Navigating Madison as a gay male I often find myself wondering, “where the homo’s at?” In a city that prides itself on “liberalism” and “diversity,” I experience a queer community decentralized: spread out into pockets of social comfort that are characterized more by other common identities (race, class, gender, religion) that intersect queerness, rather than a city-wide sense of sexual identity-based cohesion.
But then I heard about “Grindr,” a free iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch dating application that caters exclusively to a gay market. Because there is no Grindr for my Palm Pixi, I rented an iPad from the JRR and went to work, creating a profile for myself.
At first log in, a grid comes up with pictures of real gay men, sorted in order of geographical distance to me. I can see what they look like, chat with them, read their “stats” (age, height, weight, short bio), and am shown the amount of miles (or more excitingly, feet) they are from me at that particular moment.
Grindr has the potential to deeply revolutionize the way we date. Instead of other sites like eHarmony that facilitate an online relationship that only suggests the potential for personal interaction, Grindr encourages you to get off your ass and actually go out together, because the person is literally close by.
Founder Joel Simkai writes, “Grindr... [is] real. It is not a Second life. It is not a virtual world. It’s a tool. It enables real life, it doesn’t replace it” (guardian.co.uk, 2010).
Once people look past preconceived notions of Grindr as a space exclusively for hooking up, we can more critically evaluate the new and exciting potential it has for individuals seeking human interaction to make friends, court one another, and find community.
I must have been a new face for seasoned users, because within the first 20 minutes of creating my profile, I received six messages from local gays of close proximity. With J676 in mind, I asked Grindr users if they see any potential for the application to be used as a tool for public mobilization. I got a range of responses from “absolutely!” to “people are on here just to hook up, kid. You got a nude pic?”
After some continued research and Grindr chat “interviews,” I asked interviewee's to meet me that night outside “Plan B” on Williamson street: Madison’s only gay dance club. I wrote:
“Hey, I’m looking to make more gay friends! My boyfriend lives in Chicago and I’m feeling a lack of gay male camaraderie, you know? If you’re free, meet me outside of Plan B at 11PM. My name is Jake, I’ve got wavy brown hair and I’ll be wearing a black v-neck and black jeans.”
The boyfriend in Chicago is not real... just a protective measure...!
That night I headed to Plan B in promised attire, and stood outside.
Three interviewee’s showed up, and after some casual and semi-awkward conversation, we headed into the club, and actually had a great night hanging out together. While Grindr did not so much live up to my expectations as a tool for public mobilization, I came out of the experience with three new friends.
When looking at my failure in using Grindr for public mobilization, I have to think of the deeper reasons why people use the application. Grindr re-affirms for gay men that others are around them; it’s appeal is enhanced for individuals who don’t have many other venues to reach out. Because the focus is more on personal interaction as a means for social/sexual gratification, the “plutonic” group dynamic I proposed might not be salient to its users.
I also have to think about who is/is not represented on Grindr. In its current form, it exempts many people. I only perceived two of the total local users to be queer men of color. The grid of faces tells these men that if they’d like to meet other queer men of color: good luck trying to find them here.
Heterosexuals, lesbians, transgender individuals, and most importantly, people without access to Apple products, are not represented. The gay men you find on Grindr are those with enough disposable income to own an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, denying individuals with lower socio-economic status access its services: quick and modern social interaction that can be quite self-affirming, especially for the marginalized, fragmented queer community we have here in Madison.
A question I have for J676 blog readers is, do you think this product could translate well to a straight market? What sorts of realities that are specific to the ways heterosexuals date, make this an application that might not be successful for straight people? Or do you think it's not so different, and would work?