Dame Effie Sprinkle casts an eye over Grindr, the hook-up of app that makes it possible to put cruising at the centre of your life, whenever and wherever.
Four years ago a friend mentioned a new app called Grindr so I downloaded it and things gay-wise for me have never been the same since. My first Grindr contact was a lovely-looking chap who chatted with me all evening and then arranged to meet me in a coffee shop a few days later. Unknowingly I’d just ignored Grindr Rule #3 – Never, EVER, arrange to meet someone from Grindr more than two hours later. He didn’t show up and I sat like an idiot checking my messages, hoping he was just delayed. A week later he messaged me again with “So, we never did meet for that coffee…” And so I discovered what the Block button was for. Fool me once…
Since then, I’ve had both good and bad experiences when using the most popular gay hook-up app in the world. I haven’t made any friends for life from it. But I have had some good sex, as well as quite a bit of mediocre sex. I’ve experienced the heady thrill of being fresh meat when arriving in a new place and switching Grindr on. In Hong Kong and New York I received literally hundreds of messages in a few hours. But rather than providing a wealth of opportunity, it just meant needing to sort through all the people who were “time wasters” to use that embittered profile parlance. I’ve met my fair share of time wasters too. Like the guy with the amazing profile picture who gave me an address which contained a house number that didn’t exist, and then he blocked me when I turned up to the street. Grindr Rule #16 – Check online that their full address exists before leaving the house. Grindr Rule #17 get them to send their address to your mobile number. That was a particularly edifying afternoon. Thank you, whoever you are, for helping to make the world a nicer place.
Despite the age on my profile (Grindr Rule #9 – if you’re over 30, consider lying), I’m old enough to remember gay life before the internet. Meeting in smoke-filled bars and clubs, which could often involve a lot of standing around and wishing you were brave enough to talk to people you fancied. But sometimes you did and they didn’t hate you. You couldn’t just ignore or “block” them if you weren’t interested though. You had to be civil about rejection. Grindr takes incivility to a new level – never in history have so many been so cruelly turned down. Because while I suspect Grindr has caused gay men to have a lot more sex than ever before in history, for every successful hook-up, there will have been at least 10 failed ones. Grindr Rule #27 Develop a thick skin. Grindr Rule #98 If he turns you down, try him again late on Saturday night if he’s online.
In the “old days” casual sex took place in parks, laybys, public loos and saunas (the non-gay council-run ones were particularly good if you liked closeted guys). Grindr Rule #5 don’t send naked pictures of yourself to someone who has no profile picture themselves. Grindr Rule #6 Sending naked pictures increases your chance of sex a bit, but not as much as you’d think. Grindr Rule #7 If you must send naked pictures, only send your torso or cock, not a full length one containing your face.
The pre-Grindr cruising grounds were addictive, as is all anonymous sex, but not addictive in the same way Grindr is because you had to make the effort to put on shoes, leave your house, travel to a location and be there for an allotted period of time with little else to do. Eventually, you had to go home again. Grindr’s done away with that distinction between cruising and the rest of your life. You can have the app open all day, whether you’re at work, on the loo at home or on a social night out with your friends. And the temptation to just check it again, because within the last 10 minutes a gorgeous guy might have come into your vicinity and he might have messaged you, and if you don’t reply, he’ll move on to someone else and be lost forever… Well you can see how it hooks itself into you and won’t let go. And that’s a shame, because it’s blurred the line between cruising for sex as a discrete activity in itself, and the rest of your life. Now it allows cruising to become an almost constant part of your life, distracting you a little from what’s going around you, along with all your other social networking apps of course.
In some ways Grindr has made life safer for those who seek nsf – those parks and toilets I mentioned were often crawling with dangerous nutters who’d beat you up or arrest you for being there. One of my friends was once frog-marched to a cash machine and made to withdraw £100 after a particularly violent closet-case decided to “charge” him for the sex afterwards. And conducting one’s sex-life in a place where other people defecate isn’t really the most salubrious of activities. Shifting sex into people’s bedrooms feels like a step in the right direction. Although there can be a downside to that – such as when a drunk Grindr hook-up who got a bit obsessed with me started banging on my door wanting to see me while I had company. I also suspect that anonymous gay sex has become a bit more of an ‘extreme sport’ than it used to be now people can do it in private spaces with no fear of interruption. And this can lead to the exchange of more STDs along with bodily fluids (Grindr rule #1 Get tested for STDs regularly).
But what I hate about Grindr is how it reduces a living human being with a complicated life history, feelings and a unique personality to a “profile” containing a few attributes – age, race, tribe – what the hell is tribe anyway? And then it allows us to “filter” out people whose attributes we don’t like. Don’t like black people? Filter them out and you don’t have to have them cluttering up your wall of faces. Guys over 40 a turn-off? Filter ‘em. And again, imagine that being allowed in “real life”. Imagine in a bar being able to switch on a visual filter so all the old or black people suddenly become invisible. The way that Grindr is set up means that it encourages and rewards people who have the most brutal attitude towards their fellow man. And as a species, that coarsens us rather than bringing out the best in us. We deserve better.
In real life, even in anonymous cruising situations, most people are better behaved and kinder to each other. Thinking cynically, it’s because they’re too scared to treat people that way when they’re right in front of them. Although it’s hard to recall life before Grindr, in the grand scheme of things, it’s still new. It feels like a massive social experiment. There is no going back to how things were before. But we can go forward. Don’t use filters. Treat people on Grindr as you would like them to treat you (e.g. with respect). And set aside periods of time when you use it and when you don’t, and stick to them. Until a better way of hooking-up comes along, this is what we have now, and we need to make the best of it, so it can bring out the best in us.