An exploration of the gay "dating" app
Article and illustration by Nick Morales
"Grindr, that’s like Tinder for gay guys, right?” This is usually the first question I hear. My usual, unspoken reaction is something along the lines of, “No, dumbass, Grindr came first. Tinder is more like a bastardization of Grindr made mostly for straight people.” My verbal reaction, however, is something along the lines of, “It’s sort of like that, but actually…”
Grindr was the first gay geosocial smartphone app. There were many to follow. Nearby Buddy Finder, LLC launched it on March 25, 2009, which puts it a full three years ahead of Tinder. Based on the idea of a “Gaydar,” the app presents a grid of pictures that you can scroll through with your picture in the top left and the other users arranged left-to-right by their proximity to you. You can tap on other guys’ profiles to see more information including his exact distance from you in feet or miles (a feature that you can turn off, as it has mad potential to be really fucking creepy) and a self-description.
There are many descriptors in a Grindr profile: A name, the last time he was online, his distance from you, his age, his height and weight, his ethnic background, his body type, his relationship status (yes, married is an option), his “Tribe” (I’ll explain later), a short description of what he’s about and a section declaring what he is looking for (dates, chatting, sex, friends, relationships or “networking,” whatever that means). You can elect to describe yourself as much or as little as you choose. You don’t even have to put a name if you don’t want to, much less a picture (which is really great, because I love looking at beautiful scenic photos of Colorado—but I’d much rather see your face).
This is the part where I am typically interrupted with, “but, Nick, since this is an online sort of thing, can’t people just lie to you?” Yes, they can. And yes, they do. An experienced Grindr-er, however, can see through someone’s bullshit pretty easily. And if you’re lying to someone about basic things, like your weight or age, and you want to meet up with someone you’ve been chatting with, he is going to find out. I mean, seriously, don’t tell people you’re “muscular” when really you’re just corpulent. While anonymity is fun and whatnot, if you are lying to guys on Grindr, it won’t lead to a happy ending.
The prominence of technology-based “dating” for gay guys has resulted in an absurd amount of body-consciousness. Many gay men online know exactly how much they weigh and exactly how tall they are. And every man knows exactly how long his dick is (oh, come on, I know you’ve measured at some point, and don’t pretend that you haven’t). Oftentimes, thanks to porn and other forms of media, gay men have a very clear picture of what they should look like. Somehow it was instilled in us that we should strive to be the paragon of male fitness. However, not all of us have six packs and shredded arms and it’s unrealistic to think that we all have the resources to acquire such. Thus, many guys feel self-conscious about their weight. This leads to the aforementioned lying and the inevitable disappointment that comes from it. To capitalize on such an opportunity, Grindr advertises things like teeth-whitening and liposuction to “get that special guy’s attention.” Needless to say, this contributes to a metric fuckton of body image issues in the gay community, but that’s a topic for a different article. While Grindr can be great, it also perpetuates countless stereotypes that the gay community has been trying for decades to cast off.
On the topic of stereotypes, let me bring us back to the concept of “Tribes.” In the LGBTQIA+ community, we do an excellent job of segmenting ourselves into smaller and smaller groups so we can bicker amongst each other and ultimately have no one take us seriously. Tribes are an excellent representation of this. There are 12 and they are as follows: Bear (larger-framed, but not necessarily fat, hairy dudes), Clean-Cut (not looking for anything too crazy), Daddy (older men usually seeking out younger men), Discreet (men who are closeted, married or generally freaked out by the fact that they are on a gay “dating” app to begin with), Geek (sometimes referring to personality/interests, mostly just referring to whether or not he wears glasses), Jock (spends time at the gym), Leather (guys into wearing kinky leather garments), Poz (HIV+ because you know that we can just group all of those guys into a single defining category), Rugged (guys who look, and sometimes smell, like lumberjacks), Trans (this is CC, hopefully we know what Trans means), Twink (younger, slim, non-hairy guys) and Otter (smaller-framed bears). Of course, there’s a lot of overlap in these “Tribes,” but you only get to choose one (unless you want to cough up some cash on a free app and subscribe to Grindr Xtra). So, essentially from the beginning, you cast yourself into a stereotype and sort through other guys by their self-defined stereotypes.
I have to say that I find it hilarious that they chose the word “Tribe,” as though we were cast into these roles at birth and can never transcend them, like you’re part of some sort of clan, uniting with your fellow leather daddies to defeat the clean-cut bears. It just seems so horribly inaccurate. I mean, traditionally, no one gets to choose what tribe they’re in. For fuck’s sake, you don’t even get to choose what Hogwarts House you’re in.
