How did gay men meet before they met their smartphones?
Some would tell you they met in Yahoo chat rooms. A few others would giggle over finding their mates in the classifieds section of Bombay Dost. The friskier ones would Joke about their nights spent cruising (and musing) around public restrooms. A couple would lie about bumping into each other at coffee shops.
Up until 2009, finding a (bed)mate for gay men was as difficult as finding a vegan-friendly birthday cake.
And then along came Grindr, which changed everything. Men moved their dalliances from seedy Internet cafes to the safe confines of their smartphones. It was a revolution. Gay men had finally found their match, no right swipes necessary.
Ten years since that glorious day, ten years since queer men could skip the old-fashioned way, and get to the part that they really cared about:
No-strings attached sex.
Over the years, the app attempted to broaden what it was known for. With ‘Grindr for Equality’, which was launched in 2012, and its inclusive-digital magazine ‘INTO’ making waves in 2017, things looked great for the ‘hook-up heavy’ app. But the magazine shut soon after, and Grindr continued having a reputation for being a cesspool of racist, body-shaming bigots. Gorgeous men, but bigots.
So how has the app fared in the #10YearChallenge?
It’s still a grid of grid-shaped torsos, only now they come attached with their HIV status and preferred pronouns. It’s been a decade-long transformation, but if the past is a precedent, now is the time to think what the future will ultimately look like.
With Tinder introducing 23 new gender selections and Scruff starting a community space for queer travellers, dating apps around the world are pulling up their (multicoloured) socks. What does Grindr have, on the other hand?
Gay stickers, and a new tap feature. These initiatives might change the way we look at Grindr, but there’s been little change to the app overall. Sure, it allows you to tap at your fellow playmates (or playthings, depending on what you prefer calling them) and send them gay-themed emojis instead of a corny pickup line, but Grindr has remained the same, functionally speaking: Look for whoever’s close by, exchange a few messages, and meet or just block and repeat the whole cycle. For an app that bans public nudity and sexual explicitness in profiles, that’s saying something. In fact, if Grindr has really accomplished anything, it’s made gay men more honest about what they don’t want:
An association with Grindr.
We’ve seen this in how people (mostly gay men) talk about the app. It remains dismissed and trivialised; to be forever shunned in the dark space between video editing and meditation apps. Think about it – if two men have a meet-cute, would they turn the page to their romcom-style romance by sharing their Grindr profiles instead of trading their Instagram handles? I don’t think so (plus, Grindr doesn’t come with a search tab, so most meet-cutes might meet a premature death). In so many ways, Grindr has become the online equivalent of a cruising spot: everyone does it, but no one really wants to talk about it. With so many DMs that need sliding into, will the idea of needing a separate hookup-exclusive app seem quaint someday?
Kushal, a screenwriter from the suburbs of Mumbai, would agree. He’s done the on-again-off-again relationship with the app for half a decade – that’s 50 percent of Grindr’s shelf life, leading to 100 percent of Kushal’s problems.
Kushal likes to believe that it’s a fling, and a toxic one indeed. They connect every once in a while, text-dancing for months till the former gets exhausted of his desperate needs (or worse, data plan). Does he enjoy it?
Not really. But what can he do? They’ve grown up together. Marking his evolution from Otter to Bear, Grindr has been there all along. It humoured his twink phase, egged him on to pursue multiple silver daddies in his late 20s, and for a brief spell in 2017, even played along with his leather fetish. As Kushal would say, they’ve had ‘some pretty good times’.
But it also bought along major bouts of heartbreak, and that one herpes scare in 2013. Last year, Kushal decided to finally cut the cord with Grindr. He’d had enough. He was born again (but not a born-again virgin). Kushal had seen the light, and there was no going back (Side note: he did four months later, with a stranger in a dimly lit elevator, but that’s another story.).
That story might not have had a conclusion, but at a ten-year mark, Grindr can’t afford any. If it wants to see a few more years in its life, it needs to up its game right away.
Until then, it can share its birthday cake with all of us.
I just hope it’s vegan-friendly.