There’s nothing more debasing and absurd than the bluntness associated with Grindr speak. People typing out messages with their dicks in their unoccupied hands means a lot of wild texts. There are messages that might prompt discomfort if the sender decides to revisit them after he shoots his (or her, or their) load. There are messages that would make unexpecting hetero’s jaw drop. There are messages that would make you roll your eyes and throw your phone down in protest of the grimness of it all.
It’s long been documented that people communicating online are harsher than when they’re speaking in person, and the proliferation of nudes on Grindr does little to discourage the casual air we use while we discussing each other's bodies, sexual desires, or even emotional needs.
These casual yet poignant messages are the subject of the art Instagram Gaytona Beach. Digital artist Andrew Harper adds Grindr text bubble from real conversations to thirst traps, with the occasional landscape thrown in. While scrolling one immediately is reminded of the dissonance between seeing beautiful bodies and ugly messages while being on the app.
At times funny, serious, Gaytona Beach’s collages are starkly indicative of the mental headfuckery of being gay online. We asked Harper about how his work started, its political potential, and queer censorship on Instagram.
How did the idea for the Instagram Account come about?
The idea for the account (or project as I call it) began when I was in school for photography and living in Daytona Beach. At the time, circa 2013-14, Grindr was my main source of exploring what I thought it meant to be gay. Being out in Daytona meant knowing that you had to be aware of your short length, your voice inflection, even seemingly small things like what glasses you wear - and I was used to this. What I wasn’t used to was how that seeps over into gay culture too, and it became quickly apparent on Grindr where faceless profiles would join in and tell me I was a queenie fag or that I was going to have the shit beat out of me on Seabreeze Blvd if they ever saw me. It was shocking to me at first, so I started saving conversations and showing my friends. One day, I thought it’d be funny to overlay a particularly funny message onto a photo I took of a large crowd of spring breakers - and the rest is history.
How would you describe it to someone?
I usually tell people it’s a collaborative project that explores what we say to each other online.
How has it changed your experience of Grindr/Scruff ?
I get a lot of questions about it on there now - I also have met some really cool people with it. Sometimes people specifically ask me not to use any of the conversation, and then other times people want to be on the page. As far as using Grindr/Scruff for hookups and dating, it hasn’t really changed much.
What's your goal with the account?
My number one goal always has been and always will be to have fun with it. I honestly use it as a way to get better at digital art too - I’m constantly challenging myself to make more visually interesting images. I recently met a goal I’d had for months which was to create videos and gifs, and it took me forever because I had to teach myself how to make them. I’ve also had a goal for a while now to have a Gaytona Beach party - and that’s something that’s likely to happen very soon now. I’d also like to put together a book or some kind of print at some point - but I’m not sure how far off that is.
How do you engage in politics with your work?
I’ve begun to use the space to talk about something that’s important to me and the community the project targets which is access to HIV treatment and prevention. I’m part of the group PrEP4All which advocates for affordable and accessible PrEP to everyone who needs it and also do some ground-level work in the area at my job. Being able to communicate important pieces of news, answer any questions people may have about things like copays, or engage people in the conversation has been invaluable. I’ve even used the page to personally connect people with affordable testing sites and clinics.
What prompted you to add the Instagram Censorship screen to your more recent posts?
That’s been so much fun - I added those to posts occasionally to remind people that Instagram is a private platform that dictates what it thinks is appropriate vs. inappropriate. I think it’s insane that Instagram has not only made it impossible to be a successful artist without an account, but has also monopolized the photo-sharing market globally. I don’t believe that one entity based in Silicon Valley should have the authority to tell people what instances of nudity are not appropriate for their eyes - we should be able to make that decision ourselves. Sex sells and it always will - images that tiptoe community guidelines get immense amounts of engagement through the algorithm, and certain accounts are allowed to tiptoe those lines further than others. Instagram community guidelines enable a form of vague censorship that is damaging to the trans community as well as to queer artists.
Mo Wilson is a writer and sometimes DJ living in Brooklyn. He also throws indie rock/punk shows with the booking collective Booked By Grandma and loves plastic jewelry. You can find him on Twitter @sadgayfriendx and Instagram at @djgaypanic