By Eric Ramirez
My friends like to joke that I suck at being gay, that my gaydar has a short in its wiring. The best example–Savannah Pride 2011. I was in Forsyth Park, my eyes darting around looking for familiar and unfamiliar faces. My eyes finally settled on this tall blond guy with nice arms and a cute ass. But when he turned around, I saw that his shirt read: Straight, Not Narrow. I rolled my eyes and kept walking. Who else manages to check out the only straight guy at a gay pride event?
Luckily, in March 2009, Joel Simkhai founded Grindr, a geo-social networking app for gay and bisexual men. By using the GPS in your smartphone, Grindr tells you the distance in miles (and if you are close enough, feet) to the other men in your area using the app. It is simple enough to use; you tap on the picture of a guy you could be interested in and start chatting. Where you go from there is up to you. According to the company, the name stems from the idea of grinding people together like coffee beans. But with a name like Grindr, it is hard not to assume what guys are looking for when they hit you up, their profile pictures only showing their chests and stomachs.
Back when Grindr was first released, I was still in the closet and still attached to my LG Env3. But when I turned 20 back in January, my mother gave me an iPhone and I learned firsthand why Grindr had the reputation it did — promiscuous.
The first day I downloaded the app, a 38-year-old man offered sexual favors while I ran errands. Another introduced himself and informed me that he was alone in a hotel room across the street “looking for fun.”
Most of the conversations seem to go along those lines — brief introductions before offerings of sex. But not everyone on the app uses it for cruising; a few gentlemen asked to take me to coffee and others struck up platonic conversations. But that does not inhibit Grindr’s somewhat slutty reputation. While the app does not allow anyone under 18 to register, there is no bouncer to check IDs. The lack of control over the ages of users, coupled with the GPS feature, also raises safety concerns. A 15-year-old boy in Vancouver was sexually assaulted by a 54-year-old man he agreed to meet through the app.
Grindr also enforces guidelines for profile pictures: no nudity or obscene gestures. But does that justify the overly sexual interactions that Grindr seems to enable? Do those forward advances require justification?
The closest I ever found myself to another Grindr user was eight feet away; luckily it was a friend of a friend who lived in the same residence hall as me.
To try and get a better grasp of Grindr I downloaded Blendr, its sister app that caters to everyone, not just gay, bi and questioning men. Upon downloading Blendr, you are asked to add some of your interests so that those around you can more easily connect and chat with you. There are even menus available when doing so: entertainment, faith, politics, zodiac, etc. Grindr has none of those features. Additionally, Blendr offers the option of filtering the people displayed by the similar interests you display on you profile.
In Grindr’s defense, Blendr was launched in September 2011, more than two years after Grindr. So it makes sense that Blendr would have features that Grindr does not.
Personally, I would not accept an offer of sex from a stranger. But one-night stands are far from uncommon. That being said, the real issue with Grindr is not the promiscuity, but the risk. I could have a picture of the sexiest washboard abs and really be a psychotic pervert in my mother’s basement.
If you do use Grindr or Blendr, be safe. Whether that means not meeting a stranger or wearing a condom when you do, is up to you.
Contact Eric Ramirez.