This weekend I deleted my Grindr app, for good. I know what all fellow Grindr users are thinking. “Yeah sure, it’ll be back on your phone by Monday morning” and they would be correct to make that assumption. I have done this dance as a user of the Grindr app for about 5 years. I delete the app for a while and then I come back to it a few days or even a few hours later. The question I have asked myself a lot recently is: “Why?” While I admit, the occasional Grindr hookup on a boring Sunday afternoon was thrilling for a while, the app itself was a technological form of time travel back to middle school where I was routinely bullied for being “too feminine” or “fat.”
After a while, I would begin to predict verbatim, how fellow Grindr users would conduct a conversation. The following conversation was the typical conversation I experienced on a regular basis as a former Grindr user.
Grindr User: Hey
Grindr User: What’s up?
Me: Nothing Much, you?
Grindr User: Looking here. You?
Grindr User: Pic?
Me: Picture sent
Grindr User: -Radio Silence-
I surmised that the reason for the radio silence was because I had sent a picture which showed that I am not exactly a skinny 21 year old with blond hair and blue eyes that stepped out of an Abercrombie and Fitch Catalogue. No, I am a fat, hairy, bear with a knack for intellectual banter over some wine and off color jokes. However, it was very clear, very quickly that Grindr was not a place where my body, brains, or humor mattered much. Most men there had a one track mind with the goal of a meaningless encounter with a guy custom made in their image.
This is not to say that I didn’t have a few encounters that I enjoyed or a nice conversation every now and then with fellow Grindr dwellers. However, those were few and far between. More common was the “not my type” or “I only like twinks” and depending on the day, hour, minute or the direction of the breeze I was either “too feminine looking” or “too masculine looking.” What was worse is that I started to believe the view that complete strangers had of me. I didn’t think I was worthy of any attention I did receive and then started to view all other Grindr users within the same superficial prisms that I had been viewed with and started to use the app to look for a man in my image with no room for any dents in that image.
In accordance with the goal of having a meaningless encounter with an imaginary man, profile headers with the words, “No fats” or “No Fems” started to pop up regularly. Those superficial profile headlines turned into more mean spirited and racist headlines like “no blacks” or “no Asians”. This boggled my mind and I thought about what gay men as members of the LGBT community have fought for over the years. We have fought for equality, acceptance, and dignity.
Most Grindr or similar app profiles do not contain a clear picture of the person behind the profile and make proclamations of superficial preferences like the ones mentioned above. It should not be a surprise to any of us that these shallow proclamations of racial, size, and personality preferences are made behind the cowardly veil of anonymous profiles. “How to Get Away With Murder” recently addressed these issues within the gay dating world when supporting character Connor Walsh played by Jack Falahee castigates a club goer for his admitted preference of not being “into Asian guys.” Falahee’s character further scolds the man with presumptions that his dating app profile probably says “no fats,” “no fems,” “no blacks,” and “no Asians.”
Those words by Falahee’s character echoed my sentiments over the years of trying to navigate the complicated maze that is online dating in the gay world. Finally, there is some recognition, in the form of an enormously popular prime time TV hit, of the prejudice, superficiality, and yes, bullying that gay men of size, color, and personality face within our own communities. These labels being propagated by the hook up culture that we have allowed apps like Grindr to accelerate have caused such isolation among gay men that it has essentially put us back in the closet. Instead of living our truths and being free to love who we love and engage in healthy expressions of our sexuality, many of us have resorted to skulking in what has become digital high school cafeterias complete with schoolyard bullies characterized by lasciviousness and shallow self imposed identity binaries on the basis of size, race, creed, or socially constructed notions of masculinity.
I am not trying to paint all Grindr users with a broad brush. In fact, quite the opposite. I recognize that most users of Grindr and similar apps also loathe the trends that I have described in this article. However, there are those who, even if they do not admit it, engage in these tactics regularly. My plea to all members of the gay male community who seek out dates, friends, and fun on these apps is that words matter. Please tread carefully and proceed with humility and dignity towards your fellow man, even if you’re not that into him.