Hello listeners, this podcast contains explicit language and detail depiction of sex and racism. Listeners’ discretion is advised.
With the advent of online dating and the idea of using algorithms for matchmaking by intaking and taking advantage all the aggregated user data and user behaviour, more and more people are using online services to find their potential mate.
More recently, Tinder takes the top choice for its quick adoption of mobile apps. It’s user experience consists of a stack of profiles where the user swipes left or right indicating either dislike or like, respectively. The other uses would have to swipe like on the user as well for a mutual and consensual encounter. Whatever happens after is up to the two who matched.
However, in what is known as gay culture, where the primary way one meet another gay person is through apps like Grindr, where people tends to look for casual sex and hookups more than long term relationships.
[A series of Grindr notification sounds]
In this podcast, I would like to explore the social implications of an app that is designed around instant gratification of hookup culture for the gay communities. I want to answer questions such as how does apps like this magnify the stigma and toxic behaviours in the gay culture? As well as how these apps may play a role in perpetuating stereotypes and bad influences? More coming up, after this.
[Intro song plays]
I’ve invited an active user of a popular gay hook-up app called Grindr, let’s call him K to share his experiences. K is a university student who’s in an open-relationship – something that is very common amongst gay community. In fact, a recent poll of 517 gay men in San Francisco revealed around 30% of couples are in open-relationships1 – that says something about the demand for casual sex amongst gay people.
Nearly every gay person knows of Grindr, but like the name suggests, most people agree it’s like cruising in a public washroom. (Cruising is an antiquated activity where gay men walk around public places and attempt to use body language to initiate a casual sex of another guy)
What is Grindr? If you use your own words.
K: Grindr is just – it’s an app gay people hook up… I think it’s like Tinder, for gay men, but it’s worse… On Tinder, everyone has a face, right? Because it’s like, I’m not going to swipe right on a faceless profile, or a photo of someone’s chest – for men, not women. But on Grindr, it’s like you have an option to not have a face pic, and you also have the option to have a photo of your torso.
K: It’s also sorted by distance, right? And you can literally see who is close to you.
When you first open up Grindr, you immediate see a grind of endless profiles. It’s different from Tinder where you’re presented with one profile at a time and you get to choose whether you want to talk with them or not. It is literally a gay-dar where profiles are aggregated and presented to you sorted by whoever is closest to you.
Immediately, we can see the addictive and instant nature of the app.
[Ambience of a high school hallway with locker noises plays]
You see, while we have made a lot of progress, being gay is still very much stigmatized as gay teens grow up and comes to terms with themselves; and unlike straight high-school couples, gay teens have little opportunity to explore their sexuality naturally. As a result, they learn it from porn and hookup apps – a discrete, safe space where they’re more open to exploration.
[Sound fades out]
Discrete, huh? Whereas on apps like Tinder you try to link your Facebook or Spotify so that potential mates could learn more about you, it’s almost the opposite on Grindr – where people are more reserved and yet direct.
K: I think more people don’t want to link their socials on Grindr, because they are “discrete”. I mean I don’t do it either because it’s just a bunch of old/creepy men, right? It could be. A bunch of men that I don’t, like who, I don’t know. It’s just different.
With the directness on Grindr, comes with the negativity and toxic behaviours.
K: I don’t know, like for example if I don’t set an age preference on Tinder, right? And let’s say I do 18 to 100. Okay. Even though I don’t know that the age filter exists, and I could just swipe left, and the old man could never talk to me right? And also you can un-match people on Tinder. You can’t do that on Grindr, you’d have to block them. So even if I set my age preference on Grindr for 18-25, which is what I do, old men still message me, on a daily basis. And it’s like they spam you like: “Hey”, “Hi”, “hello”, “hello”, “how’s your day”. It’s like please take a hint. And when you try to reply “oh I’m not interested,” and they go on a whole rant about insulting you, it’s like, “oh you know, you’re so mean to old men”. All, all of that. And it’s like oh my gosh.
K: But I don’t want to block people, you know? Cuz it seems rude.
K: But I have no options
It’s as if you while you’re in this cloud of negativity, maybe blocking – which, you know, in an isolated case, it might seem negative. It might be the best option of everything.
You might be asking yourself, Grindr sounds like a terrible app and the people on there sounds like they’re not very nice, so why is it so popular amongst gay men?
K: It’s like we use it because everyone else is using it, like, it doesn’t narrow down our choices… of men… that we want to hook up with. Like, if you were to use another app in Vancouver such as Scruff, Jackd, i don’t know, tinder or something…
There’s not a lot of people there.
K: Yeah. And it’s mostly like, yeah. Yeah.
If there’s not a lot of people on there, there is less incentive for you to use it and it’s a cycle, kind of?
