To describe Grindr as a cultural phenomenon or an app of sexual revolution doesn’t quite capture its extraordinary impact on gay sex, culture and life. Grindr is what many gay men used to first experience their wider community. The ability to download Grindr and speak to other gay men was what motivated me to get my first iPhone – sad, I know.
In 2014, Grindr’s founder, Joel Simkhai, said that his “isolation” as a child motivated him to create the app. Building on the popularity of chatrooms like Gaydar and Fitlads, Grindr’s signature feature was showing queer men exactly how far away others were, in real time, down to the metre. The little green “online” light revealed that, no matter what time of day, or time zone, gay men are everywhere.
While it undoubtedly has its positive, Grindr’s legacy is complex. Philip Ellis, 31, tells me that people often say things on Grindr that they’d never say in person. “There’s definitely a level of directness and rudeness that you only get when people are talking at you from behind a screen,” he explains – and he’s not alone in his concerns over the type of dialogue Grindr facilitates. User experiences can vary immensely, with the app frequently facing criticism for enabling bullying and aggressive behaviour, including racist and femmephobic abuse. It’s hard to refute these accusations, given that Grindr allows users to filter out entire races, “tribes” or body types.
Founder Simkhai suggests that the app was always supposed to be a “visual experience” because “it’s the way that we are as men: visual creatures“. But has Grindr done enough to encourage a culture of acceptance and safety? There have been several high profile murders and rapes conducted via the app, as well as co-ordinated homophobic attacks against gay and bisexual men. Chemsex, the practice of groups of men meeting to have sex and consume drugs, has also been facilitated by the app. “Grindr has massively enabled chemsex culture,” suggests Jack*, a former chemsex addict and Grindr user. “Chillouts – which are druggy sex gatherings – are always organised on Grindr, and most of the time people use Grindr to source the drugs as well.”
In 2018, Grindr launched Kindr Grindr, a campaign promoting “diversity and inclusion” over “racism, bullying or other forms of toxic behaviour”. This follows the launch of Grindr for Equality in 2012, an “ever-evolving mission to help LGBTQ people around the globe”, encouraging users to “mobilise, inform and empower”. In 2017, Grindr launched INTO, a “digital magazine for the modern queer world”.
John Paul Brammer, a 28-year-old who describes himself as a “writer, Twitterer and prolific Grindr user”, launched his popular queer advice column Hola Papi! on INTO. He tells me he has received a lot of “weird” messages regarding his ethnicity. “Stuff like ‘let me see that Latin dick’ or, of course, ‘hola papi’. I named my advice column after that phrase because I heard it a lot on the app and I thought it would be a funny, mild form of revenge. But ultimately I’m pretty privileged. I’ve only had a few people say they wanted to deport me.”
INTO ceased publication after 17 months, in January of 2019. The decision was announced just six weeks after it broke a story that suggested Grindr’s new CEO, Scott Chen, doesn’t support same-sex marriage. Despite the fact INTO no longer exists, its Influencer Relations Specialist Alex Schmider believes that it represents one of the most significant changes to Grindr’s user experience in the last decade. “People use Grindr all over the world – in some places where being part of the LGBTQ community is illegal or blocked,” he says. “Grindr, in many ways, can be a communications lifeline for people separated geographically, and integrating INTO’s content into the app gave people a new way to see themselves, connect, experience each other and learn.”
Ten years on, Grindr now seems to realise that while the problems it fosters didn’t all begin on the app, it does have a responsibility to help eradicate them. Ultimately, this little orange app is of fundamental importance to gay culture and communication. Given Grindr also paved the way for the likes of Tinder and Bumble, it’s also hard to imagine the current landscape of straight dating without it.
To mark a decade of Grindr, I spoke to some of its users about their experiences on the app that changed gay life forever, the one they won’t forget.
“Guys often think you owe them something”
A lot of guys seem to have this entirely made up contract in their head, that if you are on Grindr then you owe them something. Like, ‘Want to fuck? If you say no or don’t reply straight away, I’m going to call you a cunt.’ Lots of guys are just there for hookups, but it’s also full of men who are ‘sick of this app’ and ‘just want to meet someone sane’, and somehow think they’re going to meet their future ‘Mr Heteronormative’ in between a twink pig bottom and a couple looking for a three-way. It’s a strange platform for human behaviour.
– Phillip, 31
“Why are so many young men calling me ‘daddy’?!”
Having been happily partnered, then married, for 25 years, downloading Grindr after a separation was a new experience. It’s a million miles away from the courting of my youth. I remember asking one of my younger gay friends: “Why are many young men calling me ‘daddy’?!” It was fun while it lasted, but often people just wasted time and got me really excited with chat before going cold and disappearing.
– James, 57
“I fell in love while in the closet”
I fell in love with a guy on Grindr while I was still in the closet, because I was so bowled over by how much he had his life together and how true to himself he was. He’d come out, and the idea of doing that was so alien to me at the time. We’re still really great friends now, but he basically schooled me in being gay while I was still ashamed of it, which was so sweet. –
“I came as lightning hit the Eiffel Tower”
I was on a work trip in Paris and had a day off to myself, so decided to check out the Parisian talent. It was considerable! In the end I opted for a businessman with a cheeky smile. He had a stunning flat in the 7th arrondissement, the entire top floor of an apartment building – sumptuous decor, marble floors, urns, the works. He was stunning as well: beautiful bone structure and penis. We drank champagne out on his balcony and started to get down to business just as a summer thunderstorm hit – torrential rain, rumbling thunder, the whole thing was so sultry. I have a vivid memory of cumming as I watched lighting fork over the Eiffel Tower. It was a mood.
