection and escalation.”

“The Australian tendency toward the informal and over-familiar can be a huge asset. I’ve met and screwed some awesome people because I literally said ‘Hey, you’re extremely attractive. Do you want to fuck?’ It’s amazing how often that works, and if it doesn’t then you can feel like a rad bitch for going in so hard.”

Karen is a bit of a legend at creating open and consenting spaces to help people connect – her long running Cherchez la Femme salons have been engaging feminist audiences for years. And now, she’s started a new dating event called Meet Cute. It’s described as an “old school mixer” that is totally inclusive. I asked Karen how it’s going to work – is it like speed dating?

“It’s actually kind of the anti-speed-dating! I’ve done those nights and it’s so nerve-wracking and not so conducive to connecting to be on display in such an intense way.”

“Traditional speed dating is usually super focused on heteronormative coupling with a view to ‘a successful relationship’ being the outcome. That’s like, the last thing a lot of us want. But whether it’s on Tinder, OKCupid or at a dating night, I’m usually trying to test out the feminist credentials of people I’m interested in. At Meet Cute, that’s less of an issue and we’re working hard to also make it a queer, trans, poly, sex work and kink positive space.”

Inclusive spaces like this are, Nic says, “super fucking important. Those spaces need to be created by those communities and supported by the rest of us. A gay men’s sex club in Sydney worked with the trans community recently to arrange a night for trans guys and their admirers. That’s awesome.”

“A lot of noise is made about spaces being exclusionary, which is an issue,” he continues. “Gay men seem to be very quick to say ‘we need our spaces’ but don’t consider the impact of who is being further left out of the cold. We [gay men] still need spaces in which we can be ourselves, but we also have to recognise we’re at the top of the pyramid when it comes to our fellow rainbow folk: lesbians, trans and intersex people, bisexuals, queers.”

“Whether it’s on Tinder, OKCupid or at a dating night, I’m usually trying to test out the feminist credentials of people I’m interested in. At Meet Cute, that’s less of an issue and we’re working hard to also make it a queer, trans, poly, sex work and kink positive space.”

I chatted with writer and trans advocate Fury, who agrees that queer spaces still have work to do to be truly inclusive – a lot of gay clubs, for instance, have stairs that automatically exclude many disabled folk. “If part of being a queer is being socially active with other queers, how can someone who literally can’t access the space engage with this aspect of their identity on an equal footing?”

Fury says that dating while trans can be really hard, “especially being non-binary, because you’re almost certainly going to be misgendered. Unless you go into a space where people don’t assume anything about your gender, you are going to be read by the opinion of whomever you encounter. This gets difficult when people’s identities revolve around their sexuality – which, in marginalised circles, does happen.”

As Australia trundles along on its way to becoming a more progressive society, it’s the feminists and queer activists who are leading the charge for inclusive spaces.

I ask Nic what he reckons is the best way to approach someone you’re keen on. “Confidence is sexy,” he says. “Arrogance is a turn off. As is faux humility, though. So be gentle when rejecting and gracious in defeat.”

This sentiment about grace is echoed by Karen. Her tip? “Watch the clips of people losing out on Oscars and learn the secret to a gracious defeat.” Sincerity is also key: “People can tell if you’re sincere, even if you’re trying to pick them up.”

Meet Cute is on this Thursday 23 April at the Belleville in Melbourne. Tickets are $20 and you can get yours here.

Photo Credit: Breeana Dunbar

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