For those who don’t know, Grindr is a mobile app for men-on-men hook-ups that tells you the exact distance to your next potential lover. In some cases, especially in New York City, this can be a matter of feet, leering at you from the other side of the pool table. Much like buying a pair of shoes online, there’s a thumbnail image and a few details on what you can expect when the package arrives: age, height, weight, performance capabilities, etc.
I first used it during a very vulnerable period in my life following graduation. Before that, I considered Grindr the residue of a previous generation, where being “gay” existed solely in bathhouses or nightclubs, involving light-washed bootleg jeans and really tight Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirts. Raised in a progressive family that values monogamy, I was smug in my efforts to maintain a not-till-he-buy-me-dinner-first ideology. And those who used Grindr, I thought, were responsible for giving gays everywhere a bad name, like being “that girl” whose cheer shorts were just a little too short.
But living in a new city with no friends, cruising dudes was a much more productive way to spend my time then watching Say Yes to the Dress and drinking cheap Chardonnay. And as a gay male raised in New York City, I felt pressured to prove my worth amidst this marketplace for sex: an urge that exists somewhere between narcissism and insecurity.
So I went for it.
And as you can imagine with any online dating platform, amongst the 4 million Grindr users across 192 countries, there are plenty of characters you’d be uncomfortable bringing home to your parents (or even being seen with in the light of day). I’ll spare the graphic details, but think piercings, old men, and things that are probably illegal in some places.
But what really changed my mind about the whole thing, was that there were plenty of guys like myself: young, semi-confused, working day jobs they hated, looking for something like “a connection,” or “adventure,” to fill that restless void typical of all twenty-something’s.
Throughout the process, I realized I had been judging my community too harshly. I was embodying negative stereotypes perpetuated by a large part of society. They assume that promiscuity, fetish, and other things that make old ladies blush, are inherent to gay culture. This is a stigma the gay community has inherited from the mid-1980s AIDS crisis, something that still provokes my own mother to give me over-emotional lectures on safe sex, as if contracting AIDS was the gay equivalent of being sneezed on. Widespread assumptions about entire populations of people – whether they are coming from inside or outside the community – are damaging, insidious, and lasting.
You can’t help but wonder, is this why gays still can’t get married?
Using Grindr is not a political statement. Or at least it shouldn’t be. I learned a lot that summer by going on a handful of awesome dates – some including fancy parties and high-ranking media executives, others involves all-too-open conversations about estranged father figures – but each of them completely safe, if not fun, because as it is with most things in life, you get what you put out there.
The LGBT lifestyle is hugely different in Sierra Leone, this piece really demonstrates just how big.