In the hunt to bring someone home from the bar one night, a man shifts around, moving from one conversation to the next until he meets someone that checks off his desires: attractive, low-key and looking for a one-night stand. By the end of the night, he has spent time and money trying to find a night of no-strings-attached pleasure.

But what if he had known exactly who to look for, and where they were, without having to search through the crowd? What if he didn’t even have to leave his neighborhood, his home, even his couch?

That is now an option.

With a quick download on a smartphone, the ability to find people in a close radius looking for anything from friendship to a relationship to a one-night stand is possible. And it is due to the smartphone application called Grindr.

Launched in 2009 by Joel Simkhai, Grindr is a social, geographically-based app aimed toward homosexual, bisexual and curious men. “Grindr is quick, convenient and discreet. And it’s as anonymous as you want it to be,” the website for the app reads.

It’s a description Elon University 2013 alum Sean Morrison* said he agrees with.

“I have formed friendships, relationships, hookup buddies, because of this single app,” he said. “It has been the source of about 90 percent of my experiences in the gay community since I have downloaded it.”

Discovering Grindr

Grindr has become no secret. According to Grindr.com, the app has more than 6 million users in 192 countries, including Iran, Yemen, Djibouti and Moldova.

So how are people finding out about it?

“So you have these thoughts when you’re in the closet and you start experimenting with how far you push the limit,” said senior Lewis Shaw*. “I was on iTunes one day, searched ‘gay’ and Grindr popped up.”

Chris, an Elon Class of 2008 alum, first downloaded Grindr in 2012. He said he initially used it to meet nearby people but it has become another way to kill time.

“I use Grindr like people use Facebook,” he said. “I just sign on to browse through other users and leave it up throughout the day.”

Once downloaded, Grindr will display the 100 closest people who are also using it. Profiles include a username, profile picture, the user’s relationship status, ethnicity, age, height, weight and a 120-character biography.

None of these descriptions are required — a user is allowed to be as vague or detailed as they want about their life. In addition to the physical descriptions, the app allows users to state what they’re looking for, which include chat, dates, friends, networking or relationship. Hookup or no strings attached (NSA) — a common term on the app — aren’t options, but many users choose to display this in their profile.

Users are free to message any of the 100 profiles shown. Anyone is allowed to chat, send pictures or share his location with any of the profiles that appear on the homepage.

“Say hey, be chill, be masculine, be fun. If you’re not a guy I would have a beer with, why would I get in bed with you?” Morrison’s profile reads.

Serge Vojkovic, vice president of sales and marketing for Grindr, told the Buenos Aires Herald that the company has never told anyone how to use the app.

“We have tons of stories from people looking for friends, or dates, or even a gym partner,” Vojkovic said in the article. “We created a technology that allows users to connect with each other based on their physical proximity.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AR5KeBTVbjg Paul discusses how Grindr has flourished due to sexual suppression for gay men growing up. Video by Jonathan Black, Editor-in-Chief.

Finding a community

Though Grindr has become an app geared towards hooking up, for some Elon students, the app was their first stepping stone into coming out.

Shaw, who discovered the app during his freshman year, first downloaded it before he came out to anyone.

“I made a profile on my iTouch,” he said. “I didn’t have a picture up, I didn’t have anything. It was interesting and exciting to see other people put themselves out there. It was a one-way street.”

Shaw, who comes from a rural area where there is no LGBTQ community, compares it to being thrown into the deep end while just learning how to swim.

“Coming from a background where being gay was a very bad thing, you were seen as sexually perverted,” Shaw said. “It was very overwhelming to then see this, which is sex, sex, sex, sex and sex.”

Chris, who uses Grindr as a way to connect to other people in his community, said it played a central role in finding friendship in New York City when he first moved there.

“In New York it was a way to meet people, and oddly enough I made a couple good friends from it,” he said. “For me, now, it is almost a Facebook-type app. It has become much more social and a lot less sexual.”

In a report published by Grindr on its website, New York City ranked as the second most popular member base with 302,339 users. The city ranked behind London, but the United States ranked first for countries with more than 2 million users.

In a 2012 survey of 22,000 Grindr users, 66 percent of respondents said they were using the app to make friends and 56 percent said they have made one to five friends by using it.

Robert Bishop*, a junior at Elon, said he would much rather meet someone through friends or random social situations. Of the approximately 50 guys he talked to on Grindr, he met up with only one of them.

“It wasn’t a good experience,” Bishop said. “The guy attempted to build a lasting friendship after we met on Grindr, but I wasn’t very into it. My first thought of the guy will always be that I met him on Grindr and that doesn’t sit well with me.”

Paul, a PhD student at Duke University, has never found a friend from Grindr or another website, but he did find a relationship.

He met his boyfriend of two years on Adam4Adam.com a website designed for men to meet each other “for friendship, romance, or a hot hookup.” After chatting for a week on the website, the two agreed to go on a date.

“We got coffee, and after the first date, it wasn’t any different from a normal dating situation,” Paul said.

Kirstin Ringelberg, an associate professor of art history and former LGBTQ office coordinator at Elon, said Grindr isn’t any different from Facebook, besides its use of a GPS.

“When you’re a part of a community that is often stigmatized and not necessarily visible, tools like Grindr can help you feel less isolated,” she said. “I’ve seen it used just to break the ice, like some Greek organizations have had parties where the color of your cup states your availability. This is a way to let folks know that you’re single or in a non-monogamous relationship or open to meeting people.”

