The fact that more than six million people use a gay hook-up app called Grindr did actually surprise me, but that about 80% of them might be total pricks really doesn’t. I mean this is the internet. Where people tweet and hurl abuse at each other every hour of the day. Where people have trolled and flamed ever since it was created, and do some pretty horrific things. But you know what? The trolls don't define me nor my use of the internet. The enemy isn't Grindr and please, for the love of god, lets stop slamming people for being 'seedy'.
Grindr didn't kill the gay bar
So Grindr is full of arseholes, you say?
Well, this is going really well already - I wish to apologise to anyone reading this that’s uncomfortable with the idea of talking about sex and relationships; But we’ll give it a go – if you’re in for the ride?...
Now, if you don’t know anything about Grindr you may want to pull up a chair. It’s an application. An app that you can download to your phone or your tablet that shows you other gay, bi, curious and other labelled men around you in your local area. It shows you how close you are to them (in feet) and what they look like, if they’ve uploaded a photo, which they probably haven’t more likely than not. But you can write a little bit about yourself, how tall you are and what age you are. Basically it’s like your own little ‘gaydar’ in your pocket – which for people like me, unlike many of my straight friends, who are not blessed with this skill, is quite useful.
But ever since its creation four years ago, and the series of apps that have come after it both gay and straight, Grindr has been blamed for the downfall of modern society as we know it. Is nothing sacred anymore? Because you know Grindr is about gay men finding each other – it’s for chatting, for dates, for meeting up and yes it’s for sex. And so the questions start; why do you need to know who’s gay around you? Why can’t you just meet them ‘normally’? Why on earth would you want something like that?
The simple fact is Grindr is no different to other dating websites that have been around online for over 10 or more years. It’s just a lot more immediate, oh and its for gay men. It’s based on GPS so it’s live, it’s instant and so it gets a bad name – because it’s an easy target.
They say there are a lot of ‘seedy’ people on Grindr and whilst the branding is not exactly all rainbows and flags (for a change), you know what there are ‘seedy’ people on the internet, there are seedy people in real life – everyone’s seedy if that’s your definition of people meeting up and having sex. And if you think that people have only started meeting up for sex because of inventions and apps then you’ve clearly been on a different planet.
The enemy isn't Grindr
The internet changes the way we talk, it’s made things quicker – it speeds up our communication, but what we’re talking about hasn’t really changed all that much. It has just made it easier, a lot cheaper and a lot more open. People have talked about, and had, sex for a long time and it’s about time we just got over it. Actually – it’s time we spoke about it a hell of a lot more. I’m not particularly adventurous if I’m being honest, but just because people have different kinds of sex to you it doesn’t make them ‘seedy’. We need to be really honest that having sex is not a bad thing – have as much or as little sex as you want but for god’s sake have it safe.
Yet there’s this idea that gay people can’t ‘ask’ for equality whilst creating apps like Grindr; because apps like Grindr reflect so badly on us that we can’t be taken seriously. Because they might be about sex and it ‘suggests’ that gay people can’t hold down a relationship.
Well, firstly, I don’t ask for my equality – I deserve it, because it’s been robbed from me. Secondly an app doesn’t define our community (however narrowly you define it) or brand us something we’re not, just like the people who parade in pink pants at pride don’t brand me as something I’m not. And thirdly – I don’t think sex is all that seedy.
But I’ll admit it – I used to think differently.
I used to think that Pride marches were bad because they made it seem like everyone is some sort of camp cross-dressing queen – and I wasn’t.
I was hung-up on the idea that these people made my equality harder to ‘get’ – and that somehow they branded me as something I wasn’t.
I found camp people annoying because I thought they were just ‘putting it on’ or making it more difficult for me to just ‘fit in’ – and I felt that the more we talked about HIV the more people would think we’re all just sex mad people who can’t have safe sex. So I suppose, yes, I was homophobic. I thought that other people were the problem. That if we just stopped marching around and tried to just ‘fit in’ a bit more that somehow things might get better.
I didn’t think I was gay because being gay was frills and dresses and I wasn’t. So I didn’t stand up and defend people in school who were getting bullied because they were either openly gay or people thought they were. I didn’t know enough and I got things wrong. I didn’t stand in the way – it was the wrong thing to do and I am deeply regretful of it now – because if people like me don’t stand up to it, who the hell does? And even when I knew I was gay all the theory and the rants about sexual equality, definitions, words, articles and posts about ‘hetero-normativity’ just made me switch off. I felt like these people didn’t speak for me – that I didn’t relate to them. I felt alone because I felt like I was the only gay person who didn’t define themselves by their sexuality, and nobody looked like me.
