There isn’t an app for that: an obituary to Qrushr

Erica Lenti
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It is the summer of 2009, and for the first time since I burst out of the closet just a year prior, I am dealing with a break-up. I get into a heated argument with my then-girlfriend, and she storms out, taking a bag of potato chips and a Coke and tossing them at me. She asks me not to call. After a year of lesbian monogamy, I feel lost, empty.

A gay friend of mine suggests I get over her by getting under someone else. He directs me to Grindr, a location-based app that finds men who have sex with men (MSM) in my area. He says I may find other queer women on the app, so I hastily download it. I’m instead bombarded with dick pics and male models. I delete the app.

My search for the lesbian alternative of Grindr comes up short, lest for one app: Qrushr. It promises to show me LGBTQ women in my area, not just for sex, but for networking, hanging out and casual dating. At 15, I have few other queer friends—I’m entranced and quickly download the app.

I’m once again bombarded with dick pics and male models. In fact, there is only one woman in the Qrushr ecosystem within my city, and she lives an hour away from me. Disappointed, I trash this app too.

My phone, I decide, is no way to meet LGBTQ women.

Just five years later, the mobile application market has blown up with GPS located-based dating and hook-up apps—not just for LGBTQ users, but for cishet ones, too. Tinder, for one, has become a worldwide phenomenon—in February 2014, developers announced the app makes 10 million matches every day. And Grindr, which started up in the same year as Qrushr, has an astounding 5 million users who send billions of messages annually.

But there still remains a gap in the market. Similar apps for queer women, it seems, are simply nonexistent. Even Qrushr, the forefather of lesbian hook-up apps, has gone under, disappearing from both the iOS App Store and Android Marketplace.

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Lesbians just aren’t hooking up with their phones. Instead, in a contradictory, even archaic pattern, they are turning to brick-and-mortar social spots—the very places that are crumbling beneath them.

The hangout: where and why

If television dramas are any proof, the corner café is central to LGBTQ social life. For one, the ladies of The L Word treated The Planet as their sacred social ground—the Mecca of Los Angeles lesbian hangouts. Queer women assembled on the regular at The Planet—whether for morning coffees or late-night dance parties. Soon enough, the café became more than just a meeting place for those who already had connections: it was also a hook-up spot—the physical version of Grindr or Qrushr.

Of course, The L Word was set in the early millennium, before mobile phones could do more than call and text. But the actions, behaviours and motivations of its characters were about more than just a lack of technological innovation. It was, perhaps, the art of the physical approach that connected them all.

Alice, a bisexual character from the show, emphasizes that connection through a chart she boasts in the inaugural episode. Drawn on a white board the length of her apartment’s wall, she maps out the romantic affiliations of women in the Los Angeles area in a sort of line chart. While each woman on the chart is linked, virtually, through a mere line, each line represents the physical connection they share.

That physical connection, these days, is rather antiquated. For most, sexting and online connections through apps like Grindr or Tinder become the norm. But for queer women today, Alice’s chart still holds validity.

In Toronto, Canada, for instance, some bars like The Beaver and Henhouse remain popular spots to meet—and perhaps hook up with—other queer women. In areas outside of the Village where LGBTQ populations are still high, these spots are home to women who want to physically connect with other women. These spots are not without issue.

Most prominently, small businesses are finding it evermore difficult to stay afloat amidst the uprising of major corporate chains. For the real-life equivalent of a café like The Planet, there are four Starbucks’ franchises in the surrounding area to compete with.

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In Toronto, for instance, the city’s only lesbian bar, Slack’s faced the wrath of corporate competition and succumbed to closure last year. Moreover, LGBTQ persons aren’t hiding in the shadows of straight culture. In fact, queer culture is slowly but surely assimilating into the straight world, especially in countries like Canada where identifying as LGBTQ is no longer a faux pas.

Back in the 1970s, gay-only businesses thrived as safe spots—but the rest of society is quickly, too, a safe space for queer people. These challenges are quickly leading to the eradication of the queer ladies’ hangout. Bars like Slack’s can’t afford rent. Lesbian clubs shut down and instead become cornered into weekly dance nights. The death of the lesbian social scene, it appears, is imminent.

It poses the question: Where will LGBTQ women go once their brick-and-mortar hangouts crumble?

The app: not the solution we were looking for

For one ambitious app developer, the answer was in the world of the mobile dating.

In 2009, app development company Realistic IT watched as lesbian hangouts became scarcer and made a bold attempt to fill a void in the social networking market. They churned out Qrushr, the first all-female dating and hook-up app. At first, queer women raved about the app, happy to see a service developed solely for their social, sexual and romantic needs.

In the UK, for instance, online reviewer Punschkrapfen wrote a week-long diary of her experience on Qrushr, documenting her introduction to a girl named Paris. Meanwhile, the developer claimed more than 50,000 people worldwide had downloaded the app since its launch in April 2009.

But things only went sour from there. AfterEllen noted similar disparities as I did: in New York City, editor Trish Bendix wrote, only five girls showed up on the GPS map. Those who did show up usually ended up being straight men looking to fulfill a lesbian fantasy. Qrushr didn’t fill a market gap—in fact, queer women were hardly using the app.

And so the Little Qrushr That Could, well, couldn’t.

While Grindr and later Tinder soared to the top of the market, Qrushr was quashed. Poor reviews rolled in: “There is nothing to like whatsoever,” wrote one critic.

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Today, the app scores an unimpressive 1.1 out of 5 stars on CNET, and a website for the app is nonexistent. No other similar apps have yet to be launched.

Qrushr failed because it lacked the physical touch so many queer women have flocked to over the years. Sure, meeting over Qrushr (or any social networking app or site) could lead to a physical encounter. But can an online connection replace the intimacy, the spark that comes from getting to know a potential partner, friend or lover stand in person?

Could it be that queer women are simply looking for something more meaningful than the online hook-up? That this inherently sexualized method of meeting is just not the way queer women like to operate? Where the internet and instant connectivity make love and sex easier for straight men and women and gay men, queer women tend to shy away, seeking, perhaps, a more intimate and less sexually charged environment to meet, mingle and fall in love (or lust).

And perhaps this is what makes the brick-and-mortar hangout so central to queer women’s social life. It is a neutral spot, where relationships can grow organically without the sexual undertones of “hit me up for a one-stand night” apps like Grindr or Qrushr.

Queer women’s hook-up culture is, simply, more exclusive, private—and the internet is no place for that culture to thrive. Reality IT, unfortunately, learned that the hard way.

Today: the physical trumps the virtual

In my few minutes of using both Grindr and Qrushr, I almost immediately feel devoid of the connection I once had with my girlfriend. Behind the profile photos of the women (and, unavoidably, straight men) on the apps, the users feel empty. A mark-up of pixels and backlit screens, they lack the physicality, the intimacy of coming to know someone—if even for a one-time hook-up.

In fact, once I delete the apps, I long once again to get a bag of chips thrown in my direction—a sign of emotion, human touch.

She told me not to call, but I did anyways.

Once we reconcile, I feel that spark, the connection that my phone could never replace. She was there, in the flesh—no screen between us, no lag to keep us waiting.

About Erica Lenti

Erica Lenti is a freelance writer from Toronto, Canada. She has written for many Canadian publications and runs her own independent zine press. Follow her on Twitter @ericalenti.