Risks of stranger danger

An application that pairs users based on their geographic location does not come without its dangers.

“This is every nightmare about online safety. It goes against all of the school teachings,” Morrison said. “I think you have to have a really healthy sense of the situation and how to take care of yourself to be on it. It’s all about managing the risk.”

Morrison encountered a less than ideal situation because of the app when he talked to someone in Graham, N.C.

“I was talking to one guy this past summer and he invited me over for drinks,” he said. “I showed up to his place and he told me his parents were asleep inside and brought me into his backyard, in the middle of nowhere. He had the idea that I came over just to have sex with him in his backyard.”

Morrison said the man’s physical and verbal communication in person were very unnerving. He left quickly after arriving and chose not to communicate with that person again.

Bishop said he is not sure if the risk is worth the reward.

“In a very idealistic world, I think meeting your soulmate could be a benefit of using Grindr, but I think the chances are slim to none,” Bishop said. “The benefits don’t outweigh the dangers or the overall sketchiness that comes along with using something like that."

With an app whose only age verification is for the downloader to confirm they are older than 17, the dangers of encountering a case of statutory rape are strong.

The first case of Grindr-based date rape occurred in April of 2010, a year after the app launched. It involved a 15-year-old Canadian student who was allegedly assaulted by a 54-year-old man he met on the app.

Paul said he hasn’t encountered any dangerous situations in person due to the app, but has spoken to users who have raised warning signs in the way they message him. He credits listening to his instinct to know when he should ignore another user.

“I have chatted with people that are a little bit odd,” he said. “They would say things that were off. If they get really bitchy or catty, I realize it’s not worth my time.”

The app does allow a user to turn the GPS function off so other users cannot see how close they are to them in terms of feet or miles. However, the app will still show the person on another user’s home screen if they are close enough to them.

In addition, Grindr offers a block function for users, which prohibits members from contacting certain people or seeing them on the homepage.

When Shaw first created his profile, he had no idea of the dangers involved with the app.

“People can hide behind whatever type of picture or bio they make. Who’s to say someone isn’t HIV positive or walking around with chlamydia? I was very naive when I first started using it,” he said.

Having never been in an unsafe situation from Grindr or a website, Chris said he was part of the minority. He credits that to his approach of always being aware of other people’s motives.

“You apply the ‘stranger danger’ mentality that you would apply to any other aspect of your life,” Chris said. “You might be flying mostly blind, but not completely.”

Junior Josh Kaufmann said the emotional and physical safety of his friends who use Grindr does worry him. He is more worried about other users taking advantage of his friends.

“It’s like what my parents said to me when I got my driver’s license, ‘I’m not worried about you on the road, I’m worried about those driving around you,’” Kaufmann said. “The same goes for my friends using Grindr. If they want to use it to find a intimate partner that identifies the same way as them then I have no problem with it, I just worry about others on the app who may have different intentions.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-JU7wPb-TE Paul discusses the formulaic conversations on Grindr. Video by Jonathan Black, Editor-in-Chief.

Grindr as a tool for integration

[quote] At least if we’re both on Grindr we’re saying we might be interested in each other. [/quote]

Within the past decade, the LGBTQ community has been featured heavily in local and national news as they attempt to gain marriage rights and the federal benefits that come with it.

The Supreme Court has discussed the issue of same-sex marriage by debating the constitutionality of Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

On a local level, issues were also being debated.

The Vendor Policy Study Committee was created last October to explore Chick-fil-A’s place on Elon’s campus. Spectrum, Elon’s queer-straight alliance, argued Chick-fil-A’s donations to anti-gay organizations do not align with Elon’s nondiscrimination policy.

On April 25, Elon’s Board of Trustees voted to continue the school’s partnership with Chick-fil-A after considering the findings of the committee.

But how will Grindr fit into the integration of the LGBTQ community?

Morrison said he is happy with the headway gay students have made at Elon but is worried that Grindr will be a hindrance to their progress.

“As the gay community is becoming more accepted and more open society, is finding out about Grindr,” he said. “It’s adding to the old stereotype that gay men are sexual deviants. It certainly doesn’t help that.”

Ringelberg disagreed with Morrison’s statement. She explained that Grindr allows transparency among gay Elon students.

“If you’re a straight man and you walk into a bar at Elon, chances are if you see any female who isn’t evidently with a male partner, you assume they might be available,” she said. “At least if we’re both on Grindr we’re saying we might be interested in each other.”

Recent trends show Grindr is not slowing down. More than 1 million users log onto the app every day, with 2.5 million users joining within the past two years. But Grindr isn’t the only multimedia device out there. Adam4Adam, manhunt and OkCupid are all websites providing the same service as Grindr: to connect users to others in their area.

In 2011, Simkhai launched Blendr, a smart phone app with the same functions as Grindr. But Blendr targets the heterosexual community, pairing men and women together who live near one another.

For now, Grindr continues to be one of the most popular apps in the world. As for it being a virtual bar, Morrison said it will become more like one as more people find out about it.

“It’s going to be seen as a shift from shady hookups,” he said. “It’s going to become more of a dating, social connection.”

Sources have been marked with a * to denote a name change, due to their request of anonymity. Chris and Paul requested that only their first names be used. 


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