by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
This scene could be played out in any number of Gay bars and clubs across the country.
It is 10 p.m., on a weekday (maybe even a weekend for some) and nestled up to the bar is a guy whose barstool is his home, i.e., 'Joe.' Serving him and the other (maybe) 10 people in the venue is a bartender who is no stranger to the business, who starts off every bitter story with, 'In the '90s ...'
'Joe' and bartender are discussing, as they usually do, how slow business has been lately.
'I just don't understand it. The Gay bar used to mean something. We were full all the time,' says the bartender. 'I mean, what do we have to do to get people in here?'
'There's nothing you can do,' argues 'Joe.' 'They're all on Grindr.'
IS GRINDR THE PROBLEM?
The world's most successful Gay GPS mobile dating app, reporting more than seven million users in 192 countries, Grindr has been blamed for a lot since it burst onto the dating scene in 2009. Let's see: Grindr has been accused of sending the rate of new HIV/AIDS infections sky-high, allowing racism to persist, making Gay men question their body image, and many more charges. But the one criticism that Grindr founder and CEO Joel Simkhai hears more than any other is the assertion that his hookup app - and other online sex sites - are hurting Gay bars across the nation.
According to those who agree with the critics, giving men the option of meeting other Gay men online, instead of physically going to a bar to cruise is having a disastrous impact on the community's bars and clubs. They are closing them down, say detractors.
'From my perspective, before we came onboard in the day of the Internet, of the pure Internet - computers and laptops - you essentially had to stay home to use an online service,' Simkhai said in a recent Sirius XM interview. 'So you had a binary choice. You either would go out or you would use your computer. Grindr now gives you another choice, where you can be online and offline. You can be at the bar on Grindr. So you don't have to choose between going to the Gay bar and going online.'
No truer words have ever been spoken on the subject. No Gay bar/club owner can claim that what Grindr's creator is saying isn't the truth. Perhaps one problem is that many detractors have never actually used Grindr or, at the very least, have never met someone through the app to know how it really works. It is not uncommon for a potential hookup to ask to meet you at a bar. Gay bars are closing for reasons that are far more complex than whether or not its patrons are logging on in hopes of getting at date?
In parts of the U.S. where there aren't any Gay bars (or even a town for many miles), Simkhai says Grindr has become vital for Gay men looking to meet. Also, Simkhai noted, that's the case in many other parts of the world where Grindr users are chatting and exchanging photos too.
'Let's take it to Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, and all these other countries where it's literally illegal to be Gay, where there are no Gay bars,' he said. 'Where you are not protected. Where you can literally go to jail for being who you are. Where you don't even know what 'Gay' is. You know you have these feelings but there's no one else around you who can explain those to you. Fortunately for those guys, Grindr is Gay for them. That is all they understand. There is no place for them to go to other than Grindr. That's something that we're proud of and something that's unfortunate. It's unfortunate that that's the situation, that we're the only option for them. And something that we're working toward changing. There's a lot we can do.'
'Michael in Baltimore (USA)' is a Grindr user featured on grindr.com/stories/P72 saying, 'I'm currently deployed to Iraq ... travel between Iraq ... Kuwait often with possibility of travel to Afghanistan. Grindr has helped me stay in touch with friends and family back home ... meet new friends deployed over here also. Without Grindr I wouldn't have the opportunities to stay connected that Grindr has given me.'
Another Grindr fan, 'Travis in Charlotte (USA),' is featured on the site saying, 'I came across Grindr a few months ago trying to find an app that would fit me being Bi and not really being into the whole Gay scene. I don't have many friends due to when most found out I was Bi they cut ties with me and never heard from them again. But thanks to Grindr I've been able to chat with guys that are near me thanks to the location feature and I've made all kinds of new friends that I can talk to and be myself for a change. Several of whom I have chatted with I now talk to outside of Grindr and have a possible date or two with as well. If it wasn't for Grindr I'd still be alone and not know anyone.'
MAKING CHANGE HAPPEN
While Grindr is designed for Gay men worldwide to quickly track the locations of potential sex partners a few feet away, Simkhai believes that it also has the 'opportunity to make a difference.'
The ability to connect Gay men makes Grindr a powerful organizing tool. To the point, Gay bars have historically been meeting places where political action was spurred even if the main purpose for many was to find dates or hook up. In that regard, Grindr serves that purpose for Gay men living countries governed by oppressive leaders.
'We were just recently banned in Turkey,' Simkhai said. 'No real explanation as to why. From my perspective, 60 years ago they would burn books. What you see governments do today is cutting off access to communication. I'm worried for Turkish Gay men. I'm concerned about Gay men and women in Russia.'