K: Yeah. And it’s easier to find hook ups on Grindr. Cause there are more people right?
K: I think it’s good in small amounts. Like, if you are on Tinder, Grindr, whatever, doesn’t matter… Grindr really like… if you’re on that app for like, more than an hour a day, just looking through profiles, you got a problem. Mmmm, I think Grindr makes you do that, especially when you’re horny, you know.
[Pauses, excerpt from Bo Burnham’s sexting music video plays for 15 seconds]
K: I quit for a while because I thought it was very toxic, people can mean. But then I went back. Just, I’m on here knowing what can go wrong, and like, what I can get out of it, and yeah. I’m just controlling my time on Grindr, and not let it overtake my life. So that’s why I’m using it. Plus, like, you know, it’s like a 20% chance where you find someone that’s attractive and… host. [laughs]
So far, you log on to Grindr with the intention of looking for a good time (whispers: sex), but immediately you’re flooded with hundreds of profiles who may or may not be interested in you. But you’re forced to adopt tactics to avoid negativity on the platform.
It’s not just gay men, but also teens. As mentioned earlier, without representation or role models in mainstream media of healthy and natural gay relationships, young people are turning to hookup apps for connections. This means that they pick up a lot of these “bad habits” and toxic, and sometimes even self-destructive behaviours.
K: I don’t know. I don’t really think about it. I just thought of something gay men goes through. Obviously thats not a really good mindset, but yeah. I mean, it’s bad that the younger generations, you know, is on Grindr already. There are people who are under 18 that’s still on Grindr, like they say they’re 18 but you look like you’re 10. Ummm, I don’t know so uncomfortable, sorry that I’m going off tangent, but it makes me so uncomfortable when people say they’re on Grindr, and they are talking to me and stuff, and I think they’re in university right, and then they tell me they’re from high school, like WOAH. That’s a little gross.
[Lady Gaga’s Born This Way plays for 15 seconds]
Unlike the sentiment in Lady Gaga’s song to be yourself because you’re “born this way”, apps like Grindr magnifies the prejudice that exists within the gay communities – which is a bit ironic considering LGBT is all about tolerance and inclusion. But that didn’t surprise me considering majority of depiction of LGBT characters in mainstream media (or even porn) are white.
K: … it’s not very common in Vancouver, but it’s really common in the US, where they’re like “No Asians and No blacks”.
K: Yeah, I think that’s very problematic. And then they defend it by saying “Oh, what’s wrong with having a preference” Ok.
K: No. That’s like internalized racism.
Right. So maybe that plays a part in, i guess, the gay culture as well?
K: Like, I feel like it’s such a selfish thing to say, even if you’re not interested in Asians, blacks, whatever, you don’t have to say it in your profile; just ignore the messages you know. People who are asians that are reading your bio are going to be like “wow, what is wrong with asian people.” You know, like? Someone who has very fragile, um, I don’t know what’s the word…
K: …Identity, would feel very crushed. Especially when they’re being discriminated against as asians.
… it sounds like this umm, this also plays into stereotypes right? Because in gay porn specifically, people’s sex positions are constantly correlated to their skin colour.
K: Yeah, it’s always like “WHITE JOCK WITH 8-INCH COCK FUCKS TINY LITTLE ASIAN BOY AND DESTROYS HIS HOLE”, it’s either that or “BIG BLACK MAN FUCKS TINY WHITE TWINK”… Like, you know, it’s okay, sure, if you discovering gay porn for the first time, it might be hot right? But then eventually it’s like Why is gay porn full of white men, and it’s always like… I don’t know like every single race, other than latino people, but other than that, asians are always bottoms, and black people are always tops, or like they’re always known for having a big dick, and that’s why they’re tops.
Just to make sure you know the “gay-lingo,” a “top” is someone who is mostly more dominant and plays the insertive role. Whereas a “bottom” prefers receptive role – and is typically more submissive.
While the stereotype doesn’t come directly from hookup apps, the apps allows uses to express and magnify their fetishes on their profile. This essentially perpetuating the type casting of race-based sexual roles, and many people of colour find it objectifying and dehumanizing.
[Soundbite of racist jokes against Chinese people from Family Guy plays]
This is not a problem that is exclusive to gay hook-up culture. I’m sure you’ve heard of stereotypes that asian men are weak, short, and have small penises.
Racism is a problem but it’s much more apparent in gay hook-ups hidden behind the LGBT inclusivity facade.
There needs to be a lot more done to dispel myths of stereotypes. We need to do a lot more in educating future generations to be more accepting of gay relationships at a young age, so that they can learn how to develop relationships naturally, instead of using hook-up apps.
Stopped due to word limit
[Outro music plays]
Great thanks to K for giving his insight and experiences to the hook-up culture and its toxicity in the gay culture. Thank you all for listening.