Welcome to Behind The Masc: Rethinking Masculinity, a campaign dedicated to exploring what ‘masculinity’ means in 2019. With photo stories shot in Tokyo, India, New York, and London and in-depth features exploring mental health, older bodybuilders, and myths around masculinity – we present all the ways people around the world are redefining traditional tropes.
Growing up gay, wherever you are, is difficult. Though, right now in places like Chechnya and Brazil, the status of homosexuality by proxy leaves you vulnerable and in danger – simply for just existing. The queer experience is often so isolating, that even for those with a strong support network, the fear of being cast out by the ones we love is overwhelming.
There’s a beacon of hope – or rather, a dim orange glow – for those looking for a connection, in the form of Grindr. The popular gay social media app created in 2009 that let’s you know who your nearest homosexuals are (on the app), with the aim of connecting gay men to chat, date, or its most widely-used objective – to hook-up.
As a late bloomer, I distinctly remember downloading Grindr the first time, although I don’t remember how I found out about it. What I do remember is thinking to myself: ‘This is the best thing to ever be invented’. Over the years though, I’ve come to have a love/hate relationship with it. On one hand, it has been a useful tool when travelling alone for tips from locals and a chance to meet new people. I’ve made lifelong friends on the app, as well as sexual conquests (both good and bad).
“It’s not uncommon on Grindr to receive messages calling me a n*gger, or telling me I have AIDS, or to go back to my own country. I remember being greeted by one message that said: ‘I’ve always wanted to see what a monkey’s dick looked like’”
On the other hand though, it has opened me up to a world of abuse on a level I’ve not encountered since I was bullied at school. As a person of colour I’m often bombarded with profiles that proclaim ‘WHITES ONLY’ or ‘NO BLACKS’. Another term popularly used is ‘No fats, no fems, no Asians’ – letting users know they’re not interested in anybody who isn’t skinny/muscular, ‘masc’, and white. A less subtle way this is communicated is by the term ‘no rice, no spice’.
It’s not uncommon (without even messaging) to receive messages called me a n*gger, or telling me I have AIDS, or to go back to my own country. On one instance, I remember being excited to visit a friend in Cheshire and see what the talent was, only to be greeted by a message that said: “I’ve always wanted to see what a monkey’s dick looked like.”
I have hundreds (hundreds) of screenshots just like this, of encounters with men who simply don’t like me for the way I am. The painful irony of our community being ostracised, only to then turn on each other is not lost on me, but seemingly lost on the masc4masc bros who take glee in pointing out everything they deem wrong with me.
A report by Stonewall last year found that 52 per cent of LGBTQ+ people had experienced depression in 2018. Though it’s impossible to link the two, it can’t be healthy for those at risk from mental health problems to be at the receiving end of abuse, sometimes on a daily basis. Grindr is a necessary evil, despite being a double-edged sword. Like many others, I’ve found myself deleting the app numerous times since first downloading when I feel the strain on my mental health. Last year, the app launched the Kindr initiative, promising to eradicate any vitriol, yet, I come across multiple accounts a day making jokes of the new pronouns section – introduced to make non-cisgender users feel more welcome.
To investigate further, I met with six gay men who use the app (of different ages, races, and size) in their personal spaces, accompanied by photographer Dexter Lander who shot them in various states of undress. Here, you can read their stories – a glimpse into the trials and tribulations of using Grindr.
“Grindr is a meat market and that’s its base level function. There’s no need to be pretentious and pretend that it’s something that it’s not. It’s an app for hook-ups and sex, mostly that’s what you get out of it. I also think it’s a good thing that there’s no beating around the bush. If you want to jump straight in, just do it. If you’re seeking another sort of interaction, maybe it’s not the place you should expect it. I’ve made a lot of friends through it, but it’s the people I have met through other ways that have stuck with me.
I check the app daily for sure. Some days it’s a lot of fun and others I feel like there’s absolutely nothing happening. Some people are extremely open-minded and see where it goes and it plays out beautifully. Others have this Grindr persona and so the way they interact with people they meet on the app is very specific to that. You get your fair share of really weird messages or suggestions but I don’t get offended by that – it’s part and parcel of the experience. You can also become quite objectified on it, but I tend not to let it get to me. I just think: ‘Is Grindr really the place to have these discussions?’. Or do I just block and move on? You do get racism on it , which is terrible, and even though I may not experience it, it exists and does need to be acknowledged.
In a word, I’m happy that Grindr exists. I’d rather it did than didn’t because it really connects a lot of people and let’s you explore outside of your usual circle. I think breaking into the LGBTQ+ community needs to be something that is accessible and it can be quite daunting if you’ve grown up in a heteronormative environment. Unfortunately, there are some vile people out there and when you give them a platform where they can say things without being held accountable, it brings out the worst in them. I understand people have their preferences and we’re all different in what we’re after, but how you treat people matters.”
“Grindr came out when I started to become sexually active. I came out when I was 18 but I didn’t start having sex until I was about 20/21 and the two came hand-in-hand for me. It was this new thing where you could just message someone who was up for having sex and I was still working through my own body issues, so it was almost like a barrier between and someone else.
