Warning: The following content contains explicit sexual material.
We need to talk about Grindr. Its interface, its addictiveness and who is sexy on Grindr. When I first came to Ithaca, I was ecstatic to download the app, the icon garnished with a black background highlighting a yellow mask, suggesting anonymity. I spent hours scrolling. In my small hometown, the nearest person would be up to four miles away. My young, freshman eyes, wide and blue, scrolled for hours and were met with faceless profiles, abdominal and chest photos and love poems of “trade pics?”
Before I could process the visual overload of body pics, I was inundated with senior boys, football players, theater kids, the hot brunette on my floor, older Ithaca locals, daddies, twinks and otters — all of the camps in which gays could qualify. I knew my heart wanted a connection, but what I got was a series of disappointments and sketchy 3 a.m. walks to Collegetown Terraces or West Campus.
In Ithaca, I’ve had Grindr run-ins with law students, communication students, freshmen, seniors, frat boys, pretentious poets and even an adjunct professor — oops, sorry English department (Disclaimer: I was an Ithaca College student at the time). Have you even been on Grindr in Ithaca if you haven’t contracted the infamous strain of Cornell chlamydia from a regrettable night with a blonde twink from Collegetown?
I am now years removed from my Grindr days. I have been in a committed, monogamous relationship for nearly two years. Yet to this day, I will still break my neck to look over my shoulder at my friend’s phone if they’re on the app. I ask them to let me take a peek at that grid of mostly faceless profiles arranged by proximity — much like shopping and sorting the foods from the price “low to high.” Grabbing the phone from my friend’s hands, I noticed the same faces, the same photographs of the same abs two whole years later. Not much has changed. I think to myself: what makes these people return? Is there a sense of community, is it an addiction, are the 3 a.m., sketchy hookups with Ithaca locals that enticing? I don’t know. But I am thankful that I am released from the same endless cycle of the demonic app.
The interface and design of the app is meant to be anonymous, addicting and most of all, exclusionary. Unlike many other dating or hookup apps, you can filter the Grindr grid by race, age, height, body-type, “tribe” and now vaccination status. The filtering invites an exclusionary culture on the app. In fact, the term “no fat, no femmes, and no Asians,” was a popular bio phrase on many profiles in the mid 2010s. This term was so popular that it was sold on a T-shirt for $28.50. This is unsurprising, as a 2007 academic paper by Chong-Suk Han concludes that gay men “are more likely to distinguish between potential partners based on race than heterosexual men.”
The interface of Grindr makes it feel like you’re being marketed bodies, not individuals. Grindr gives users nine different “ethnicities” to choose from in a drop-down menu. Individuals who pay for the premium version of Grindr have the option to filter their matches based on this drop-down category. This quite literally means that people who use Grindr the most can filter out certain races. Already, there is an issue with racism in sexual and romantic spaces within the gay community — Grindr validates and amplifies this racism.
I took the liberty of interviewing two underclassmen who are new to Ithaca and the Grindr scene.
Gage, Freshman, 18-years-old:
“When I first downloaded Grindr it was a different experience for me because I’m from North Dakota. One experience stands out: when I met up with a 37-year-old here in Ithaca. He picked me up and I was scared because I am only 18 and he was 37. After I hooked up with him I tasted his mouth on my tongue and it wasn’t right…
It can be scary sometimes.
I feel like I need to clean myself.
I think to myself: ‘No. That’s not me’ — but in reality, he was the only person available at the time so I felt like I needed to go with him at the moment.
From social media I had the impression that, ‘yeah, you’re gonna meet with older people.’ But in reality I thought it would be more personal than it ended up being…
I feel like Grindr gives you more of a body to choose from. Not a person.”
Jake, Sophomore, 20-years-old:
“I downloaded Grindr when I was 18. As soon as I downloaded it and made my profile, I would get a lot of hits because I’m an attractive, young male. I really try to showcase myself, my skills and hobbies, my status as a musician or an artist, but it ends up being about my looks.
For new users who are downloading the app solely to find and meet more gay people and conjure a queer safe space — it’s not all peaches and cream .
My initial advice is to be safe and just don’t download the app.
I wish there were more queer spaces in which sex is not the primary thing involved.
The problem is you really have to know that you want to be treated as more than a body, and have some sort of preemptive knowledge on how the interactions will go down. And it is not reasonable to expect that 18-year-olds turning to this app have these things down pat. I didn’t…I certainly didn’t.”
These conversations revealed to me what I already knew: Grindr preys on vulnerable underclassmen who may be seeking experiences deeper than body-shopping. While some may come with that intent, a larger number of those come to find the love or beauty of queer friendship that they missed out on in middle and high school and often get cornered into a treacherous game. In this game, one learns that you can either play dirty or walk away from the table. Walking away from the table may mirror the feelings of queer teenage years — missing out. Staying, more often than not, sucks you into a cycle in which the cards in your hands are empty or regrettable. With a lack of sufficient options for safe queer spaces, this dark corner with a table full of players is the only place to fill the hole by years passed.
Every day we grow the influence of this app by giving it our attention and it is about time that we either have conversations about how to change its hypersexual, racist interface or we abandon the app in the search of healthier queer spaces. It’s time we flip the table and recognize that Grindr is not sexy.
Hunter Simmons is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].