It's pointless to try and argue the validity of apps like Grindr and Scruff in today's gay culture. Whether we like it or not, social media is on a fast track to being the primary way in which we communicate with one another.
But there is a difference between using gay social apps to meet new people and spending hours upon hours fixated on the sexual gratification of dick pics and hookup possibilities. Gay hookup sites are nothing new, but the increasing popularity and constant accessibility of social media apps has led in many ways to the dehumanization of gay men. In other words, Grindr, Scruff and the rest of the lot are creating a bunch of gay sex robots who only know how to communicate with each other via pictures and sexual function.
Anyone who uses social media has been somewhat limited by the nature of engagement. But whereas Facebook at least requires at least a sense of transparency and accountability, apps like Grindr allow the user to operate under the guise of anonymity. This, unfortunately, plays into a darker side of our psyche that takes an unfiltered and inhumane approach to human interaction, where the user treats other users like players in a sexual video game.
While at a work meeting or getting a coffee, one person can practically annihilate another's self-esteem. This because vulgarity, rudeness, and all-out prejudice thinly veiled under the pretense of "honesty" has sadly become the status quo. A user often forgets that there is a person behind the torso picture. This casual daily phenomenon has led many people to be saddened by the state of gay culture and the humanity of the modern gay man.
The virtual sex lives of gay and bi men have even caught the attention of female columnists like Samantha Allen, a tech and health writer for The Daily Beast. In a recent article titled, "No Blacks' Is Not a Sexual Preference, It's Racism," Allen calls out the state of sexual racism that she says is particularly heated within the gay community.
She writes, "If you're a gay man, phrases like 'no blacks' and 'no Asians' aren't just words that you'd find on old signs in a civil rights museum, they are an unavoidable and current feature of your online dating experience. On gay dating apps like Grindr and Scruff, some men post blunt and often offensive disclaimers on their profiles such as 'no oldies,' 'no fems,' and 'no fatties.'"
Naturally, the crude and rudimentary nature of "Grindr speech" is the type of language that most people would not use in face-to-face communication. And for good reason, this form of speech has virtually crippled the self-esteem of many of these popular hookup app's users.
John Harrell is an HIV-positive man from Seattle who chooses to disclose his status on his profile. He has gotten a variety of negative responses over his status, but this is the one he remembers most:
"OMG ... WTF!!! You're PROUD to be an AIDS infected Pandemic spreading, Pariah of Society, and cheer when others are infected with AIDS so you're not the only one Spreading the Filth?!!! OMG!!!!"
Steve Martinez is also no stranger to encountering aggressive and hateful language on gay hookup apps because of his HIV status.
"I was chatting with an older man on Daddyhunt," said Martinez, referring to a dating app that advertises itself as a place "for daddies, bears, and admirers." "The chatting was getting sexual, and before meeting him I disclosed my HIV status. He responded with 'You're disgusting.' I replied he was ignorant for his age. Then he started calling me a liar and a dirty slut. I reported him to Daddyhunt. They reviewed our conversation and deleted his profile. Shortly after, I deleted my account. I feel kind of insecure and a little afraid now to meet new guys."
These are but a few ways in which users of these apps can experience harmful engagements from other users. The anonymity granted by these apps can and often do lead to behavior with which the average user would be mortified to be associated with. Yet even the most astute public persona can be guilty of reducing themselves to their lowest form. By simply using a face picture as a person's user profile image, the language and behavior a user employs is usually markedly improved.
But the widespread adoption of social media hookup communication hasn't only negatively influenced the way we virtually communicate. It has also spilled into our real-life relationships. Many users of apps like Grindr and Scruff have reported developing an outright obsession with the virtual hookup hunt. This form of Grindr mania, whether it be short-lived or a constant presence, has the ability to hinder a person's relationships, work life, and even their chances at meeting potential love or lust interests "IRL."
Lucas Stephens from Connecticut remembers when he became consumed with the art of the Grindr chase.
"It was Christmas and my mom was visiting me," says Stephens. "I would've given her more of my time, but I was obsessed with three guys on Grindr whom I hadn't even yet met. It was about the fourth day when I had had just about as much as I could take -- so I deleted the conversations and deleted Grindr. My mom left a day later and I felt such guilt for not strengthening the familial relationship that was more important to me than some Grindr guys who didn't respect the human being on the other end of the digital wall."
Social media hookup apps are not inherently good or bad; they are merely the newest form of human interface. And like with anything new, it can take some time to develop and perfect our best style of communication. This isn't a macro problem; it comes down to a micro decision of an individual to treat others like humans instead of virtual sex bots and balance your own virtual communication with your three dimensional life. So, if you believe that you are a nice guy in person, make sure your virtual self isn't a total douche.
TYLER CURRY is the senior editor of HIV Equal, a comprehensive online publication dedicated to promoting HIV awareness and combating HIV stigma. To learn more about HIV Equal, visit HIVequal.org or follow Tyler Curry on Facebook or Twitter @iamtylercurry.