To find love in an app economy may be difficult but finding someone to date or have sex with is relatively easy. Gone are the days when people went in circles around a mulberry bush, today, they just swipe right. Tinder came into existence in 2012, as a premier geographic location based dating app, used by people of all sexual orientations. However, way before Tinder came into existence, Grindr, a GPS enabled app for gay, bisexual and trans men was born in 2009. With Grindr, the user can select a partner based on profile descriptors, which give an idea of what the person likes, his age and photograph, and then you get a fair idea of the distance between your prospective date and yourself.
I learnt about Grindr some 4 years ago. Prior to that there was the website guys4men (aka planetromeo.com) that I used to find some oasis in my life that was becoming a desert. As the world transitioned to using apps where you could get it all at the click of the button, more and more apps took centre stage. Grindr was born in this “app economy” phase that the world had embarked on.
At first, it was fascinating that we could just know the location of the next gay/bi/trans man and it was even better as it disallowed nude profile pictures which ensured that first timers and purists were not intimidated with the app turning into a “meat-market”.
When I first started using it, the rich user interface and the way men looked more desirable in the app, made me love it more than the other apps available. However, I used to think it was too elite, I lived in a suburb in Navi Mumbai and every man on Grindr was about 5 kms or more away. The impatience of men who date men, is legendary. They cannot wait for some auspicious full moon day to date someone. They like it quick and fast.
Things have changed over time. Now, there is a flood of men in the vicinity, in cities at least. While this does increase the prospect of finding a date, it also gives the average LGBT male person a sense of community. To find someone who loves men like you do, gives you a sense of freedom and confirms that you are not alone.
However, all was not hunky dory with apps like these. While it was certain that Grindr would find itself in the midst of a controversy thanks to purists and homophobes, one wouldn’t have expected it to land in a legal turmoil because of this. Many websites have reported that the “triangularisation” ability in Grindr gives out the exact location, which could lead to arrests in countries where homosexuality itself is banned.
The Guardian recently reported that the Egyptian police was arresting homosexuals by using Grindr to track them down. There were news articles also speaking about a serial killer who targeted homosexuals through this app. When the founder Joel Simkhai was asked, he responded stating that users have an option to disable their traceability on the app. I tend to agree with Joel here.
With great features come great responsibility. In India, section 377 is misused by trolls who pose as homosexuals to extort money. The app manufacturer did his bit by ensuring that the user has the option to disable his distance discoverability, and we as users need to be responsible enough for our lives and our safety by turning it off.
If we are able to look beyond the above mentioned challenges with any GPS app, you will find yourself reading hilarious tweet like profile descriptions (my profile reads: “Baby, do you own a chicken farm, because you are good at raising cocks”), funny prejudices (“I want my boyfriend to have a white d!ck”) or the hilariously religious (“I don’t suck, it is against my religion to eat non-veg”) and also some kinky fetishes (“I would like you to be my slave”).
Or you may find yourself on a movie date or lunching, brunching, munching with the gay guy next door. Or better, be married to one.
I remember the days in the pre-Grindr phase – everyone happened to be Raj, Rahul, Rohit and Aakash. One used to loiter in gardens to find someone who thought like them, who loved men like them… the shy ones waited longer for their lovers, sometimes even longer than the duration Paro waited with the burning lamp of desire for Devdas. And then there were chatrooms in Yahoo Messenger, wherein if a person had a webcam, it indicated that he was rich, owned a bungalow and had plenty of cash at his disposal. There was a continent / country classification. It took time for them to get to the city level. If you found someone in your own street (by fluke), the emotions were almost like Rakhi meeting her Karan Arjun after the punar janam.
In today’s world, with GPS and with mobility, I can recognise – Pados ka Pintu and Matunga ka Bablu. Grindr made relationships really easy. I no longer had to wait endlessly to find someone to go on a date with. I didn’t have to use the famous chat words “ASL” which meant “Age Sex Location” as it was all blaring loud there on the app. “RusticHero 200 meters away”, “AssertiveFlamboyance 2 kms away”.
It bridged the distance between heart and feet. We no longer had to travel outside our comfort zone or to outer space to meet a kind-and-hot guy, we could find him in our neighbourhood. Or as we would like to call it, Gaybourhood.
While adrenaline and testosterone does ensure that our libido finds a right match, this space was not all about sex, if you didn’t want it to be all about sex. I have made some lovely friends, gone on movie dates, stolen a kiss under the midnight moon and also met my ex-boyfriend through a dating app. Today, when time is a currency and love is a commodity, a GPS enabled device is your love letter to life and relationships. Just that in metros you find the next guy a few meters away, while in smaller cities – we find them a few kms away. Grindr concentration with face or fake pics, could quite be a factor for determining the coming out index/ gay friendly parameter of a city/town/location.
And for those who seek fun, there’s plenty on the run. People like Grindr user Kartik Sharma, also make the best use of Grindr to tell stories about the annoying-misinterpreting-homosexual through #GrindrGaatha on Facebook. Sample these:
I am someone who believes that making love is liberating, but Grindr goes beyond that. It helps you find people you are compatible with. And with all the body-shaming and slut-shaming that happens everywhere, it also helps you find someone you feel comfortable with in this big world that is so different from who you are.
It is just fitting that we acknowledge – in this pride month, that in a small-big way, Grindr paves the way for equality.
(Harish Iyer is an equal rights activist working for the rights of the LGBT community, women, children and animals.)