By Melissa Ritter, Ph.D.
June is Gay Pride Month. What better time to celebrate Grindr, a sex-positive, global cyber space—and meeting place—for gay men. Yup, you read right. That’s Grindr, a free geosocial networking application that enables gay men to locate other gay men within close proximity. Launched in March of 2009, Grindr has quickly become a worldwide hit.
How extraordinary that wherever a gay man lives or travels, he can instantly find other gay men. He need never feel alone, that he is the “only one.” He’s not forced to search out the often marginalized gay ghettos that continue to offer much needed comradarie and support.
The Grindr screen display is a riotous grid of various photos of men—smiling, open faces, as well as lots of body shots--arranged from nearest to farthest away. Tap on a picture and the user receives a brief profile, including the precise distance from that person provided in increments of feet or miles. There are options to chat, send pictures and share location.
There is an immediacy and intimacy this app offers that distinguishes it from internet sites providing gay men with access to one another. A few taps and you’ve got a whole group of guys who are hanging out in both your cyber and actual neighborhood.
A patient of mine took a trip to a part of the country not known to be particularly gay friendly. As he and his partner drove through the state, they periodically checked Grindr to see who was out there. Not to make contact, but just to know that even in this relatively unpopulated, rural location, they were not the only two gay men around. “Can you believe it?” he asks. There was a gay man out in the middle of what seemed like nowhere to this urban dweller! He reported this to me with joyous relief: the world seemed a little less scary, he felt a little less isolated.
Yes, Grindr is about sex. Homosexuality is shadowed by furtiveness and fear. By necessity, most gay men have to hide their desire for romance and sex. Without the possibility of open courtship and/or marriage there isn’t any sanctioned possibility for satisfying this fundamental human need. Grindr allows men to find other men who want to have sex. Hopefully, safe sex. But this is no back room, no dark alley—it’s “hey, this is me, this is who I am, and this is what I want.” From my point of view, it would be lovely if we could all feel that free, that unfettered, even for a moment.
Another patient tells me about a recent board game party—a group of gay men getting together to play board games and have a few beers. A PG rated evening of socializing. He laughs telling me that as soon as they all gathered everyone took out their smart phone and checked Grindr. They wanted to see who was logged in and who was cute. No one had any intention of leaving the gathering to hook up and no one did. But they were able to feel part of a larger gay community, and to talk playfully and frankly about sex.
Grindr is also about friendship. Men chat with one another, find community and support. Another patient, a member of an ethnic minority known for a particularly homophobic culture, looks for men like himself, men struggling with the dual marginalization consequent to sexual orientation and ethnicity. The self-hatred is diminished, if only a bit, and, as increasing numbers remind our gay, lesbian and transgender youth: it gets better.
I will never forget a friend’s description of his first visit to The Pines, a gay beach community on a small barrier island off the southern shore of New York’s Long Island: “It was like I’d died and gone to heaven…I’d never seen so many openly gay men in one place before.” He recalled the moment of his arrival by ferry in detail--the vision of gay men dancing, holding hands and just being themselves as the shore came into view--with joyful astonishment. Grindr is like a pocket Pines a gay man can take wherever he goes.
Grindr is not without its ambivalence. The app’s icon is a mask with a slightly sinister aspect. An unintended expression, I believe, of the pernicious shame termed “internalized homophobia.” This refers to gay people adopting cultural censure as part of their own identity. Simply put: hating or criticizing oneself for being gay. The icon conveys something disturbing about how far we still have to go with respect to complete acceptance of one another and of ourselves.
Grindr is about many things. Sex is one of them, an important one of them. But it is also a place to make friends, combat loneliness, diminish shame and to celebrate gay male identity. Sadly, a part of that identity sometimes includes some self-reproach. Nonetheless, a defiant openness and optimism prevails. And that’s what Gay Pride is about.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Melissa Ritter, Ph.D. is a Supervisor of Psychotherapy and faculty member at the William Alanson White Institute, as well as the founder and former Chair of the William Alanson White LGBT Study Group. She is also Adjunct Clinical Faculty at the City University of New York. Dr. Ritter has a particular interest in both the cultural and personal aspects of romantic relationships for people of all sexual orientations and gender identifications. In her New York City private practice she works with adults, adolescents and couples.
© 2012 Melissa Ritter, All Rights Reserved