“Any face pics?” I ask the pictureless profile who pretends to be a six foot long male top weighing 78kg. He is slim, is looking for “masc only” and has just proposed to me.
“Can’t send, I’m discreet,” comes the reply. However, he sends a picture of his penis which I didn’t ask for. Here’s another demoralizing Grindr exchange going.
It may be the gayest app out there, but there seems to be one conspicuous absence: pride.
Grindr is the most popular dating app for (mostly) gay men. It has 3.8 million daily active users worldwide and is the most downloaded LGBT+ app in the UK. For the uninitiated, it could be confused with a gay-only cousin of Tinder. But if you’ve had the misfortune of venturing into the app — or know someone who has — you’ll know it’s a whole different beast, not least because of its particular focus on connections.
Unlike the match-to-message requirement of other dating apps, anyone can message anyone else found in a grid organized down to the meter by physical proximity. The identifiable personal data is also missing. While body type to HIV status categorization is standard, names and faces are an optional bonus.
One of my first experiences with the app as a freshman at university saw me traveling to meet a headless, nameless torso. Such a risk seems untenable now (I hadn’t even told anyone where I was going!), but I didn’t know any better.
I argued that it had to be in the closet, but that wasn’t all. He also had a wife.
We got down to business quickly upon arrival, but I was taken aback by his reluctance to kiss me. Afterward, he admitted that he felt “uncomfortable” kissing another man (ironic given the things he seemed to do with men). I argued that it had to be in the closet, but that wasn’t all. He also had a wife.
The anonymity provided by the app is aimed at such men: those who are secretive and secretly want gay sex. Despite their urges, they’re uncomfortable with homosexuality, so set their pseudonyms to “straight” and demand “no woman please.” They feel like they’re doing something wrong, and that makes the rest of us feel like we could be, too.
This is open heteronormativity and anti-femininity – for me it is homophobia. But nobody bats an eye.
In my experience, wearing virtual masks has enabled and encouraged derogatory language, unsolicited genital images, and explicit, unwarranted sexual requests for years. Senders are unaccountable, while unfortunate recipients eventually learn to expect and tolerate these messages by attempting to break away from their more demeaning or triggering aspects.
Grindr’s dominance of gay dating since its inception in 2009 means young queer men are coming of age with it as a blueprint for love, sex and dating. For me it couldn’t be worse. Her introduction to the gay community – albeit a virtual one – should inspire pride and acceptance. As it stands, in my experience, the downside of self-stigmatization means you’re more likely to encounter homophobic slurs. Currying favor with closed men allows shame and bigotry to fester.
In addition, the acceptance of anonymity is conducive to dangerous situations. People using fake identities (catfish) are so prolific that there are entire forums dedicated to helping Grindr users avoid scary encounters with men who aren’t who they say they are.
Currying favor with closed men allows shame and bigotry to fester
As I can attest from my own early experiences, younger users are particularly vulnerable to fake profiles and take unnecessary risks as they have not yet undergone the trial and error of learning strategies to avoid them. But even for more established users, a barely working “This is his address in case I get kidnapped!” A text message to a close friend often has to suffice.
The app should require verified names, faces and ID. There is nothing shameful about being gay or gay sex. The only people who would be excluded from this change are those who still believe in it – and quite frankly, good deliverance. Come back when you’ve accepted that using Grindr and “open trading” are fundamentally incompatible.
In the meantime, the rest of us must try to see each other as people and not as categories. We can build up the lack of mutual respect and be friendlier to each other. Dates and dating should be fun, and we deserve to be safe and respected while using the best tool we have.
Grindr’s popularity is going nowhere, and its developers have a responsibility to the community they serve. Will they continue to allow a culture of anonymity and, in my opinion, sexual shame, or will our leading gay dating app finally start encouraging pride and acceptance?
In response, Grindr vice president of global communications Patrick Lenihan said, “These recommendations would be dangerous for large swathes of the global queer community, and the author’s allegations misunderstand cultural issues and technological challenges.
“Grindr will continue our mission to connect queer people to each other and to the world.”