– Dylan, 27
“I accidentally fucked a prostitute in Romania”
I was in Romania, and after checking into my hotel I fired up Grindr. I began speaking to this handsome man, before going out to a gay bar. I was surprised when I arrived to see the same man at the bar. We ended up going back to my hotel room and having the best sex I have ever had in my entire life.
Afterwards, as he got dressed, he asked me for £300 as payment. I laughed it off, thinking it was a joke, but he became insistent, telling me he’s a male escort – which he had not told me previously. He began to start smashing up my room and shouting, until I reached for the phone to call reception. Then he bolted out of my room, clearing my minibar into his bag in the process.
– Craig*, 36
“Grindr made me feel invisible”
I used to write for Grindr’s online magazine, INTO. I viewed them as two separate entities, because I thought the app was trash and still do. As a freelancer, it sometimes feels like a large part of my job is being ignored or kept waiting, so I learned to steer clear of Grindr because that was my experience of using the app, too. It often made me feel invisible.
– Alim, 27
“I didn’t look ‘masc’ enough”
My Grindr profile used to be a picture of me in a pink crop-top. During that time, I had a bunch of exchanges with guys who would basically tell me they weren’t interested because I didn’t look ‘masc’ enough, or assumed I was a sub bottom. After a while I got really tired of it, so I ended up changing my profile to a shirtless selfie – and I haven’t had any of those comments again.
– Jeff, 27
“I once tried to hook up with myself”
Once, I was very drunk and horny after a night out. I saw this hot guy on Grindr who was very close by. I started speaking to him, while drifting in and out of drunken sleep. In the morning I realised I’d been trying to hook up with myself on Grindr.
– Peter, 33
“Grindr made it much easier for me to get drugs”
I’ve had a lot of strange experiences on Grindr. There was the guy who insisted on serenading me while making me take a lukewarm bath and drink champagne. Then there was the guy who laid towels down on the sofa and started rubbing olive oil all over me.
But at one point in my life, Grindr made it much easier for me to get drugs. When I moved to Notting Hill it was a matter of hours before I’d connected with two dealers who I continued to use for the time I lived there, which meant I could access other like-minded individuals to go and have chemsex with.
– Phil, 31
“I’m married and still closeted”
I’m married to a woman, but I think I’m bisexual. I’m one of the faceless torso profiles everyone wants to avoid. Everyone in my life thinks I’m straight, so Grindr is the only way I’ve been able to speak to men who like men. I haven’t met anyone off it, but the chat has helped me explore. I keep it hidden on my phone and I feel guilty every time I use it. It’s not ideal, but works for me.
– John*, 37
“I met the love of my life on Grindr”
It was my 21st birthday. I was sat in my room alone on Grindr and saw his beautiful face. I messaged him, expecting to be ignored. We chatted and scheduled a date for the following Friday. When he arrived, he introduced himself with a handshake, which I still make fun of him for. The date was unlike any first date I’ve ever had. I made out with him in my car, then drove him home.
That was the Friday. We ended up going out again on the Saturday. And the Sunday. And the Monday. And the Tuesday. We moved in together eight months later, and six years in we’re just about to move into a flat we bought together.
“People can say some truly awful racist things”
I grew up in the 1980s, so I know what racism is like. But Grindr can make me feel a bit depressed that we’ve not come so far after all. When people are anonymous, particularly if you politely say you aren’t interested in them, they can say some truly awful racist things. Up until recently, Grindr hasn’t seemed too interested in doing anything about this problem. Other times people like to assume I’m a top or I’ve got a giant penis because of my skin colour. I have met some lovely men from Grindr, so it’s not all bad.
– David, 42
“I got tired of being fetishised”
I have used Grindr over various periods in my life, while identifying as a gay man, non-binary person and now a trans woman. Using Grindr in each form has been both useful and frustrating. As a feminine-presenting person, my femininity has either been mocked or highly sexualised. As a gay man, people always assumed I was a bottom. As a trans woman, men often mean well, but end up treating me like some kind of sex doll. I also find it very othering to see gay men making jokes in the “pronoun” section, and I got tired of being fetishised or called a “tranny”, so eventually I deleted the app.
– Jo*, 33
“It’s not the place to show baby photos”
Using Grindr as a new father was a minefield. As gay men, there’s still an expectation that we might not have kids, or if we do that we must have been closeted or married. This wasn’t the case for me. I quickly learned that it wasn’t the dating app best for sharing baby pics, but so many gay men told me how much they wish they had their own kids. This made me both happy and sad.
– Richard, 45
“I had sex with the wrong person!”
It was after a party and I was wasted. A guy sent me his address so I stumbled to roughly the correct location. There was a guy outside a house who seemed to be waiting for someone. He motioned me inside – we had sex, it was great. As I was on my way back to the party I got a message from the guy I’d been messaging saying: “Where are you?” I’d had sex with a completely different person!
*Names have been changed.