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Grindr Diaries – some thoughts

Men are trash – Freddy Legg, 2018

#cambridge theatre Grindr LGBT

CW: Rape, Sexual Assault

The Grindr Diaries’ message is, as the show’s writer and director Freddy Legg puts it, that “men are trash.” The show's premise is simple – what would be a monologue is aided by the main character Tom's interactions with physical representations of his thoughts about the five men he's slept with. Staging-wise, there is Tom (played absolutely spectacularly by James Coe) in the centre, surrounded by these five men. Each take their turn to say their bit. It seems to be a play of teenage angst, lighthearted first time horror stories, and holiday romances – until Tom is raped, onstage. We move instantly from comedy to tragedy in the final instalment of the play.

The link between these six men? Grindr. Tom met each of these men on Grindr, and it is significant to note the distinctions between each experience. Every one is an archetype, in some way, marking out the five main interactions you might have with a man on Grindr, which is part of what makes it so important that one of those five interactions is nonconsensual.

The show discusses really important ideas surrounding toxic masculinity, "Grindr culture", however that may manifest, and what it is to be a gay man today. I chatted to play's writer and director Freddy Legg for his thoughts on the play, its message, and a wider discussion of “Grindr culture”.

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What motivated you to write the play, and what were its origins?

The seed of the play was from an epiphany I had in Week 7 or 8 of Michaelmas last year, when I realised that throughout my first term at Cambridge, with my interactions with men dominated by Grindr, this wasn’t the university experience I wanted, nor was it one I had signed on for. I was being pigeonholed because of Grindr's provision of easy access. I had very unstable relationships with the men I surrounded myself with, part of which was because of the app, and found myself becoming drawn more and more into a way of living with which I wasn’t entirely comfortable. This seed germinated into a fully grown idea, and after a two week writing process in the vac the play was born.

How did you find the process of writing? Did you draw much on personal experience?

Everything in the play comes from a place of truth. Lots of the anecdotes belong to myself or my friends, with differences in the details. From small things – there is a line early in the play where a character hits a baby deer and is forced to run over its head to put it out of its misery, whereas in reality my friend hit a baby fox and had to shoot it with the air rifle in his car boot – whereas other parts were fully fictionalised sequences stemming from small actions.

I loved writing the play. I found it challenging at points, especially parts stemming from my personal experiences – and actually, through the process of developing the show with the cast, realising that I was largely at fault for a breakdown in a relationship was a difficult thing to do. But I think that is part of what makes the show so powerful – it resonates so strongly because it comes from a place of deep introspection and self-analysis.

What do you think is the most significant moment in the play?

Many people might consider the moment where Tom is the victim of rape, which is designed to rock the audience to its core right after all the comedy sequences. I think instead it is Tom’s concluding monologue when he assesses the impact these apps and these men have had on his life. These lines were so brilliantly delivered with the fire and fury of all hell by James; on paper, the rape scene might seem more pivotal due to its sheer shocking violence, the monologue indicting Grindr (and the like) plays to me as most significant.

What do you think is the play’s overall message?

Men are trash. Well, kind of. More that, men are trash, but they don’t have to be. Tom concludes that “men do not naturally love anyone except themselves”. This stems from all sorts of places – toxic masculinity, societal expectations, etc. – and often is at its worst amongst gay men. As a gender, we need to aspire to be better. This need can be overlooked by gay men: coming from a place of oppression, there is a separation from the ideology “men need to be better” in the context of overt misogyny. In reality, gay men’s trashiness just presents itself in different forms: this still needs addressing in the context of the fact that all men can, and should, do better.

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The show seems to end in a place that’s fairly anti-Grindr: are there any positive aspects of Grindr, in your experience?

Freddy: There absolutely are. The play’s depiction of Grindr is very much a #FirstWorldProblem one. If you look at developing countries, where typically the LGBT+ civil rights movement is delayed in comparison to the UK, Grindr is an invaluable tool to connect the gay community in those parts of the world. It is worth bearing in mind that this can sometimes be abused – e.g. after a piece of homophobic legislation was enacted in Egypt a few years ago, members of the police used Grindr to track down and punish those engaging in homosexual activity, but overall, it is really important as a communication tool.