The longest relationships I’ve ever had was through Grindr, which isn’t very common, but I do think is becoming more common now. I’ve been doing this for a long time now, so I've learnt not to have so many expectations about it. I just do what feels right for me, while doing right by others because sometimes people can be quite toxic to each other on there. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone overtly say ‘ew, you disgust me’ but it’s simple things like sending them pictures of my body and them going quiet. Also people will ask weird things like my race too. They’ll use my exoticism as a kind of pick-up line. I’m all for the celebration of diversity but if you’re saying ‘I'm really into you because you’re not white’ that just feels weird. It’s like you’re fetishising and objectifying me and I’m not into that.
At the end of the day, I like having sex. I like the fact I literally go on there and find someone to have sex with. There’s validation which isn’t great but sometimes it’s just nice to have a bunch of people who want to chat to you and make you feel good about yourself. Before, it was like I had an anxious twitch to go on there to see who messaged me whereas now I’m like ‘let’s just see what’s up’. Sometimes i just want to see some dick.”
“I came out in my mid-40s, so it’s my eighth anniversary this year. It’s a huge catch-up, a massive recapturing of a lost period which I do see in younger guys. I was with my wife for 18 years, we’re still best friends and we had plenty of sex and kids – they know everything. When I came out I lived in Switzerland and I didn’t know what gay life was. My nearest Grindr neighbour was 5km away, which is very different to London. I don’t think Grindr ever worked in Geneva. It was all guys who wanted something very specific; they were very clear: ‘I want you to come in. I don’t want you to speak. I don’t want you to look at my face. I want you to suck me off and leave’. Here, the app seems to be about sex, I would say. Grindr here is very anonymous and very silent. You send 20 messages and get responses on two. And then often I can’t be bothered.
I don’t approach guys much now, I used to approach much more but you get lots of no replies. Or it patters out and you never meet. To be honest, the strongest relationships were platonic, lovers or sex has been in reality. I also have this big fear and aversion to the feeling that I’m a predator. I have a big fear of being a predator for young people, guys the same age as my son. I’ve had ‘Hey grandad’ or even ‘Father Christmas, I’ve been good’ and I hate it. I feel revolted to be objectified. I never really felt what objectification meant for other people until I started to encounter it myself.
I think Grindr is good, any gay space space is good for us. It depends on how you use it and approach it though. I think it’s a space of heightened emotion, because as gay people, we don’t have many spaces and when we do get them we say: ‘I’m going to meet my...’ or whatever. There’s such a big expectation and as gay people we have to learn to deal with that. I’m learning... still!”
“I first got Grindr when I was 18 or 19. I had only recently come out to my parents and moved to a new city, I hadn’t had any experiences with men so I just wanted to try it and see what it was like. I was curious, more than having any expectations. I feel like I’ve learnt how the app operates now. I’ve learnt the rules of the game, so I have a better understandng of how everything works. I’m still the kind of person who has a lot of fears about romance, but my perspective of Grindr has changed a lot. In the beginning I was much more optimistic, whereas now it’s transitioned into more of a love/hate relationship.
You have to learn to deal with rejection. Not everyone is going to like you and you have to face that head on. You might even talk to someone who later decides they either don’t like you or just aren’t interested, they might even block you. If you don’t know how to deal with rejection then it hurts a lot. It doesn’t anymore but when you’re younger it’s hard not to take personally. I suppose it’s good because at some point in our lives we all face rejection, but it’s harsher and relentless on Grindr. I used to be 35kg heavier, I was fat. Those years were the worst because I could tell that I was solely being judged on my weight. I faced a lot of rejection back then – more than I think anyone should have to. I was living in Cardiff at the time, and whenever I go back now people treat me differently.
I have met nice people and had good sex via Grindr, but I also think it’s a case of trial and error. It’s a tool that can help you grow, but is it worth it? I’m not sure because there are a lot of people who delete and re-download the app. Why? What is it they’re trying to get away from? It has a function, but you need to pay a heavy price. There was a time I hated myself and my body and Grindr was not helping; I needed to get out of that environment. I feel like my generation has a completely different perspective of how the world works and how to engage with others. I hope the next generation will realise it’s not just about raunchy chats and dick pics. If you want to have sex, go for it, but I think life is about making meaningul connections.”
“Our friend introduced us to Grindr. We were hanging out and heard this sound and he started explaining what it was and that we had to get it. That was when we were 18; we’re 19 now so haven’t had it that long. We’ve had both positive and negative experiences. We’ve met some incredible people we are now friends with. The bad thing though, is that people are fake and often present a version of themselves that isn’t really them at all and it’s scary. Because we have the same face, if one of us sends a different picture to the one they’re expecting they might get confused and block us.
We don’t tend to use the app as much as we have in the past. At the beginning, it was scarier because we didn’t really know what it was, but we’re now more well-versed and comfortable with it and our expectations. We thought the problem was the app itself, but it’s actually the people who use it. We’re a lot more picky with the people we choose to meet and what we look for. People often block because of our race which is a bit sad because it’s so unnecessary.”