Another thing that you’ll find while scrolling through Grindr is a bank of abbreviations: NSA, no strings attached; BB, bareback; UC, uncircumcised; BBC, big black cock; MWM, married white male; DDF, disease and drug free; PNP, party and play. It almost seems like we’re talking in code—seriously, even the syntax is sometimes different. The atrocious grammar is horrifying—almost as much as the underlying desires for drugs and generally dangerous behavior: “yung hung femboi here lookin 2 parTy wiT sum daddies bb. Mild 2 wild can u handle iT?”
Party and play, if you haven’t already guessed, involves doing hard drugs and having (generally unprotected) sex. The drug of choice for many guys seems to be methamphetamine. The drug can be smoked, snorted or injected. Drug-fueled sex binges have never really been my scene, but I suppose it’s nice that there’s an option for this particular demographic. Whatever floats your boat. I’m not here to judge people for using a gay “dating” app—that would be a fine hypocrisy indeed.
You’ve probably noticed that I always put “dating” in quotes when referencing Grindr. I’m doing that because (try not to be surprised) a lot of Grindr users are only looking for sex. I hear Grindr referred to as a “hookup app” fairly frequently, and while I would like to defend its integrity, many of the profiles are charged with overt sexual energy. Scroll through, and you will find countless attractive torsos that have been eerily cropped at the neck. It’s like walking through the Athens Museum and looking at the ancient statues of Greek gods and heroes: beautiful bodies, perfect asses, but no heads or defining features whatsoever.
All of this obviously sexual energy makes chatting on Grindr something otherworldly. While you are online, anyone near you whom you have not blocked can see you (don’t worry guys, you only remain visible for an hour after you log off). You can filter through the guys that appear on your grid by age and aforementioned tribe. A major difference between Grindr and Tinder is that you don’t have to approve anyone before they are allowed to chat you. This leads to some very interesting situations, like some 55-year-old dude who delicately ignores your request to only talk to people under 30. His approach may or may not include sending you pictures of his erect penis.
Imagining Grindr situations in a real context, let’s say, at a bar, becomes even more hilarious. You’re sitting there sipping on your drink when a shirtless, headless figure sits down to you asking, “Sup, bro?” After a short (or maybe even nonexistent) conversation, he proceeds to take off his pants and show you his penis. Mind you, you still have absolutely no idea what this guy’s face looks like. The audacity is fascinating.
Aside from guys who want to show you their cocks and pray that you will blow them, conversation on Grindr can be pretty civil. You see a guy who seems like a chiller. You chat him up. Maybe you guys have some mutual interests. Maybe both of you are actually just looking to go grab coffee with someone and see where things go. Maybe you meet up and he’s awesome; you guys decide to go grab dinner together later and exchange numbers for future plans; or maybe you meet up and you realize that he looks nothing like what you expected.
It seems sketchy, but that’s probably because I have mostly just highlighted the awkward-in-class-high-school-boner that is the libido of Grindr. While Grindr is a huge platform for all sorts of crazy mansex, most guys are actually just looking for a friend or simple validation that other gay men do exist. It’s stupidly difficult to meet other gay men unless you actively seek them out. Grindr provides a very simple and fairly discreet way to do this.
It’s a way to explore your sexuality that is as safe or as dangerous as you make it. You can hide as much or as little as you want. So go ahead, let that guy you find cute blow you and see if you like it. People won’t know unless you tell them. (And hey, you might like it more than you thought you would.)
This is why Grindr is great. Guys from all over the sexuality spectrum get online to explore what they actually want from this app. And it’s so foreign socially that you can seek literally whatever you want and there will be no real grounds for anyone online to judge you. So what if you want to have crazy, multi-day orgies? There’s no reason not to crave exactly what you want.
The wants are diverse. Some guys want to snort coke off your dick. Some guys just want to go get coffee. Some guys are looking for a friend with whom they can play video games and exchange blowies. Some guys are looking for someone to hold in the night when they’re feeling lonely. Some guys want to shoot up meth and get pissed on. Some guys want to find that true connection we all call “love.” That said, sex is great and sex is fun, so anyone who has had sex but has not been tested for STIs in the last 6 months should definitely go and get tested. Your health is the only thing keeping you alive.
Yes, it is extraordinarily difficult to meet guys interested in guys living in a city as repressed as Colorado Springs. That’s why Grindr is such a tormenting gift. Sure, it plays on many insecurities and problems in the gay community, but it also provides us with opportunities completely unthinkable in heterosexual society. You get to scroll through a list of guys whom you could potentially date, fuck or even (thank you, SCOTUS) marry. There are 200 interested guys just a swipe and tap away, hiding in your pocket. Go find whatever you want. As for me, I have no fucking clue what I want. So I guess that I’ll just keep scrolling through headless torsos until I figure it out.