Sean Lìonadh on online dating as a gay man

We interviewed filmmaker Sean Lìonadh, whose short Tonight appears in SQIFF programme What Brings You On Here?, about being a gay man and online dating culture.


What do you think has changed in the experience of being a gay man with the development of online dating?

I think gay dating, as with all dating, has now been updated to work with the rest of capitalism, and with an economy-based society. By this I mean, online dating is very much just a service that offers a ‘product’. The twist is: we’re the product. And we have to sell ourselves like all good capitalist babies. The problem with selling is that flaws are thoroughly swept under the carpet (you’d never see an iPhone advert letting you in on the fact that the damn things smash so easily). For that reason, perhaps the age-old gay craving to be perfect and to over-compensate for shame is now more prominent than ever. You might say online dating gives us more choice and freedom, but I fear this might just be the illusion of choice.

The programme showcases both the exciting aspects of online hookups, as well as the more challenging or dissatisfying ones. What sort of dialogue around these ideas are you hoping for in the discussion following the shorts?

I hope we can talk openly about how online hookups make us feel. Desire is the root of some of my deepest, darkest feelings about myself, so bringing these to light in a film was a terrifying but also an incredibly freeing thing for me to do. I hope the discussion can be an extension of this for myself and everyone else that might want to share their own experiences.

Why did it feel important to you to make a film about online dating/hookup apps?

I felt commandeered by the addiction that had developed in me for hookups. I hurled a lot of resentment at myself for my use of dating apps. It made me absolutely unacceptable to myself. Making a film about these things for a platform like BBC The Social felt like a big fuck you to my shame. It also allowed me to get a little closer to the root of the problem.

Tonight is one of several films you’ve made with BBC The Social – how do you find it distributing your films on a platform with such a big online audience?

Online platforms give you a very immediate and very honest (though admittedly knee-jerk) response. The scale of it can be terrifying, as I experienced with my other short Time for Love. I’m so grateful to have been able to get my work onto something as poisonous as a Facebook timeline, and to hopefully have refreshed people with something that wasn’t a headline of absolute DOOM. I’m also looking forward, however, to making more work for cinema audiences as there’s nothing quite like watching your film alongside an audience.

Tonight screens as part of SX presents: What Brings You On Here? on Friday 4 October at CCA Glasgow. Click here for more information and to book tickets.