Melissa Ritter posts a surprisingly sex-panic-free take on Grindr, the popular gay cruising app, at Psychology Today:
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 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.
And here's something I love about Grindr:
I was in New York City last June just as marriage equality was coming up for a decisive vote in the New York State Senate. When the friend we were staying with opened Grindr—and he opened Grindr constantly—he got a targeted message imploring him to call his state senator. Our friend, who's not very politically active, didn't just call his state senator at Grindr's prompting. He also emailed a bunch of his not-very-politically-active friends and asked them to call their state senators. New York's state senate passed the marriage equality bill that week and Governor Cuomo signed it into law the day before the Pride Parade.
Now I'm not saying that New York got marriage equality because of Grindr. But politicos will tell you that every call from an actual constituent helps. And Grindr was able to use geolocatingthingies to send users their state senator's phone numbers. So Grindr helped.
Grindr's willingness to use its platform like this reminded me of vintage gay porn mags. I was too young to be reading gay porn in the 60s and 70s—thank you very much—but years ago I inherited a collection of vintage gay porn. I read all of those old gay porn mags... for the articles. (I read old copies of After Dark Magazine, on the other hand, for the pictures.) At a time when porn mags were essentially the only gay publications in wide circulation, their editors frequently published editorials and short essays encouraging readers to see themselves as members of an oppressed minority group. They implored their readers to join the fight for gay rights—just as soon as they were finished jerkin' off.
Grindr has revived this mix of sex and activism. And right fuckin' on.