Hello Sex, Goodbye Gay
Grindr is a free downloadable iPhone app which lets you find “gay, bi, curious guys” in your immediate vicinity. As Polly Vernon writes in The Observer, “It shows you who these men are and what they look like; it’ll tell you how far away from you (in feet, and even more thrillingly, fractions of feet) they are standing; and it will allow you to ‘chat’ them, if they take your fancy.” Gone are the days when one had to waste time surfing profiles on dating websites, spending hours getting to know someone on instant messenger, only to discover, in person, that there’s no chemistry or that the other person is nuts. That past time will soon look as dated as cruising by the steps on Church Street.
Grindr (pronounced ‘grinder’) was launched on March 25th 2009 and witnessed its biggest boost after Stephen Fry, Oscar Wilde incarnate himself, sang the app’s praises on a British talk show. Now, it has more than 700,000 users in 162 countries, and it continues to grow.
“I’ve never, ever had so much sex in my life!” a gay friend informed Vernon. “I’ve probably had as much in the past eight months of Grinding as I have over the 20 years since I came out. Maybe more.” Other interviewees mention hooking up in the subway, staying in and waiting to see who walks down their street, or capping off a nice evening out with friends by checking out who’s at the restaurant to take home.
Basically, sex on demand.
And Grindr’s creators have their eyes set on the straights, with a heterosexual version expected to launch “at latest” by the end of the year. Vernon writes that Grindr “marks a major evolution in how all of us – gay, straight, alive – will meet and interact with each other. Depending on who you talk to, this is either brilliant (liberating, socially enabling – the end, even, of loneliness and boredom); or a potential disaster (signaling the end of monogamy, facilitating sex addiction). Either way, it matters.”
A sex-on-demand-app was one of those ideas, like picture phones, which predated the technology that made it feasible. Around ten years ago I watched a TV program in which they advertised ‘gay-dar’, a little pager-like device which would beep when it sensed another one in the room.
“And what’s to stop gay bashers from using them?” a middle-aged lesbian asked the spokesperson. “Um, that’s something we’re obviously very aware of and concerned about dealing with…” the inadequate answer came. The segment ended with the gay host ‘meeting’ a young man who’s gay-dar had gone off, and if the gizmo’s safety concerns were already causing you doubts, the sheer awkwardness of the televised meeting would have convinced you to stay away.
“Well, that’s the end of a useless invention,” I thought, turning the channel.
While I’m totally sex-positive and not a prude, I have mixed feelings about the sex-on-demand culture of Grindr, although perhaps it will siphon off the people who are just looking for casual sex, allowing more room on internet dating sites for those looking for ‘something more’. Obviously there’s still the safety concern, but I doubt there’s that many violent homophobes who would want their iPhones notifying them all the time of the queer men around, just in case they wanted to beat them up.
And let’s take a moment here to remember how lucky we are to live in a country in which homosexuality is not illegal, for in many places in the world downloading Grindr would practically be signing one’s own death sentence.
But straight hooking up is another matter entirely. The truth remains that heterosexual women are more apprehensive about sex with strangers than gay men, and I doubt that even women who are very sexually active would like to be signaled out as ready and willing to every straight man in a bar.
But for the moment, let’s focus on its effect on what is quaintly still referred to as the gay ‘community’. Joel Simkhai, the Israeli-American man who founded Grindr, said that he felt isolated as a young gay man.
“I think every gay man starts asking it, from the moment he realizes he’s gay. You are somewhere and it’s: ‘Who else here, right now, is gay? Who?’ You are looking around, you are constantly wondering. Because coming out is a lonely process.” So Grindr is meant to bring queer people together, but in a different fashion than traditional community organizations and hang-outs.
About the title, he explained that “We liked the word. We liked the notion of a coffee grinder, mixing things together… And there’s the term ‘guy finder’ in there, too. We wanted something that was masculine but was not about pride flags. Was not about…”
“A politicized idea of gayness?” Vernon offers.
“Yes! And was fun! And was in a way – not about being gay. I’m gay; I am a proud gay man. It’s not that we have any issues, right? But Grindr’s not about gay rights, or gay anything. It’s about finding guys. Being among your peers. Socializing. Being part of your community. It’s not about: ‘We’re here, we’re queer.'”
So meeting other gay guys is not a gay thing? Grindr is about being part of the community but not about being ‘here and queer’?
There’s nothing new about men who sleep with men who don’t like the names ‘gay’ or ‘queer’, who take no part in the community and live on the ‘down low’. But Grindr could make finding men for sex while completely bypassing gay bars and websites infinitely easier.
Which, of course, is fine, if all you want is sex and don’t feel any connection, socially or politically, to other men who sleep with men.
I spent the better part of last year frustrated at post-structuralists and their obsession with ‘deconstructing’ identities, and queer activists who seemed more concerned with Palestine than gay rights violations around the world. As Nicole LaViolette wrote in The Globe and Mail yesterday, Western world queers are sadly comfortable and complacent when it comes to not reaching out and helping our sisters and brothers in countries where they are constantly under threat.
Maybe I was concerned with the entirely wrong threat to the community. It’s not sexual theories which will unravel the tenuous bonds linking the alphabet soup of GLTTBQQ-etc. It’s sex itself, which, ironically, was what brought us together in the first place.