But I know that I did chat with friends and people from school on email and on Myspace or whatever the technology was at the time. People were more open, you could talk about what you really felt and who you really were. People listened or you suddenly found out people like you knew they were ‘different’ too.
Not everything gay is seedy, but so what if it is?
The internet taught me a lot. And you may be disappointed that what I’m referring to isn’t seedy – it’s not dirty. I learnt about things from HIV through to gay relationships and gay people getting married abroad, despite feeling deep in my heart that my life would never look like that. I just got the education I deserved because I found it for myself. I was just one person, but the internet for me has been a lifeline – and yes I’m sure there’s plenty of stories you can drag out about people using it for sex and for chatting and meeting people and dating but that doesn’t define me.
There were no gay bars where I grew up – there were no gay people. That’s what I thought. The internet, the open culture and the values it represents and defines, literally proved to me that wasn’t true. Grindr is no different from those early forums and websites. It’s still strangers talking to strangers, whether about sex or not. But it’s also friends and neighbours finding and meeting each other; whether for pints, BBQs or – yes, sex. It’s not some sort of ‘revolution’. Don’t tell me the creators of Snapchat didn’t have sex in mind. Sex is everywhere, and sex sells – but somehow that means we don’t ‘help ourselves’ with the fight for our equality? I don’t think so.
The power of the internet and our phones to support us and help us in life is undervalued – it’s just seen as helping out schedule our calendars or checking our bank balances on the go. But the internet has changed my life. It can educate us and it can challenge us. Apps like Grindr are sometimes incredibly individualistic but the versions of the future are already branching out. There’s one called ‘Growler’ –a similar app to Grindr for ‘bears’ that has new functions that lets you “shout out” to a whole local community. Grindr itself is packed with adverts and pop-ups for real-world events, sexual health testing and HIV prevention. Hornet promotes safe sex by getting users to fill in their most recent sexual health check-up.
Charities and health providers that are ahead of the curve across the world are already signing up and logging on; reaching people that don’t go to the “scene” – people that don’t normally get vital information about safe sex and relationships. They are offering anonymous, instant information and guidance. LGBT societies and community groups are promoting themselves so that if you’re in the local area you can drop in, because you’re right there. Politicians are starting to canvass gay voters and market themselves on apps like Grindr. That doesn’t sound ‘seedy’ to me. Apps are helping us build communities, find other people like us. The internet might be for porn, but it’s so much more than that.
The enemy here is not apps like Grindr or the internet. It’s the idea that people can feel safer talking to strangers on apps than they do walking down the street. It’s the fact I still don’t find straight clubs all that welcoming. It’s the rise in homophobic attacks in Britain. It’s the fact that people are now using apps to target and find gay people – to ‘out’ them or to hurt them. It’s the rampant homophobia and racism spread all over words written in peoples profiles. It’s the misogyny and sexism that is all over Tinder. It’s the lack of sex and relationship education in schools. It’s not the platform that’s the problem.
Just because we now, nearly, have equality under the law – we have a long way to go. And this is where it gets tough. Because it’s about gay people kissing in the street and holding hands. It’s not about ‘tolerance’. It’s all the ‘gay agenda’ stuff that gets thrown in our face – it means we need people who are going to be braver about standing up to homophobia than I was when I was at school. Challenging it wherever it rears its head – whether that’s on the street, or on Grindr. The generation of gay activists before us got hurt – they put their lives at risk whilst they were branded as ‘seedy’ and as ‘wrong’. Those people who didn’t look like me still led the way, they were fearless and secured the freedom I enjoy today – I’m not going to turn on them now. We can’t claw back to this idea that gay people hurt their own equality by somehow being ‘different’ or because of an app on their phone.
You can ignore the person who just wants sex. You can choose how you want to use apps and the internet. For every story of someone using Grindr just for sex, I’ll give you one of someone finding someone for a date or just a chat. But if an app like Grindr means there’s just one 18 year old kid who feels more comfortable about coming out after chatting to someone like them, then it’s an app worth having.