On Grindr’s Plural Becoming

by Maximiliano Marentes _

A man using the Grindr app to look for matches. (taken on May 6 2021, CC BY-NC, no changes made, link below)

Grindrs in plural?

In January 2021, a user I follow on Twitter posted a funny tweet, referring to his new account on Telegram. He stated that all the guys sharing their Grindr surnames came back into his life when creating his account. Some commented that they also saved contacts in the same way: there was an abundance of Matías’, Nicolás’ and Juans whose family name was Grindr.

This reminded me of one of my interviewees’ narrations. Benjamín spoke about the Grindrs in his life, describing those otherwise unknown people to him that he welcomes into his house to have sex with. I love the idea of Grindrs as a category of human beings produced thanks to a hooking-up app. As part of a bigger “family tree”, the Grindrs can be considered according to their plurality expressed also in the diverse kind of bonds that the same platform can create. In what follows, and as an indirect outcome of my research of love stories among Argentinean gay men, I share some ideas about Grindr as an agent that produces and facilitates diverse kinds of social relations rather than being “just a hooking-up app.”

On Flirting Technologies

I like thinking of Grindr as a flirting technology. Flirting is produced in specific ways in relation to Grindr, different from, for example, cruising spots or clubs. The setting frames how partenaires —as I like to call them rather than lovers or users— should act to be successful in fulfilling their desires. Moreover, desires themselves are refreshed and reorganized when using this hooking-up app. Considering Grindr as a flirting technology allows us to see what it arouses on the erotic chain. As Race (2015) suggests, hooking-up apps are not mere intermediaries transporting meaning without transformation. On the contrary, they are mediators, actants who modify practices and encounters they enable in specific ways (Race, 2015: 502). Thus, Grindr is not just another way to satisfy erotism where users can trust that their desire is not going to be affected. Rather, as an actant, Grindr, perhaps less pre-structured by an algorithm than other platforms, behaves erratically making people eventually find what they are looking for, modifying what kind of relationships they were interested in pursuing, or producing nothing but the bitter sensation of a great waste of time.

More generally, as Race (2015) points out, Grindr frames sex as a “no-string-attached” encounter: supposedly meeting someone just for sex, no more than that. In doing so, it creates a specific kind of partenaire, the Johns Grindr or just the Grindrs. But this hooking-up app also has the potential to make some partenaires land in coupledom. Given the facts pointed out by my research participants, that is something curious. They agree with the idea that looking for love on Grindr is as hard as looking for a needle in a haystack. However, scrolling on the grid where users’ profiles are exposed, they sometimes were prickled by the needle. When telling me about their really existing love stories, Grindr, the same “damned app” responsible for depersonalizing partenaires, on some occasions was the fairy godmother pushing Cinderella to the ball.

Furthering the idea of Grindr as the technological incarnation of Thanatos, the Greek god of death, this platform could be seen as a mere re-production of the outside world. In other words, Grindr would just hurry no-strings encounters that people will anyway engage in, no matter the flirting technology used. But, taking seriously the impact of Grindr on hooking-up behaviour, it would be unfair to Grindr itself to be reduced to an intermediary, just a means to express an existing and predefined desire. Considering it as an actant, Grindr does do different things with erotism.

Grindr could indeed be Thanatos reducing people to a square on a grid, this being a sign of fungibility, of profiles —and users— being interchangeable. But the same Grindr could be Cinderella’s godmother making her meet the Charming Prince. Or, with no romantic exaggeration, Grindr connects people who are now in a long-term relationship. When analysing this hooking-up app, it is crucial to register what this actant, Grindr, does in specific situations.

On Monogamous and Non-Monogamous Arrangements

One thing Grindr is capable of doing, and sometimes did within my interviewees’ love stories, is confronting monogamous and non-monogamous arrangements. Monogamy and non-monogamy are rigid concepts difficult to grasp empirically. For instance, to what extent is a couple monogamous if they occasionally engage in threesomes? Or, is it fair to label a couple polyamorous if it engages in affairs, but its understanding is that no other partenaires should exist outside of the dyadic relationship? Upon having an affair, is an otherwise monogamous couple becoming, now and for always, non-monogamous? To avoid these controversies, I propose to consider the agreements that people reach with each other and the efforts they make to carry out and stabilize their arrangements. Instead of talking about monogamy and non-monogamy or polyamory or other politically interesting but empirically vague nouns, I prefer analysing the emergence of monogamous and non-monogamous arrangements. They are not produced once and for all characterising the couple during their entire relationship. Arrangements are settled and resettled, negotiated, contrasted, forgotten, revised, and re-arranged. Revisions are made in reaction to different sources: friends’ stories, movies, and books. Sometimes, when partenaires discover themselves talking about sexual exclusivity, Grindr’s beeps come into the scene.

