Raise your hand if you have ever been personally victimized by Secret.
If you’re a political consultant in Dupont Circle, an environmental lobbyist in Shaw, or a lawyer in Ledroit Park, odds are that your hand is in the air—or should be. Over the past few weeks, Secret, the Ashton Kutcher-backed smartphone app that allows users to anonymously share their deepest, well, secrets, has been embraced as Gay D.C.’s handheld version of the Burn Book.
Posts are sorted based on geographic proximity, your personal contacts, national popularity, and raw bitchiness. You can “heart” a secret, which increases its prominence, as well as subscribe to a particularly juicy post, allowing you to follow the ensuing shitstorm of comments.
The contact-based nature of Secret “clusters” means that as the app has aged and grown more popular, feeds in different cities have developed their own flavor. San Francisco’s Secret feed has been a tool for tech reporters eager for crumbs of insider information on Silicon Valley startups. In New York, the app caters to sexy confessionals. In D.C., Secret has revealed the inner Gossip Girl of America’s most buttoned-up/insecure city. In the words of one legislative aide, “It’s JuicyCampus for people with disposable incomes and small dicks.”
For those who don’t count themselves among Washington’s gay cognoscenti—loosely defined on Secret as members of the local gay kickball league and residents of the 14th Street NW corridor—scrolling through a feed of boastful posts about having sex with every membership consultant at gay-gym-in-all-but-name VIDA is about as titillating as reading a bathroom stall in a truck stop: “For a good time, call Aaron Schock.”
But in Washington’s tight-knit (read: claustrophobic) gay community, Secret is the social equivalent of a bull in a china shop. “For a town that loves to talk about how much they support the Trevor Project, they sure do like to cyberbully,” said the legislative aide. “That fucking app made me lose faith in humanity.”
The aide (who, like everyone interviewed for this article, works in government and requested anonymity) has only been mentioned once, to his knowledge, but the experience left him furious—and primed for vengeful secret-telling of his own. After angrily sharing a secret about the friend who posted about him, he catches himself and laughs, exasperated. “See! It brings the worst high school impulses back to life.” In geopolitics, the doctrine of mutually assured destruction prevents the use of weapons of mass destruction against a foe. On Secret, there is no such deterrent.
In a town where everyone is a wannabe Zoe Barnes or Edward Snowden, Secret has great potential as a breaker of red tape and top-secret clearances, but any would-be whistleblowers have been drowned out by a bitchy cacophony of insider gossip and outright libel. “I think people know that if they were to put something related to national security on there, NSA would be all over their ass in about 0.5 seconds,” notes the political director for a high-profile U.S. Senator.
As a consequence, the white-collar gays of D.C. have turned Secret into a dumping ground for personalized gossip. “I’ve seen someone’s HIV status revealed on there several times. I mean, if this is what adults are doing with it, I can’t even imagine what high school kids are doing.”
The politico is on to something. The “vibe” of the D.C. Secret feed feels highly reminiscent of high school, insofar as a large number of posts devolve to body-snarking strangers, but the exchanges can also be deeply personal. Exes air their dirty laundry; the jilted or jealous usurp posts lauding a person’s body or eyes or personality with tear-downs; obvious anatomical features are alternately mocked or lauded. It’s like a pitch-black gay bar where every patron is given a bullhorn and a limitless drink ticket.
Unsurprisingly, many of the posts and comments are politically tinted. In a prolific thread debating the “hottest guy” in Washington, a commenter only identified by an avatar of a red electric socket asserts that after a few hours of a vividly described sex act, he’ll have a Republican crush “begging to sign up for Obamacare.”
Secret’s official position is that the app exists to fill a vital niche in American public discourse. “We built Secret for people to be themselves and share anything they’re thinking and feeling with their friends without judgment.” According to the company, by eliminating profile photos and names, “people are free to express themselves without holding back.” With posts like this, Secret can rest easy.
At the same time, Washington’s crème de la femme isn’t just using Secret as a way to live out its Regina George fantasies. They’re also bitching about the B.O. at area gyms, posting pictures of cute animals, and trolling for anonymous sex.
A few would-be peacemakers have used Secret to call for a détente, but it’s been about as successful as Cake Girl’s plea for civility in Mean Girls:
A commenter responds: “DC would be so quiet.”
*The Stonewall Kickball league, a gay sports league popular with D.C. gays at large and Secret users in particular, is frequently dismissed as a cliquey group drink-a-thon organized by people looking for an excuse to get blitzed on a Sunday afternoon. In this post, teams that play on Thursday as well are being mocked as particularly desperate for booze.
**“Rehomo” is an on-the-nose nickname for Rehoboth Beach, a popular gay summer destination for gays across the Mid-Atlantic.