Grindr, the gay dating app that picks up the location of other single (ish) gay males out there, is something we cannot escape as a new reality in the gay world. Even for a person like me who deleted Grindr almost as soon as I installed it onto my smartphone, cannot deny the game-changing role it plays in my life and in the lives of those around me. Even as minimal as its presence in my life may be, it leads me to ask, can we ever, and if so where, expect to find genuine relationships when so many of our hopes are placed on such an app that fosters disposable friendships and fleeting sex lives?
During those tumultuous years of trying to accept my sexual orientation, the internet provided a forum to explore my sexuality privately. Many gay guys under the age of 25, maybe even older, will relate as they were probably gay online before they were actually out in person. Some even continue to use the internet as their main platform for meeting other men. This brings me to my current problem. I am now gay in real life, and I can’t find a real date. In our current dating climate (and I am speaking about the gay male community), no one seems to be dating anymore. Even the word “dating” for some stinks of shackles, commitment and being tied down. Whenever I go out with friends, it seems that everyone is more interested in two things: 1) getting way too drunk, and 2) being on Grindr in a bar. Grindr for me does not bring any kind of dating.
Yet, what is it about Grindr that makes the app so notorious in not only the gay world, but its now growing presence in mainstream culture? Mr Right does not generally hide behind faceless torso shots and pictures of beautiful sunsets. There are times when we feel the need to reply to a certain message, just so we feel like we might not be missing out on someone interesting. Vague hopes are then shot down when the guy promptly asks “looking for?”. The short, matter of fact 5 word attempts at foreplay don’t make the situation any better. Why must guys on Grindr either treat hooking up like a cold, clinical business transaction between a prostitute and a john, only without the exchange of cash, or some porn fantasy where everything is HARD?
The typical conversations on Grindr also prove how the culture of sex is colliding with the digital world. Moments of sending you 12 unannounced dick /ass pictures with the cheeks spread all the way open/pictures of them with them inside of things/things inside of them… Can you, like, tell me your name first? Or when they say they are bored. You know, there are only two emotions on Grindr: boredom and horniness. But “bored” is actually a code for horny, so there is no difference. Or even minor things like lying about your penis sizes shows how we as a community have further fuelled Grindr in bringing about the sexualisation of the user and a culture where everyone is meat, everyone is up for it. Even those of us who don’t use it are guilty by association, part of the Grindr machine.
Grindr seems to bring out the stupid and the ugly in people, people who I have no doubt are perfectly lovely in real life. Though I can think of better ways to begin a conversation, I am happy with a simple “Hello” to break the ice. But if I have taken the time to write you two or three complete sentences, and all you can say is “Cool”, or “Meet?”, or if I text you a few times because you didn’t respond to the first three messages, then all I can say is that I lose interest, and fast.
Grindr makes people disrespectful. Frankly, I’m floored by how many Grindr profiles – and here I am talking about the Grindr culture in South Africa – specify “Sorry not into Black guys generally”. Some aren’t even nice about it. “No blacks. No asians. Not interested.”. When did the respect and courtesy of real life die and welcome in a new Grindr mode of casual, accepted racism? Yes, I know, I know, it’s a matter of preference, which is a predictable excuse, but that doesn’t give you carte blanche to be racist and rude – especially in a country that has experienced so many hardships during the Apartheid era. These tensions could still stir emotions today, and somehow Grindr has become an acceptable zone of casual prejudice and the justification of bigotry over decency.
My other favourite is “No Femmes/Fat guys.” These guys who are so defiantly only into other fit white guys should know that telling someone they are ugly just because you don’t find them attractive is highly offensive, and reflects more on their arrogance, than the other’s looks. Yes, I do sometimes think that persistent people who ignore the signs have it coming to them, because like many out there I can have a bitchy streak, but think of that person’s self-esteem you are ruining just for your entertainment. It’s just wrong and tactless.
The culture of sex is not new. From bathhouses and backrooms, a lot of gay men keep participating in a hook-up culture that has been around for a long time. But what makes this digital culture different is that there are no physical boundaries. The tools that we use to meet men for specific reasons, and the places they went to hang out, meet people and date, are all colliding and mixing. When walking into a gay bar now, it is not a surprise to see a soft yellow glow of Grindr bouncing off faces in the darkness on an average night. Sure gay bars are still used to pick people up, but Grindr not only helps intensify the sexualisation of the user, but also in turn creates a divide between gay men, where the ultimate goal is physical connection, and everything else is but a precursor. We have become more concerned with our phones than the people standing in front of us.
The above, which I have no doubt many will relate to, shows how many of us have become so obsessed with this app and its implications for our lives, where the perfect man/hook-up could be just around the corner if you walk 100m, that our emotional and sexual needs have been muddied and numbed to the point of addiction. Apps such as Grindr should not be used as the only platform to finding something; I would like to live in a back to basics gay world, back in the real world and meeting people and interacting with them free from the yellow glow, free from the prospect of the man round the corner. If we can do that, finding someone who you have a genuine connection with would be both worthwhile and positive to not only yourself, but the gay community that has so sexualised itself in the digital world and lost touch with reality.