For example, when Luchi and his boyfriend Dami arrived from Argentina in Europe, they decided to spend a great time and have new sexual experiences: they wanted to get to know new places and meet new people. Thus, they downloaded Grindr to get in touch with new people for sexual encounters. Every new city brought new decisions for them: in Paris, at the very beginning of their trip, they tried but failed to meet someone; in Amsterdam, they started talking about incorporating a third person for a threesome. In Berlin, Dami explained to Luchi that he preferred that both met third parties on their own. Finally, still in Berlin, they met a Brazilian guy and went as far as they were able to, a three-way kiss. Grindr was not just a random app they installed on their cell phones. As Luchi acknowledged, Grindr for them was anything but a quiet app. Instead, it was a key feature in the revision of their arrangement, taking it to a non-monogamous one, at least from their perspective.

Grindr is not a one-way street always driving partenaires to the same place. Enzo, another interviewee, had only one boyfriend: Hugo. They met grindring, as he likes to define the action. From the very first encounter, Hugo wanted Enzo to be more than ‘the-guy-I-fuck.’ However, Enzo let Hugo know immediately that he wanted to meet him just for sex, nothing else. Finally, when Hugo decided to abandon their relationship because he wanted a boyfriend, Enzo realised that he preferred not to lose him. As it was the first formal relationship he was going to try, Enzo put the monogamous issue on the table. He explained to Hugo that, as they had met on Grindr, and not at the church, it would be hard to pretend that they were not having sex with other guys. However, Hugo firmly refused to let go of the idea of a monogamous relationship. After a while of trying to be monogamous, Enzo found out that Hugo had reinstalled Grindr on his phone. This is when Enzo understood that Grindr had become an ally in pushing for a non-monogamous arrangement. In any case, its reinstalment on Hugo’s phone for him was key to unmasking his hypocrisy.

Sometimes, Grindr’s doings in monogamous and non-monogamous arrangements, especially in those already settled, are not so dramatic. As Marcos narrated about having sex with third parties in his kind of non-monogamous relationship with Facu, he sometimes hooks up on Grindr which is something considered of no importance. In fact, having sex with someone he met on Grindr is not relevant information per se that he would like to share with his boyfriend. An exception to this rule was a recent experience: an exciting hook-up in the metro, with him following an unknown and having sex in his apartment. That is something that deserves to be told. Meeting someone on Grindr, on the contrary, is almost a matter of fact.

In the examples above, the social agent Grindr was an active participant in settling arrangements regarding sexual exclusivity. It was a mediator in Luchi and Dami’s new agreement, and the supposedly “just hooking-up app” was a mediator in those negotiations. Enzo tried to play the same card, but he failed. However, Grindr was an ally in revealing his boyfriend’s hypocrisy. And sometimes, in non–superlative ways, Grindr is a matter-of-fact erotic technology within already settled non-monogamous arrangements.

Harvesting Grindr Crops

Grindr as an only-sex platform or a way to renegotiate a monogamous arrangement is embedded in the hypersexualization of gay worlds —the circle of practices involving gay scene actors. The chance of having sex with previously unknown guys is something ordinary within these worlds, something that upon discovery may take heterosexual friends by surprise. This does not imply that all gays are promiscuous and that they have sex all the time. The narrative of hypersexualization is a kind of label trying to summarize practices among the spaces where gay men circulate through. Nowadays, within this world, Grindr, has become a metonym of it.

One of the aspects of hypersexualization that I find interesting is that having sex may be the gate to other types of social bonds. Meeting an unknown guy to have sex with may be the beginning of a love story, or it may be a mere fluid exchange —another one— or a great opportunity for other things.

