Saving Ryan’s Privates: What I learned about love and sex from using Grindr this summer

Joscelyn Stocks | Daily Trojan

When the school year drew to a close last spring, I looked forward to summertime —  a guaranteed vacation for the mind and body, even if only temporarily. Without the demands of a full-time schedule, I expected my summer to be a rather relaxing one.

But the 405’s notorious traffic always has its way with me, and news of the “Holy Fire” only made matters worse. So frequently did Southern Californian heat dehydrate my body that I often found myself at flash point, practically crazed, incapable of registering the Santa Ana winds and their relieving benefits.

Naturally, the season also brought with it some inescapable worries: Is my mind going dull? Am I falling out of touch with people? Am I meeting any new people? Do I even want to be around people? Though these preoccupations are not necessarily unique to me, they still continue to plague my mind.

In short, this summer quickly proved to be a restless one, and it became increasingly unbearable to be left alone to my own devices — a void of intellectual stimulation opened up.

Eventually I turned outward and sought stimulation of a different kind: Grindr.

Grindr, as some may know, is an online dating and matching app categorized alongside Tinder and Bumble. It is targeted toward gay and bisexual men, with the apparent aim of helping users find friends, partners and everyone in between.

However, for many users including myself, Grindr primarily serves as a means of achieving one thing: sex. A typical Grindr conversation might start with sufficiently friendly pleasantries, move into restless small talk and then, alas, end with the question that so many of us gay and bisexual men are frighteningly familiar with: “What are you looking for tonight?”

In many respects, Grindr functions to problematize sex and to reinforce divisive stereotypes about queer men.

“What are your stats?” is a question commonly asked of users who do not display information such as their height, weight or other physical attributes on their profiles. The unspoken importance of detailing one’s own build on Grindr hints at the hierarchical community that the app has created — those with the perfect “stats” are, obviously, sought out the most frequently. In most cases, anyone with less-than-ideal stats is automatically excluded, ignored, blocked.

Additionally, Grindr’s functionality of establishing preferences raises concerns of stereotyping within the gay community itself. Grindr allows users to filter others to those of a particular type, or “tribe,” as they are called in the gay community. Most notably, these tribes comprise “twinks” (skinny, hairless, generally younger men) and “bears” (muscled, hairy, generally older men).

On one hand, tribes can be considered a means of fostering community among like-bodied gays. On the other hand, each tribe is accompanied by its own stereotypical baggage; surely, a twink like me must be submissive, little in both stature and confidence, right? In both cases, tribes function to segregate members of the gay community. Though I am fortunate enough to (literally) fit into the twink community, I also recognize how tribes problematize body imaging and rigidly confine notions of masculinity, femininity and manhood. Above all, the very formation of tribes neglects queers who do not exist within any prescribed category.

There is also the category that exists outside of Grindr: race. While complex issues of race obviously predate the app, Grindr only furthers these problems by presenting the social construct as a commodity. Consider, for instance, how Grindr’s premium users can, with a click of a button, sort out other users based on race. On Grindr, race is literally an option, and users can immediately take their picks — so long as they pay the premium price.

As it so happens, I am receiving messages on Grindr right now. While my immediate reaction is one of disgust, I am trying instead to uncover what the issues at-hand really are.

I do not mean to wholly condemn Grindr, or to shame its users. Though I hesitate to admit it, Grindr is addictive. I am thrilled by its intrigue. I am continually curious about what it has to offer. I am, as much as the next person, occasionally eager to find fast love (à la George Michael).

What I suggest is that we reconsider how we attain sex, love or whatever it is we need to stimulate ourselves and satisfy our livelihood. Casual sex can be fun and even reinvigorating, but does it — as it used to for me — come at the expense of commodifying one’s own body within a system of stats and tribes? We may all have our own romantic and sexual preferences in the real world, but does restricting ourselves to our preferences on Grindr, a purely virtual app, also tunnel our vision? Does it kill our chances for spontaneity? Does it eliminate the real-life possibility that we might find great sex, and even great love, where we least expect it?

This summer, more so than ever, I have been forced to create my own possibilities, to search for pleasure outside of school and its luring engagements. Boredom became not something I feared, but something I prepared for. By way of comment I offer only that Grindr did not, and still does not, appear to me an unreasonable response to this past summer. The season’s lacunae had, for better or for worse, constantly renewed my conviction that sex could be a solace, an escape.

Though Grindr has increasingly revealed itself to me as a trap, I find myself often caught in its grasp. Of course, this tends to happens on those days and nights I find myself restless or lonely — it’s just too bad that every summer guarantees some degree of loneliness.

Ryan Nhu is a sophomore majoring in English and law, history and culture. His column, “Saving Ryan’s Privates,” runs every other Wednesday.