Growing up in my area of the Southside of Chicago, the word gay was considered taboo and would never be spoken aloud in public, let alone be seen outside in public. And due to this, I wasn’t sure what being gay actually was, or what it entailed, when I realized I was gay at age 11.
For years, I assumed I would continue to live my life living between two worlds, being gay on the inside and pretending to be straight on the outside. But that began to change in late-2009 right before I began college.
When I moved into my dorm, one of the first few things I did was seek out my fellow gays. Having little luck, probably due to the fact that my college wasn’t a socially active one, I turned to the Internet. And a few clicks later, I read about Grindr.
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The app was pretty new, having only just been created that previous March. But when I downloaded it and created an account, it felt like the most sophisticated app in the world to me. Scrolling through, I discovered there were a lot of different gays in the area, all of which appeared to have very different profiles ranging from no pictures and very descriptive language all the way to good headshots with some good words thrown around their bios.
After meeting a few guys at public locations before going back to someone’s bedroom and having a private show behind closed doors, I realized that Grindr helped me discover my sexuality more in three months than being gay on my own for the 5 years prior ever could. Sure, I wasn’t completely green to men, mostly due to a co-worker from my place of work right before starting life as a student. Thanks to him I had some experience before Grindr.
Before I had the app, it took a little bit of time for me and this guy to both discover we were gay. And when we did, and him being older than me, I jumped on the opportunity to ask him question after question about being gay (and hooking up quite a bit). I felt as though I knew a little bit more about what being gay was really like—but even with him, I still felt so in the dark about what it meant to be gay. Until Grindr.
Once I got more comfortable with the casual meeting of other guys and the "private shows," I didn't want to stop there, so I tried a new approach and changed a part of my own bio: “Looking for friends first, maybe some dates along the way.”
After a few failed attempts at maintaining a platonic friendship that didn’t end in sex through the guys I met online, I managed to make a friend, who we’ll call Ken for the sake of anonymity. When I told Ken my story, he certainly enjoyed the idea of taking this “gayby” under his wings to show me what being gay is like and how much fun it can be. Through him and his group of friends, I was able to finally discover what it's like to be gay in Chicago.
From weekly Dollar Drink night at the local gay club to themed dance parties all over the north side, I certainly got to experience all aspects of LGBTQ culture that’s offered in this city. And I even spent my first ever Pride parade with a good group of friends that made the experience much more exciting and eye-opening, as well as several other gay events held annually in Chicago.
Through it all, I finally felt like I had figured out what it meant to be a part of the gay community and truly felt like I belong—and I do owe that, for better or for worse, to one of the most notorious apps in the world.
One can argue that Grindr is nothing more than an app for anonymous sex or something some people use to kill time when they’re bored at work, but for me it was much more than that. Because without a doubt, it was ultimately the key that unlocked the door to me being gay and figuring it all out.
This week, OUT will be looking back at Grindr's 8-year legacy since the gay hook-up app first launched on March 25, 2009. Through a series of stories and images, we'll investigate where we came from to know where we're going.