When talking about his current job at an NGO contracted by the state to follow up on poor families living in shantytowns, I asked Enzo how he got it. Putting the cup of coffee back on the table, with a naughty smile he answered: grindring. He had met a guy to have sex with, but their relationship was not reduced to that, they liked philosophising. They became “kind of friends” and one day, Enzo’s friend recommended him for the job position that he now holds. At this point, it is interesting to think that the same Grindr which serves as a surname to differentiate one Martín from the others in Enzo’s list of contacts and is the place where he met Hugo, who pushed him towards a monogamous arrangement, is also the site where he met someone crucial for his career. Same app, many outcomes.

In Enzo’s life, the actant Grindr with its erratic behaviour “introduced” him to different kinds of bonds. It was the producer of a chilled and supportive friendship, which led him to a new job. Thus, Grindr could also be seen as a manager of sexual capital: sexual experiences contribute to increasing contacts translatable into economic opportunities.In Enzo’s life, Grindr acted in diverse ways producing a plurality of bonds that are undoubtedly more heterogenous than his “no-string” commitments.

Not the Grindr, but Grindrs

When considering Grindr as “just a hooking-up app”, another one offered in the app’s stores, we miss the chance to explore the complexity and multi-faceted settings that this platform provides. Treating it as a social agent or an actant lets us discover the different outcomes it produces, and the diverse, and sometimes unpredictable, ways it brings people together. Grindr has the potential to connect people who are looking just for sex. Then again, it can create a specific category of people, the Grindrs, those exchangeable and apparently not important persons to hook up with. By doing so Grindr sometimes functions as the fairy godmother pushing Cinderella to the ball and introducing her to the prince. Not always acting so romantic, Grindr is also a pragmatic tool for connecting people to have sex with.

Alongside these possibilities, Grindr is creating different kinds of social bonds. Some of them are no-string commitments. Others are the beginning of “formal” and romantic relationships. And there are other bonds yet, those who, after grindring, make people become friends or acquaintances who enable the exchange of information as job opportunities.

Observing Grindr’s social doings makes it difficult to sustain that it is just a hooking-up app that always produces the same result. While listening to my interviewees’ stories, I was surprised by the multiple ways those Grindrs are transforming situations in heterogeneous manners. At least as I take it, Grindr is not one, but many.

References

Race, Kane. 2015. “Speculative Pragmatism and Intimate Arrangements: Online Hook-up Devices in Gay Life”. Culture, Health & Sexuality 17(4):496–511.

 

About the author

Maximiliano Marentes is a gay man academic from Las Rosas, a small town in Argentina, now living in Buenos Aires. He got a bachelor’s in Sociology and a master’s in Cultural Sociology (both at Universidad Nacional de San Martín) and holds a doctoral degree in Social Sciences at Universidad de Buenos Aires. Assistant professor at UNSAM. Postdoctoral researcher at CONICET. Invited researcher at Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Frauen- und Geschlechterforschung, Technische Universität Berlin (April to September 2022). He has published on love among gay men, love stories, and how couples are networks including more people and things.

 

*Link to image:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/192004829@N02/51170137818/in/photolist-2kXJkeu-2jebpUF-2hiczto-ZnQ9Gn-2mPL2xN-23iPKKk-YKHqMN-2mAfSjz-2mfTKo2-2mfQ1kB-2mfTKk6-XuPDkn-27QbhTR-2mAjos6-2hrYctV-2ih5wQX-2hUp2VF-2hsLVbF-2kMcqWC-2kLv7L4-cUYaNo-nqegmH-iSkPUg-2gM4jdk-e1H3VT-c2ZUhU-8JXXwy-7LGg6u-2hrjVzj-DGXXFU-25jomnD-e1NHgm-6dSy4j-2mPRqZJ-2mjFWTz-2mj33FB-MoFbh-2iVF7wQ-8PfWcY-AdkGaH-ou6Qgg-6qNhjw-XnSr1s-2ifQjzh-2hFzphS-bP8NLt-dTdy9W-eMyiba-2jWKBah-mghoqe/



Cite this blog post
editorial team (2022, July 13). On Grindr’s Plural Becoming. AnthroDesires. Retrieved June 22, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/b7v5

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