Identity Crisis on Grindr

It would be fair to assume, with how queerness is marginalized in our society, that gay apps like Grindr would take measures to be inclusive. In a perfect world, a gay app would be a safe place, where Queers can escape the judgmental reality of our heteronormative society and build a sense of community along the way. As nice as values like inclusiveness and community are, Grindr has, in many cases, been proven to be divisive. By looking closely at Grindr’s “My Grindr Tribes” page, it becomes easy to see how Grindr’s negligent selection of identity categories leads to further marginalization of the Gay community, from within the Gay community.

On Grindr you can find a list of different categories of personal identities and sexual interests that you can choose to label your profile, and the categories on this list are organized in ways that create bias and often times result in segregation amongst the Queer community. The list I speak of is called “Grindr Tribes,” and it includes: Bear, Clean-Cut, Daddy, Discreet, Geek, Jock, Leather, Otter, Poz, Rugged, Trans, and Twink. This list makes no sense because several of these identities overlap, and users can only choose one, unless they pay for a membership to Grindr Xtra (in which case they can choose three). The problem is, as we all know, these identities simply can not and do not fit into one category, and they often create stereotypical perceptions of Gay men.

We all know what these categories mean, but for the sake of specificity (and for the .0001% of the Gay population that doesn’t know these terms), I’ve included definitions. Bear, Daddy, Jock, Otter, and Twink are all identity categories based on a Gay man’s style, actions, physical appearance, and sometimes interests. According to Urban Dictionary, a Bear is defined as “a husky, large man with a lot of body hair,” and a Daddy as “a man who is usually middle-aged [and] who has a more dominant personality.” Scruff, another gay dating app, describes a Jock as “a Gay man with an athletic build who typically enjoys sports.” Also according to Scruff, an Otter is “a typically thinner, hairier Gay man,” and, in contrast, a Twink as “a typically younger, thinner, Gay man with little or no body hair.”

Because Gay men assume and expect certain gender expressions and sexual behaviors related to these identities, pressure is put on men to conform to all of their categories “standards” or “norms.”  It becomes easy, then, for us to assume if someone is skinny they identify as a Twink, and that if they are a Twink, their gender expression is feminine. Pressure is then put on a skinny Gay male to act feminine, when he may identify as masculine. People might also assume that because a man is muscular that he identifies as a Jock, and that might lead to the assumption that all Jocks are masculine, followed by the heteronormative assumption that masculine guys are only attracted to feminine guys. This set of norms serves to “other” muscular men who are feminine, and masculine men who are attracted to other masculine men, again all based on the pressure to conform to what a “Jock” should be. All of these are dangerous assumptions to make, yet Grindr creates a space where it is easy to make them.

Scruff defines a Geek as “a Gay man with deep and enthusiastic knowledge of one or more hobbies, sports, activities, professional fields, or intellectual pursuits.” This begs the question: “Isn’t every human being a Geek?” It’s probably a safe bet to say that most people have hobbies and interests. If every human has interests, why then is there a category for Gay men with “deep and enthusiastic knowledge” among a list of other physically and sexually based identities? It’s probably a safe bet that Scruff’s definition is a little off key. When hearing the word geek most of us imagine a cute smart guy with glasses, and I’m sure this is the image Grindr was attempting to invoke.

Clean-cut and Rugged are simply ways of grooming. Someone can identify as a Geek, Otter, Daddy, etc. and be Clean-cut or Rugged, along with a whole host of other grooming terms not listed on Grindr. The term “leather,” in this context, refers to a sexual fetish or enjoyment of leather used in sexual acts (leather suits, whips, etc.). This also begs the question of why no other fetishes are included in this list, although sometimes identities like Daddies and Twinks are fetishized. The word “discreet” means exactly what it sounds like; it refers to someone who is in the closet and does not want information about their sexuality (often the fact that they are Queer) shared publicly.

The expression “Poz” refers to someone who is HIV positive. Again, it is interesting that this term is included in a section with identities, in which you can only choose one (or pay to choose up to three). Can someone not be a Clean-cut, discreet, HIV positive Jock? Apparently not, according to Grindr. It is also important to note that while there is a term for HIV positive individuals, there is not one for HIV negative, or for people who don’t know their status. While some HIV positive people may feel proud to embrace this as part of their identity, the lack of a term for HIV negative people may make other Poz people feel further marginalized.

The remaining identity term on this list is perhaps the most concerning one. Grindr has included the term “Trans” on this list. Trans, obviously referring to someone who is Transgender, is a gender identity. It is the only gender identity on this list, and by extension, this website. Grindr, then, operates under the assumption that its users are cisgender men (who do not need to list their gender), and if they are not, then they are “Trans.” This positions Transgender people as “the other,” and also automatically genders everyone else on the site. The biggest problem here is that there are Trans men, Trans women, and people with other gender non-binary identities who use Grindr. Listing the identity category “Trans” with other categories related to sexual behavior and physical appearance serves to group all Transgender individuals together, as if they have something physically or sexually in common because of their gender identity, which is, simply put, bullshit. This leads to the assumption that a Trans male or a Trans female cannot identify as a Twink or have a leather fetish. That assumption, made way too often, leads to the objectification and fetishization of Trans people, which works by relying only on the fact that they are Trans. This fetishization of one characteristic or identity reduces a person to one characteristic about them (or to a stereotype) and is a complete failure to recognize them as a sexually autonomous being. Instead of seeing a Transgender man who is a Bear and likes BDSM, fetishization relies only on the fact that he is Trans, and objectifies him by treating him like nothing more than a body or a social taboo. For these reasons, Grindr is extremely transphobic.

While Grindr can provide a space for queer interaction online, we must question the validity of that space. It’s safe to say that while Grindr is very likely to help you find your next hook-up, and much less likely to help you find your next boyfriend, it certainly won’t help you find yourself.