I've had a far longer relationship with Grindr than with anyone I've actually met on Grindr. I've also written extensively about my experiences, particularly those that left me feeling bereft of pride, or self-esteem, or self-worth. Which was an unhealthy number of experiences. About three years ago I wrote a popular piece, Why I've Given Up on Hooking Up, in which I, through painfully personal detail, went through my "addiction" to Grindr and other hookup apps and their demoralizing effects on me:
For me, the process of hooking up has become an addiction. An addiction fueled by insecurity. The insecurity that comes with being a gay man. The insecurity that you're not masculine enough when masculinity is demanded of you -- absolutely demanded -- as a matter of course from other gay men. "Masc musc" whimpers many a profile. Masculine. Muscular. Abs prominently on display. Face obscured or head completely decapitated. This is the faceless face of hooking up in the 21st century.
The response was overwhelming, but also gratifying. I wasn't the only one who felt these things. In the three years since, my relationship to Grindr, et al, has changed but my views on them have not. I still think they do more harm than good to the queer community by perpetuating stereotypes, incentivizing conformity, and normalizing shitty, hurtful, discriminatory behavior. If anything, my views have been reinforced. But my life is no longer ruled by Grindr because our relationship, as I've known it, has come to an end.
There's a lot of bullshit that comes with dealing with hookup apps, particularly if you're not white, don't adhere to traditional ideals of masculinity, and/or fall somewhere outside some agreed-upon definition of physical perfection. For these people [read: the majority of the queer community], if they're willing to flatten and dilute everything about themselves that makes them special, then yeah, they can probably have a more successful experience. But certainly not an enjoyable one.
The key to Grindr is conformity. If you can fit neatly inside one of its tribes--"Jock" or "Bear" or "Otter" or "Rugged" or whatever--you stand a better chance of finding or being found; if you can also embody someone else's idea of who you should be or how you should act, your odds are that much better. Too-frequent use of Grindr, then, can lead to a loss of self.
The rise of these 'Grindr clones' is nothing new but rather a continuation of the groupings gay men in various gayborhoods (such as Chelsea and The Castro) have long created by adopting a similar uniform, look, or attitude. One could argue that this was out of necessity, born of a time when gay men had no way of identifying one another. But it's 2017 so what's the excuse now? Are we paying homage to tradition or just living in the past?
I'm drawn to the latter. Especially when considering some of the overtly racist rhetoric seen on these apps. Private prejudices made public and passed off as preferences are still prejudices; sexual racism is still racism.
Along with the disheartening, and downright infuriating, ignorance willfully on display, I grew increasingly dismayed by another unfortunate truth about Grindr: a lot of the guys on it are already in relationships--open relationships or polyamorous relationships or monogamous relationships in freefall. While I can understand that monogamy isn't for everyone, these profiles always struck me as selfish and kind of offensive: Whenever I would see,"Not looking for a boyfriend, already have one of those," my initial thought was a giant 'FUCK YOU.' Because not only can you have a relationship and casual sex, but your having both makes it harder for me to have just one.
The New York dating pool is already competitive enough without having to worry about someone--supposedly happy in a relationship but just looking to explore--scooping up whatever decent fish is left flopping about in the sea. Conversely, what's the point of a relationship if it seems inevitable that my partner will want to stray whether I concede to it or not? While I can be supportive of a couple's choice to be open, or what have you, I also have to acknowledge the consequences as someone who's always been on the other side, as a victim of those consequences.
In effect, Grindr became less about finding what I desired and more about settling for what I could find. Which was always the same thing: a pleasant night with someone who either lacked the maturity for anything more, avoided intimacy at the fear of being hurt or ultimately rejected, or was just looking to satisfying a curiosity and scratch an itch. After a while--after the toxic digital environment, after the countless headless torsos and fake photos, after all the goddamn pettiness (particularly my own)--I had to ask myself, 'Aren't you fucking tired? Don't you deserve better?'
The Public Good(tm)
While it may seem like I have a personal vendetta against Grindr, I'm also the first person to admit its potential for good. It's a great way to network, to disseminate information, to engage in political discourse, facilitate assembly, and it's an invaluable tool when traveling. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Grindr's work in promoting sexual health and education--thus conveniently sidestepping its own role in the rise of STIs like syphilis and herpes.
At the end of the day, sex is Grindr's bread and Boy Butter. It can and should do more to improve the way users interact, such as eliminating filters based on race and body type, and restricting faceless photos, as other apps are doing. No matter its efforts, Grindr is still very much an app that caters to white men, with everyone else used as decoration or preemptive proof of efforts at diversity. While Jack'd--a less popular but more inclusive app--has attempted to "#ChangeTheGame," as the biggest player in the game, Grindr has done little to address the more poisonous, off-putting elements that are endemic to it and other gay sex apps.
Of course, Grindr is trying to get away from the "gay sex app" label--with a series of rebranding products and services--which is rather ironic considering its reliance on labels and filters to facilitate (in theory) gay sex. But a rose by any other name is still DTF, so in order to truly change its image, Grindr would do well to consider aspects of health beyond safer sex, by offering programs that deal explicitly with the mental issues that apps like it can exacerbate: body dysmorphia, social anxiety, depression, loneliness, etc.
Another way Grindr can improve is by getting users off of the app and into real life situations. OKCupid, Match and other online dating platforms offer mixers, giving people the opportunity to meet and interact IRL. If anything Grindr has made glaringly clear, it's the need for queer spaces. Sure, many blame Grindr for the downfall of gay bars and the like, but I've always found bars and clubs to be terrible places to meet people. For one, these "safe" spaces are rarely safe for everyone in the queer community.
And second, if you're seeking something more than a hookup, a bar or club may not be your best bet. Instead, we can shift the focus to queer-friendly activities that don't revolve around sex or drinking --because sometimes a cocktail, or lack thereof, makes all the difference in the world.
The Good, the Bad, and the Fuck This
I know that Grindr isn't all bad, nor are the people that use it. And I've had my fair share of good times. I've never been adept at flirting so Grindr provided me with a semblance of confidence I didn't otherwise have. And, not to brag, but I pulled some grade-A tail along the way. But the greatest realization I've ever had about Grindr is that I'm never going to meet anyone on it. It may, from time to time, have what I want, but never what I need. Which is something real.
There was no one moment, no one shitty hookup that broke the camel's back, but much like life itself, it was a series of microaggressions--and aggressions not at all micro. Essentially, I just grew the fuck up. And I answered my own questions, once and for all: Aren't you tired? Don't you deserve better? The answer was a resounding 'YAS KWEEN!' I've finally gotten to a point where I can live without Grindr; where I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything or anyone; where I'm too grown to deal with nonsense and foolishness; where I'm confident enough in myself to see and explore what the world has to offer outside of my iPhone.
That's not to say that I've given up on Grindr completely. Rather, I've changed the way I look at it. A major source of my frustration was my inability to change the way my fellow queers treated me, and by extension, their fellow queers. But how could I possibly "be the change I wanted to see in the world" when I was actively participating in and contributing to what I wanted changed. So I'm done buying into the Grindr lifestyle, as it's now being marketed, and instead I'll focus on using these apps for networking and community building. It's more than not contributing to the bullshit, but in actively fighting against it. That's how you reclaim your power.
From here on out, Grindr and I are friends--without benefits.
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.