According to Grindr, 100,000 of its users have signed a petition against Russia's 'Gay propaganda' law.
But the good that can come out of Grindr, through its users, doesn't stop there. Users helped to raise $107,000 to stop anti-Gay legislation in Singapore and the app was used to create awareness around campaigns such as International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and to bring attention to anti-Gay violence in South Africa.
'If I can make a difference, I'm going to try,' Simkhai said, discussing Grindr4Equality, an effort he launched in 2011 to use the app to help create awareness and organize. 'Grindr is here to help you meet someone. We're not here to change the world. So if it can help you meet someone but make a difference, that's very exciting to me.'
In the U.S., Grindr users have been urged to call legislators and politicians to push for marriage equality in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Minnesota, Delaware, and Illinois.
'Our premise is that if we can get a lot of people to do something small, we can make a difference,' Simkhai explained.
Grindr has a lot of users and Simkhai has the ability to message more than seven million of them at any given time.
Despite Grindr being advertised as a Gay sex hookup app that dips its toes into the political pool every now and then, Simkhai says he doesn't get too much pushback from Grindr users who may not want the politics.
'We don't get too many complaints at all,' he said. 'But it's a balancing act. You're not going to Grindr - it's not a political app, that's not what it's for. I don't pretend to say that's my mission here in life. That's not what drives this. What drives this is helping you meet, helping you find other Gay men, so that you're not spending lot of time on your phone or computer.'
In a particularly controversial statement, Simkhai responded to those critics who say Grindr is superficial and reduces Gay men to physical ideals by saying, 'I love it. Absolutely. Look good. I'm very proud if Grindr has forced us to up our game. To brush our teeth. Comb our hair. Eat right. Go to the gym. Be a healthy person. Cut back on the smoking. Cut back on the bad things and look your best.'
'We're men. We visualize. We see before we hear, before we think, before we do anything else. That's how we are,' he continued. 'I haven't changed that. That's what our evolution has taught us to do. I certainly go to the gym more because of Grindr. I'm competing with the guy a space away from me on that grid.'
Obviously not everyone would agree with Simkhai's words. Critics of the Gay hookup app are everywhere, so if you are looking for examples of men who think differently than Simkhai, you won't have to look far.
On nogrindrfail.tumblr.com, for instance, you are sure to have a laugh checking out all of the Grindr fails. And to be honest, most of them do not support Simkhai's vision of the need to be perfect in order to get a date. One particular published Grindr conversation, notably brief, goes as follows:
User 1: What's going on? Masculine and chill here.
User 2: Not much. I'm fem and high strung.
(The conversation ended there.)
Here's another gem in which someone clingy and (probably) desperate annoys someone who answered their advances in a grownup way:
User 1: Heya
User 2: Hello.
User 1: lol. The hello with a period is a strong indication you're not interested. Have a good day!
User 2: It's more like I put 50% more effort than you did, but your quick dismissal of further conversation probably made it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ahh Grindr!
As the publishing of information on nogrindrfail.tumblr.com shows, there is a risk you run when you upload your picture to a public profile on an app like Grindr. A website has emerged called 'Douchebags of Grindr' where people upload photos of 'douchebag' profiles they've encountered.
Their tagline: 'All your douchebag needs from the profiles of Grindr. Tumblr censors. Long live the public web.'
The 'douchebag' profiles range from racist taglines to totally self-contradictory pictures and headlines. Others include weird taglines from people with no clue how to promote themselves online. And adding insult to injury, underneath each profile, the site has taken the authority to write commentary to poke fun at each profile.
Still, Grindr is used every day by millions of men, especially millennials. The app is available for people who use iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android, and BlackBerry. Grindr has been recognized by the mainstream tech community, receiving honors for Best Mobile Dating Site at the third Annual iDate Awards announced at the 2012 Internet Dating Conference Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas earlier this year. More than one million Grindr users log on to the app every day and transmit more than seven million chat messages and two million photos to one another. Grindr users spend about an hour and a half using the app daily, and they log in an average of eight times per day. Up to 190,000 users are logged onto Grindr at any given moment, and nearly 10,000 new users around the world join the app every day. Grindr also offers a premium service, Grindr Xtra, which strips away all of the banner advertising and gives users increased functionality and enhanced features such as push notifications, unlimited blocks, and the ability to see roughly 200 more local guys in the cascade.
In a survey conducted in March of this year including more than 5,000 U.S.-based respondents, 92% said they are comfortable being tracked by enabling their location-based service. Respondents said they share their location mostly to find dates, followed by searching for nearby places. The apps that Grindr millennials are most addicted to are Facebook (30%), Grindr (28%), Instagram (7%), and Twitter (6%).
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