February 4, 2020
* Some names changed for the sake of confidentiality
A notification lights up the screen, the user is filled with hope and their fingers work fast to open it. The rejection hits and he sinks back, dejected. This man is prowling a popular dating app known for its influence on gay dating. Unlike apps like Tinder and Bumble, there is no matching here. Men across the gender and sexual expression spectrums can see everyone around them looking for the same thing and can message them at will. Headless torsos and faceless profiles hold overly inappropriate names like “Dom4Bottom” or “Lansing DTF.”
This is Grindr.
In a generation where half of all U.S singles have tried dating apps at some point in their lives, Grindr holds a unique level of notoriety in the public eye. The app, created in 2009, is considered a major outlet for gay male hookup culture. Men fitting western beauty standards are met with offers for sex and nude pictures. Men who don’t fit into these standards are met with empty inboxes and blatant rejection based on aspects such as their race and gender expression.
Critics have suggested Grindr is responsible for the death of 25-year-old Michigan local Kevin Bacon, the selling of users’ HIV statuses for advertising purposes and the perpetuation of unhealthy habits that lead to depression. Maxwell Knight, a student at Lake Superior State University, suffers from depression and believes Grindr may be responsible.
“It really messes with your self image and worth. Even though I don’t necessarily want to have sex with random strangers, not being offered sex from random strangers makes you feel ugly for one reason or another,” says Knight. “It reminds you that you are never going to find anybody who thinks you’re attractive,”
Knight states he uses the app primarily to fill time, not have sex. If he is messaging someone, the exchanges can often seem pointless and he is left feeling empty. Knight holds Grindr on no pedestal, considering as he considers the app detrimental to his mental health.
“[When thinking of Grindr] I think of old men hitting on guys younger than their own kids, the scammers trying to get your credit card info, anonymous meaningless sex and trolling people,” says Knight.
Jack Turban, a gay psychiatrist and writer for Vox, ran an informal study by chatting with 50 random profiles on the app. He found that most users engaged with the app for accessible sex and to rid themselves of negative emotions such as loneliness and sadness. He discovered that using Grindr offered only a temporary escape for these participants. To reinforce this, he highlighted a study by Time Well Spent, a nonprofit focusing on digital issues. They found that 77% of Grindr users felt regret after using the app.
“The users I interviewed told me that when they closed their phones and reflected on the shallow conversations and sexually explicit pictures they sent, they felt more depressed, more anxious, and even more isolated,” Turban writes. “Some experience overwhelming guilt following a sexual encounter in which no words are spoken. After the orgasm, the partner may walk out the door with little more than a ‘thanks.’”
College campuses are not immune to any of these effects. Factors that can alienate users can be their weight, race, age and gender expression–all of this information being freely available for strangers to look at if they include it in their profiles. Former Michigan State University student Liam Little has faced some of this discrimination head on.
“When I think of Grindr, I have really mixed feelings. I think the thing I think of most is how we are asked to choose an identity based on the body type we have. It can create a really harmful and toxic environment, especially if you have a bigger body. So, I see some pros and cons with the app, because I also think it’s a great way to meet others in the community,” says Little.
It’s not all bad, as Little points out:
“It can be beneficial for some people, and is a great avenue to meet other queer folks. However, I think you need to have a lot of self-confidence and be able to push off what others think and say about you, because you’ll definitely hear negative things on Grindr.”
The app can be a way for LGBTQ+ students to meet, socialize and form bonds that may be hard to find in public spaces. Marriages and long-lasting friendships sprout out of the app, despite the qualms that many have with its negative affiliations. Is the phrase: “everything is good in moderation” something that can be said about the gay dating app? It may be hard to say as the app continues to garner both positive and negative criticism.
John Castro is a professional and public writing senior with a tendency to write long and melodramatic works of fiction he knows no one will read but his mother. He plans to apply his knowledge to social media management, content strategy, and the candlelit hours that follow in which he finishes that inevitable first novel. You can find him on Instagram posting trashy poetry under the unnecessarily long username: @johnisstillthebestusernameever.