It’s hard to imagine a world without Grindr.
Ten years ago the application appeared on the iPhone store, not just connecting every gay and bisexual in the area, but showing their distance. This concept is revolutionary.
Gone are the days where you have to measure someone’s every movement or deconstruct every sentence to spot a hint of same-sex attraction. It’s no longer necessary to head to a gay bar to try your luck. For every sexual need, the men in your vicinity are waiting, disembodied torsos and faces alike.
The app has existed for as long as I’ve been trying to get guys to look at me. I was 15 when Grindr was released in 2009. Even growing up in the days of the Internet Wild West, where no one thought twice about melting their family computers with megabytes of stolen music from Limewire, I’d never seen anything like it. The only online gay contact I experienced was lingering on forums with equally confused teenagers, or porn.
When I turned 16, Grindr started to become the global phenomenon it is today. I downloaded it, eager to unlock a world of homosexuality.
This was my first real contact with the queer adult world and I was not ready for it.
It’s a Grindr tale as old as time, now. At the age of 16 (the legal age of consent in the UK), I was blindsided by penises. People asking me questions I had no idea the answer to. Am I into kink play? What WAS I looking for?
The words ‘masc4masc’ or ‘into straight-acting’ appeared on almost every profile, reinforcing the dangerous heteronormative idea already molded in my malleable brain. Open racism. Sexually aggressive words filling up my messages.
I didn’t know how to talk to guys in real life. Now I faced a world of readily available men. As a sexual teenager, the thought of having sex set off every positive signal in my brain; the thought of penetrating this confusing world shut them off. I was scared.
Was this how all gay men behaved?
At that stage in my life I was in the semi-out-of-the-closet phase: I knew I was gay but I hated myself for it. The world seemed aligned against me already as my peers got in opposite-sex relationships, marriage and kids in their future.
The stress of Grindr didn’t help.
Everything changed as I walked into Trafalgar Square in London for my first Pride. The streets exploded with a parade of sexy Spartans, gender non-confirming stars, and more gay men than I could ever imagine.
At one point, dozens of us stormed the fountains in Trafalgar Square. I kissed another boy, soaked to the bone, as police officers screamed at us to get out.
It was an absurd teenage idea of romance I could only dream about before. The app could never provide what real life delivered.
However, the problem is not every day is a Pride parade.
For past generations, the experience of coming into contact with a sexual adult world would be completely different. Maybe they went into a bar and faced that same head-on forwardness. But there were people of all different body types. And it’s so much easier to learn how to communicate in person than through the glass of a screen.
Online, it’s a mass of people at once. All demanding an idea of a man you might never be.
Into the adult world
As I got older, I started to realize the good Grindr could do. Society is shutting people off more than ever. Coming together in a world where people turn away from each other and towards their screens is a revelation.
As Travel Editor at Gay Star News, it lets me connect to guys as soon as I land at a destination; I can get recommendations of where to meet people, of great bars and where to avoid. Also, sometimes, hook ups.
Getting familiar with this app as an adult presented some unique challenges. I got catfished in my first year of university. When he opened the door I received a very important life lesson in a) Google reverse image search and b) very swift escapes.
It’s also produced some universal problems: so many people, myself included, are absolutely terrible at talking to guys in public spaces. I can’t help but feel if I practiced this growing up instead of messaging men behind a computer screen my throat wouldn’t still close up and my tongue stumble over all my unfunny jokes.
Growing up with Grindr
Growing up with Grindr is a strange experience. Most of the time, Grindr is a sexual playground. We don’t need that when we’re teenagers. Learning from my own life, the responsible thing to do is wall it off from yourself until you’re at least 23; the age at which people even begin to grasp the enormity and annoyance of being an adult.
For all its faults, the app is a tool of liberation. It can be a lifeline for those not as privileged to live in a country with as liberal attitudes as my own. For others, it can let them connect in an increasingly less intimate world. Grindr is also launching its Kindr intiative, in response to the criticism of the racist and femme-phobic culture cultivated on the app. Time will tell if it can help.
Grindr may bring people together for good or bad fucks; it could help you meet the love of your life. But we might need to learn the lessons of growing up with this app and protect the generation coming up.
We shouldn’t be teaching another generation to admire strict body types or heteronormative behaviors. Nor should they put up with unsolicited, unwanted messages. Most importantly, maybe we should all learn that nothing quite beats a connection in real life.