Pat, 32 years old, identifies as a gay cis-man and is currently dating.
When I think about being completely comfortable and completely free, the first place that generally comes to mind is Soho. Even before I lived in London, I felt very safe in Soho. Obviously, it’s well known for being a queer space; there are lots of openly gay people around, they’re very visible. When I was coming down here as an 18-year-old and spending time in London, Soho always made me feel very safe. So, when I did move here, I found that a lot of the dates I organised in some way or other started or ended in Soho. I knew that if I wanted to hold someone’s hand, or if I wanted to show any sign of affection, I’d be safe. I didn’t feel the need to second guess myself because I felt that it wouldn’t even really be noticed. No one was paying attention to other couples holding hands.
The first date I went on when I moved to London was in Soho, and I remember being on the date and walking through Soho so both of us could get the train home. I remember him just grabbing my hand like it wasn’t really a big deal, which, for me, it kind of was. It wasn’t because I’d never have done that at home, but just the complete casualness of how it was done. I remember, we were leaving the bar and he grabbed my hand and was like, ‘Oh well, I’ll walk you to the tube station, I don’t want you to get lost’ (even though I knew where I was). That made it seem like a date, it was the complete casualness of it, not pausing, just doing it. My head was probably still quite panicked because a) I was on a first date, and b) I wasn’t so used to being anywhere where it was just so casual to do that. That sticks in my head: it was just so easily done. Then there’s this awareness: oh actually, if I’d wanted to, I could have done this earlier, or, actually this isn’t as big a deal as I’m making it out to be in my head.
Soho has that for me: It’s like a safety net that helps when you want to explore yourself a bit further, or just want to feel a bit more comfortable. Dating and showing affection is stressful anyway, particularly for gay men, I think. So, it just allows that comfort, one less thing to think about. If I want to go on a date, I can pick somewhere in Soho because it’s not an additional thing to think about.