Unpacking the code of Grindr

Henry Petrillo explores the sub-culture of the gay hook-up app

Grindr has broken into the mainstream after spending its formative years as an exclusively gay point of reference. Awareness of Grindr’s existence has risen outside of the gay and parts of the trans community, although the sub-culture that has developed within Grindr remains cloaked in mystery for those who have never used it. For people who have taken a dive into the sexual rabbit hole that is Grindr, there are so many intricacies and layers within the user community that no one could ever claim to ‘have seen it all’. One student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described the function of the app. “I’d say most people are looking for a combination of chats, dates, or right now [immediate sexual encounters]. Though I know people often say you have to put ‘chats’ down to show that you’re not a psycho. I’m not sure that ordinarily it is as good for meeting up with people as they’d suggest…The reason [gay men] still use it is the fear of missing out, or the small possibility that the hot guy you’ve messaged will reply.”

Grindr culture, and gay culture in general, is experiencing a marked transition due to the acceptability of being gay becoming more common-place. The days of a “this is the best we’ve got” mentality in regards to what we can expect from nightlife to the fundamental rights we did or didn’t deserve seem to be entering their twilight. With this change, an openness to diversity within the gay experience has started to challege standardized community norms.

“In recent modifications to the app, attempts have clearly been made to broaden the perception of Grindr from just the go-to tool for gay men to find easy sex”

One of the most prevalent stereotypes of the gay male community is hyper-sexualization. An obsession and prioritization of having sex with a large number of partners in lieu of establishing sustainable emotional connections seemed to be the law of the land. This is a generalization and of course there are exceptions to this ‘rule’, however, I think most gays over 25 would agree that sexual connections are given primacy far more often than emotional ones are. A common joke within the gay community is congratulating a gay couple on a six month relationship since it is considered a comparable achievement to a straight couple lasting for five years. The measurement of “gay time” reflects a humorous acknowledgement of the rarity of viable long-term relationships compared to the availability of constant one-off or no strings attached sex.

Grindr capitalizes on this gay cultural norm. It helps to streamline the process through a comprehensive set of filters and preferences that can be applied to all other users listed according to their geographic proximity to you. The majority of the filters relate to physical appearance, including: age, weight, body-type, race, sexual position preference, among others. In recent modifications to the app, attempts have clearly been made to broaden the perception of Grindr from just the go-to tool for gay men to find easy sex. These include new options to specify where you’d like to meet first, some of which are a coffee house, bar or restaurant. However, it also includes “your place or my place”. This provides a glimpse into the duality that Grindr is trying to achieve by not losing its function as a hook-up app, but also establishing itself as more of a dating-app.

“Grindr does perpetuate the concept of the ‘gay ideal’ and has a tendency to subjugate users to one or two basic physical features. However, inclusivity seems to be on the rise”

I don’t think Grindr has created the sub-cultural norms that are so prevalent when using the app. Rather, it magnifies them by giving users a space for gay expression with the protection of virtual anonymity. There is an ideal that has been constructed, which borrows from several different forms of ignorance. This destructive pursuit of the ideal on Grindr manifests itself in profiles that read “Masc 4 Masc”, “not into fem”, “prefer Irish guys”, “must be in-shape”. While not everyone is looking for this ideal, these men are considered the top of the gay pyramid. In the gay community, the notion of being “straight-passing” or so masculine that the average person would be surprised that you’re gay is the most enviable characteristic. There is also an obsession with muscularity, which is related to the goal of being seen as masculine. In addition, the openness surrounding people’s types which may be based on race or ethnicity reflects a deep-seated xenophobia and over-policing of minorities within the gay community. According to one student of colour, who asked to remain anonymous: “People often will stop talking to you because you are Asian, black or Arab unless they see you as a fetish.” The security of a hiding behind a keyboard and the ability to block other users also prevents authentic acknowledgement of privilege within the gay community.

Grindr does perpetuate the concept of the “gay ideal” and has a tendency to subjugate users to one or two basic physical features. However, inclusivity seems to be on the rise. There is a growing frustration and avoidance with anonymous or overtly offensive profiles. Thinking back on their personal experience, one student says, “I’d imagine there is some sort of generational divide, but I generally don’t talk to people over the age of 25,” he continued , “Though I do know that older accounts do tend to be more direct, and also a bit more persistent. I know a lot of my friends who are on the app actually quite dislike it.” There is also a younger generation of gay men who have experienced a more positive coming out experience, and therefore have less internalized homophobia that mars the capacity for healthy emotional relationships. I assume Grindr will still be around in 10 years, because it fits within the larger move towards attitudes towards sexuality becoming more lenient. However, I also believe that the monolithic gay experience is over. And without having the fear of being ostracized from the gay community for not subscibing to norms for better or for worse, I think that Grindr and other queer spaces will become more positive.

Henry Petrillo

Henry Petrillo is the Deputy Sex & Relationships Editor for Trinity News.