There are two very distinct classes of people in the world: those who know exactly what Grindr is and those who have never heard of it. If you find yourself in the latter group, allow me to enlighten you.
Founded in 2009, Grindr is a mobile application aimed at gay and bisexual men that allows users to create a profile and interact with other users located around them. Since its inception, Grindr has become a staple of communication in the gay community, amassing more than 10 million users worldwide as of November 2014, according to Business Insider. Several other apps serving similar purposes have emerged since Grindr’s release, and despite the fact that most of them are, in my humble opinion, significantly more user-friendly, Grindr has maintained its position as the most popular gay social networking platform in the world.
I’m sure you’re asking yourself one question at this point: so what?
In theory, Grindr was intended to make communication between members of a socially marginalized group easier, and more or less, it has achieved that goal. However, in practice, Grindr has become a platform exhibiting the many ways in which the modern gay community has internalized homophobic tendencies. It’s no secret to users that Grindr is a “hook-up” app. Most utilize the app to find people with which to have sex. As a result, many profiles are limited to descriptions of users’ preferences in sexual partners, and such profiles far too often demonstrate a greater problem of internalized homophobia. Feminine men are often the target of offensive profiles that boast phrases such as “masc only,” “straight-acting men only” and “no femmes.” Many users on Grindr are exclusionary to men that don’t fit the mold of traditional masculinity.
Masculinity is seen as the ultimate goal for any man in our society: gay, straight or other. Those who subvert masculinity are often the targets of marginalization, and homophobia emerges out of the conception that all gay men are effeminate and flamboyant. We, as a society, and as a result of mass media marketing, lust after a very specific type of man: one that is traditionally masculine, rugged, usually white and always straight.
Advertising, even for gay products, always depicts men who fit this mold. Grindr’s online equivalent, Adam4Adam, depicts a muscular, bearded and obviously masculine man on its home page. Models, actors, musicians — the most sexually desired men typically exhibit the same characteristics. The gay community has become so fixated on this societal ideal that members expect such attributes in their sexual partners, despite the fact that gay men fall across a large spectrum of masculinity/femininity. Therefore, gay men internalize a certain type of homophobia, one that disparages feminine men, in order to seek out the “straightest” possible sexual partners. Masculine men are seen as the only men with value or sexual appeal, and it has made Grindr a toxic environment for men who don’t fit inside the mold.
So, is a collective attraction to masculinity wrong? No, not really. The true problem is the exclusionary nature of profiles that exhibit homophobic language. I’ve personally seen profiles that have said things such as “You are a man. Act like one.” The notion that gender expression is a fixed and narrow set of attributes is damaging. And these types of exclusions are not limited to effeminate men. Many Grindr users discriminate against certain races as well. “No blacks.” “Not into Asians, sorry.” But these users aren’t sorry. Racist language is excused as mere sexual preference, considering these men are writing off entire races of people based on racially charged preconceptions of what they look like.
It’s not Grindr’s fault. Not necessarily. But the way in which we express our attractions in spaces that are supposed to be “gay-safe,” like Grindr, can shape the attitudes of our community at large. It’s important to understand that it is okay for men to be effeminate and to move away from the idea that the only acceptable type of man is the masculine type of man. As gay men, we should not have to “act straight,” whatever that means, and we definitely should not impose such confusing standards of masculinity upon each other. In the end, we’re still gay, no matter how “straight” we want our partners to be.
The gay community would benefit greatly from avoiding divisive language that can detract from our sense of cohesion as a social group because in the end, we will affect more change toward equality as a solidified unit rather than as a sum of compartmentalized stereotypes. Grindr may just be a hook-up app, but the values its users are perpetuating reach far beyond a one-night stand.