Originally published in the March issue of Fenuxe Magazine
Ah, yes. “The Apps”. Of course, as technology evolves, the ability to date, mate, and find love does too. That hasn’t changed much. Grindr, technically (and importantly!) is categorized as a geolocation-based networking app mostly for men who have sex with men, and it straight-up pioneered a new form of online social networking. Grindr was the very first gay social networking app in the App Store, debuting in 2009. What was revolutionary though, and something dating websites like gay.com or MySpace could never as acutely compete with, was that never before could a vast percentage of the gay and bisexual population within a given radius be so easily accessible, in order of how close they were to you. Most heterosexuals, and therefore the mainstream as a whole, only really picked up on this about five years ago, when Tinder hit the scene and for the longest time was nicknamed the Straight Grindr, cause it was. Even then, with quite reasonable privacy restrictions, Tinder lacks the thrill/terror from checking your phone to find that there are half a dozen gay men within 1000 feet from you.
Grindr, Scruff, Jack’d, Growlr, Chappy, what have you; they all serve fragmented purposes for the sometimes fragmented men who inhabit these digital spaces. Some are looking for love, and rightfully so. The historic fight for equality was earmarked with the legalization of gay marriage in the US in 2015, and it’s been widely viewed that as the giant leap necessary for out and proud dating. Cisgender gay men take the attitude of finding love in its most heteronormative and traditional sense, and reluctantly use “sex” apps like Grindr and Scruff synonymously with the likes of Tinder, to find love. Across the board, there’s respectable prudishness in their approach to finding the love of their lives on an app with usernames like “Discreet Oral Top”. Regardless of their actual behavior offline or when it’s the last call at the bar (if they make it to gay bars in the first place), strictly sexual encounters are seldom their endgame; it’s just a means to an end.
For many others though, these apps are a means to an end in another way: to get laid. Period. End of story. For decades, the culture surrounding gay sex relied on anonymity to not only get off as quickly as possible with minimal emotional damage, but to curb the possibility of being outed, beaten, outcast, or murdered. And although the general public’s stance on sexuality has dramatically shifted, there are still a huge number of LGBTQ+ people who simply can’t come out, or the toll it would take on their lives would be too great to justify going public with their preferences. This is where things get interesting.
What’s so intriguing about these virtual spaces to me is that it’s a pretty direct reflection of gay culture at large. Sure, many people on these apps are simply looking for friends or even professional connections, and may totally succeed in that effort. It’s definitely been done before, but how we present ourselves on these apps are oftentimes a direct reflection of how one sees themselves in the narrative of LGBTQ culture. Yes, there will always be jerks, drug addicts, and hesitant torso profile pictures, but it’s about time we realized that how we present ourselves online is a pretty good diagnosis for the attitude we have towards ourselves and our own sexuality, for better or worse.
Gay men have access to a kind of social networking no other subculture really has at this scale. We have an acute awareness and access to a wide variety of men, all with different tastes, opinions, and backgrounds. The only thread that really ties them together is their mutual admiration and often sexual desire for the male figure. Grindr, Scruff, what have you; they’re all tools. Extremely powerful tools that help us connect with one another regardless of our backgrounds. The compassion and respect we give towards the real, living people on the other end of our phone glow reflect on us.
Everyone generally knows this, but it bears repeating. It’s important to remind ourselves of the position we’re in, both technologically and socially as a minority subculture. There’s an opportunity to go beyond cuddling, sex, friendship, and love. There’s a camaraderie that comes with being on Grindr. And before you nay-say the effects of these apps on the community at large, begin by evaluating how you’ve used them, and how you’ve treated others. How have they treated you? Men of all ages, backgrounds, sexual preferences and desires congregate on a near-constant basis to connect. So let’s connect. Beyond broadcasting our bodies for validation and attention, what do you want to say to the gay community?