Grindr: Gay Social Tipping Point?

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Even when we’re surrounded by beauty, we’re always glued to our phones.

We’ve reached a tipping point in the gay rights movement: LGBT people and same-sex relationships are now the new normal.  History may one day find the invention of the Internet to be the single most significant advent in this revolution. It was only after the world could see our lives that people began to understand them. What, though, has technology done to augment our understanding of each other? That’s a complicated dynamic that we are still trying to untangle, even in this wireless era.

Virtual socialization has change what is possible for us to experience. We can now easily connect with people who are like us anywhere. Homosexuality was once a complex underworld of secret gestures, clandestine gathering spots, and campy code words that were relegated to big city ghettos. Not anymore; not in the 21st Century.

If we’re being honest, we’ve likely all had some entanglement that started out online. It’s a phenomenon that began on message boards, migrated to chat rooms, machinated onto MySpace, and now unfolds on our smart phones. Certainly this is not a homo-indigenous happening; statistically, more straight people have probably rendezvoused after a cyber convo. We understand what a hetero-normative society is, though; men and women meet, intermingle, and ultimately decide to co-mingle easier in a world where they are by far the larger majority. For a minority population, though, the ability to manifest an immediate connection creates complexities.

There’s something awesome about the ability for two gay boys in a small town to find out that they aren’t alone because the dating smartphone application Grindr shows they’re only a mile apart. There’s also something a bit scary about the ability to “special order” your significant other by chatting it up until you find someone who will go out with you. I know from experience.

Every time I’m on the infamous app, I’m longing for one thing: a person who gets me. The likelihood that he happens to be within the radius of my phone’s GPS is low. Yet, when I get one of those little red numbered replies, I put all of my hopes into the possibility that this person may be the one who I finally click with! Long before we actually meet, I’ve decided who he is and what he will do for me. Invariably, he’s constructed his own fantasy narrative about what I can do for him. Then we meet, and we completely disappoint each other. We’re so disillusioned by our own hype that we forget to consider the actual individual in front of us. We walk away. Or perhaps we stay, maybe for years, trying to turn each other into the imagined version we wish the other person would be. People aren’t canvasses for us to paint our own insecurities onto; we’re all beings with our own faculty. There’s something about the instant gratification of technology allowing us to conjure up an on-demand connection that makes you forget this really fast, though!

A lot of gay men I talk to, especially my younger peers, say they feel disconnected from the gay community. There’s a sense that midwestern isolation combines with the inherent drama of a small population for a toxic effect. This furthers the narrative for connecting online: the more sequestered you are from your surroundings, the more you’re likely to seek out community somewhere else. Are we getting any better at understanding each other, though? We find out who we are, in large part, by other people mirroring back what we offer. When we’re deflecting our own insecurities and hiding behind a screen name, can anyone truly see us?

Technology may have brought gay rights to a tipping point, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg for how we will ultimately fit into this modern age as gay individuals. I should probably stop trying to find my future on Grindr and dig deeper within myself to attract someone worthy of my own, unique energy. Maybe if we all did that we wouldn’t have to fight for people to understand us. When you know who you are, your truth is self-evident.

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Mine the Void. Fill the Chasm.

When we go to a bar, we have an agenda. Refreshing, tasty beverages are not what most of us seek when we walk into our favorite watering holes. There is no natural lust for alcohol that beckons us to imbibe. There is, however, a yearning for connection imbued in each of us. We buy drinks, dance with strangers, and take random people home in hopes of filling a void. We believe others will give us what we cannot give ourselves.  We are always disappointed.

You do not have to be gay to have this experience. For people who are, though, the emotions are compounded.  We are not just looking for a partner when we intimately connect with someone of the same sex; we are often trying to find ourselves inside another person. No one really knows what it means to be “gay”; we hope to find another person who can teach us, though. That dynamic is an equation for ascertaining emptiness.

There is no greater catastrophe than a life unfulfilled. Yet, most would admit that something is missing. Every person who is gay has experienced some kind of rejection; we seek shelter in the arms of others. Intimacy cannot be manufactured, though. It cannot be found on Craig’s List. It cannot be ordered up on smart phone aps. It also cannot be served at a bar. That gut-level unsatisfaction so many of us feel everyday is really an imbedded barometer reminding us that we need to get our internal house in order. And so, we try.

We are sitting at a coffee shop on a Saturday afternoon, the latest issue of The Advocate our only companion.  We feel lonely. We want to be connected. So we pull out our iPhone and log onto Grindr! The gay-dating cell phone application displays diagonal rows of dozens of men within a few thousand feet from us who we can talk to. We zero in on a shirtless guy with scant information about himself in his profile. We chat it up.

We decide during the nascent texting/dating ritual that this avatar will be our salvation. The shirtless man behind the pic will fill our void. He will see the beauty of our soul. He will love our quirky tastes, laugh at our jokes, and explore the world endlessly by our side. He will give us everything we deserve.

None of that is apparent by the few dozen lines of text we exchange, though. We decide to meet up at a downtown bar later that evening. In the flesh, it will click.

So we enter the bar with an agenda. We fail to consider that we are about to meet a distinct person with a whole host of issues and aspirations distinct from our own. We meet. We order a drink. Shirtless Grindr guy turns out to be pretty lackluster. He is rather boring. We have little to talk about. Or maybe we do. It is hard to have a real conversation with someone when you are holding at bay the disappointment that this person is not exactly who you wanted them to be.

Now, we have a choice. We can politely excuse ourselves and go home to a lonely night’s slumber. Or, we can invite our bland beau to our abode. The night’s machinations can either be tame or wild; the morning’s musings are pre-ordained. Either way, he leaves. The chasm remains.

It is within that space—that void—that redemption lives. The awkward moment when we realize the person we are drinking with is not the person we want is really the instant when we discover that pieces of us are missing.  We can wander the world, cruise every bar, and chat up every person in cyber space. No one we encounter will ever be able to give us what we have to give ourselves. Instead of going to out bars, we should probably be doing yoga, meditating, or just spending some quiet time reflecting on how to become the people we want to be.

When we do meet up with people, we should interrupt that awkwardness with something real. We should not be afraid to embrace the uniqueness that lies within. We should share ourselves with the people we find in front of us. We should receive individuals as they are. Our own agendas must be set aside. People are not canvasses for us to paint our insecurities onto. Everyone is their own masterpiece, worthy of faculty and symposium. Ultimately, we must fill our own gap. Only then can we receive the light of others.

This is not just a gay issue. Heterosexuals manufacture intimacy, too…and in greater numbers! There is a certain politeness in straight society that prevents the honest admission of what is really going on in most people’s lives, though. Leave it to the gays to shake things up a bit.

Let’s all try to fill our inner-chasms with more than just alcohol. Let’s stop looking for other people to make us whole. Let’s dig deep into our own firmaments. We can fill the void by mining the chasm.