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Content Warning: Mentions of sexual abuse, abuse of minors, graphic nudity
Opening up Grindr is like reading a magazine with no articles or captions. Just photos of the sexiest male celebrities, faceless creatures we like to flip through like products in a catalog.
Grindr is designed to allow Queer men to find other Queer men to hook up with. In my experience, many men will send graphic photos of their body, or send a lewd pick up line in an attempt to sleep with others in the area.
As a teenager, this app scared the hell out of me. The first time I was introduced to the app, I was scrolling on Instagram and saw meme posts about it. I heard horror stories from Queer friends of mine about boys, just like me, being abducted and slaughtered as a result of connecting with a stranger on Grindr. Other cautionary tales I heard involved boys my own age being groomed into performing ludicrous acts for faceless profiles that they had never seen in person.
These stories were enough to instill an aversion to Grindr. I promised myself that when I turned eighteen (the age required to sign onto the app), I would not be using an app as dangerous as that.
Beyond the horror stories, many individuals who did use the app at the time had negative experiences that proved my fear valid. In a Vox Article from 2018, a poll revealed “77 percent of Grindr users felt regret after using the app.” In the same article, the interviewees said “that when they closed their phones and reflected on the shallow conversations and sexually explicit pictures they sent, they felt more depressed, more anxious, and even more isolated.”
In an interview by NPR, a man named German Chavez speaks about how he downloaded the dating app Grindr when he was 13. The interview revealed that “more than 100 men across the United States have faced charges since 2015 related to sexually assaulting or attempting to meet minors for sex on Grindr … according to an investigation by the GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting.”
Although the idea of exposing myself to this dangerous app initially left a foul taste in my mouth, as soon as I got to college, my thinking shifted. I, a Queer man, really wanted to meet other Queer men and get to know them intimately. Suddenly, the app that had been so scary to me was now providing a great opportunity to explore my sexual desires. I was in the Buffalo Wild Wings on State Street my freshman year when I decided to download Grindr. I’d finally turned eighteen and was ready to enter the world of ‘hookup culture.’
As soon as I made a profile, my phone started blowing up. All at once, profiles that were either faceless or displaying random torsos and feet started messaging me: “Are you down to hookup or will you be my sugar baby?” “You are so beautiful! Even if you’re not interested, I just wanted to tell you that. Goddamn, you are so very beautiful.”
In all honesty, it was strange to have so many horny men throwing themselves at me, but it also felt great for a moment. The feeling of being wanted by a swarm of different people was euphoric for a short second, but it subsided as soon as it began. The stories of abduction and grooming flooded back into my mind in parallel with the messages flooding my inbox.
I hesitantly clicked on a random profile. Its location was 268 feet away from me. Taking a look around Buffalo Wild Wings, I was spooked at the prospect of someone knowing exactly how close I was to them. With that, I deleted the app along with the heap of unopened messages.
Throughout my time in college, I downloaded and re-downloaded Grindr, re-tempted and re-scared off, but I never met up with anyone. No one had caught my attention in a way that made me want to pursue them or made me feel comfortable enough to meet them in person. Whether it was from their unsolicited dick pics or some crude comment about my body, guys on Grindr always gave me the ick. The days that guys would call my body a temple would fill me with euphoria, and the days that guys would call my body nothing special would immediately dampen my mood. My body was being ogled at, for good or for bad, online. Overall, Grindr remained a little app on my phone that would periodically be deleted and re-downloaded whenever I felt bored or horny.
All of these blank profiles, who were they? I wanted to try and get to know the men who cloaked themselves in anonymity with their blank profiles. And so, my Grindr case study began.
I chose 20 users with blank profiles and sent them all the same straight forward message: “Hey there, what are your thoughts on Grindr?” Ten of the profiles did not respond to me. Three of the profiles told me to “fuck off” and called me some sort of slur, and two of the other profiles disregarded my question entirely, wanting to know if I could give them head. The other five responded to my question, and I was surprised by the responses the headless profiles gave.
Two of the profiles said they felt the app was fine and they didn’t really feel scared on the app. A user named ‘Disco Baby’ responded with: “Eh, as an app it sucks, but it serves a good purpose. I’ve met some good people who have been friends and/or lovers.” Another user named ‘Found’ responded to me with: “I view it as an unfortunately necessary evil that I must endure in order to God Willing get laid.” This one made me laugh.
I kept reaching out beyond the initial twenty faceless profiles I had selected and eventually got a response from ‘cub’: a guy who sent me a dick pic and was met with my request to pick his brain about Grindr. To my surprise, he said he was interested:
He spoke about the racism he faced on the app: how certain “beefcakes” would not respond to him after they found out he was Asian. “Chicago was a lot better, now the Michigander gays just treat me like shit lol.”
My interest was piqued as he finished off our conversation by “dreaming toward a better standard for gay men, an app that can be safer for everyone.” He proceeded to ask me on a date; I politely declined.
But, his words struck me and seemed to best reflect the dissonance I feel toward the app. I think Grindr has the potential to be a beautiful vehicle for connecting Queer individuals, but this potential often gets drowned out by prejudice and judgment in the app. I did not meet up with ‘cub,’ but I was surprised by his kindness and generosity to chat with me. He was a blank profile that I had pegged as some random creep, but turned out to be something much more.
On March 13 of this year, I made a decision: I wanted to meet up with someone from Grindr, just to see what it would be like. The idea was almost like a bucket list item — something I’d pat myself on the back for when I went through with it. Coincidentally enough, in the past week I actually did end up meeting up with someone from Grindr for the first time. He reached out to me first and seemed really sweet. I didn’t get the ick right away, and we shared a common interest in the arts. We had a date at Bløm Meadworks, and it was a lovely time. I never felt like I was being solicited for sex or being used with malintent; his tone was really sweet and it felt like he wanted to get to know me as a person.
I think over my years in college, Grindr has evolved into something less scary and more funny to me. While it can still be a dangerous app, the people I have met through Grindr have mostly been goofy college students like myself. I think it’s a very strange app with strange people, but it can occasionally produce a beautiful connection. Even though my heart was beating out of my chest before I went on this date, I can now cross it off of my bucket list. It feels like a step in the right direction of putting myself out into the world and embracing what strangers have to offer.
Actually, as I sat here writing, my phone buzzed. Low and behold, it was a message on Grindr: “Hi, do you want a late birthday blow job?” The message is from a blank profile with the bio, “Apparently I give good head” with the shrug emoji. I laughed out loud upon reading this message, which I do not think my freshman-year self would do.
My reaction in the current moment speaks to everything I’ve learned from this funny little app: sex and connection can be scary, strange, funny, creepy and euphoric all at the same time, and I think that is okay.
Statement Correspondent Drake George can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.