How Gays Justify Their Racism on Grindr

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On gay dating apps like Grindr, many users have profiles that contain phrases like “I don’t date black men” or claim they’re “not attracted to Latinos.” Other times they will list the races acceptable to them: “White/Asian/Latino only”.

This language is so prevalent on the app that websites like Douchebags of Grindr and hashtags like #grindrwhileblack can be used to find countless examples of the abusive language men use against people of color.

Since 2015 I have been studying LGBTQ culture and gay life, and much of that time has been spent trying to unravel and understand the tensions and biases within gay culture.

While social scientists have explored racism on online dating apps, most of that work has focused on exposing the problem, a topic I’ve also written about.

I seek to go beyond the simple description of the problem and to better understand why certain homosexuals behave the way they do. From 2015 to 2019, I interviewed gay men from the Midwest and West Coast regions of the United States. Part of this fieldwork focused on understanding the role Grindr plays in LGBTQ life.

Part of this project – which was recently published in the journal Deviant Behavior – explores how gay men rationalize their racism and gender discrimination on Grindr.

“It’s just a preference”

The homosexuals I was in contact with tended to make one of two justifications.

The most common was to simply describe their behaviors as “preferences.” One participant I interviewed, when asked why he had stated his racial preferences, replied, “I don’t know. I just don’t like Latinos or black people.

A Grindr profile used in the study clarifies interest in certain races.
Christopher T. Conner, CC BY

This user went on to explain that he even purchased a paid version of the app that allowed him to screen Latino and black men. His image of his ideal partner was so fixed that he preferred – as he put it – “being single” rather than being with a black or Latino man. (During the 2020 #BLM protests in response to the murder of George Floyd, Grindr has eliminated the ethnic filter.)

Sociologists have long been interested in the concept of preferences, whether it be the foods we like or the people we are attracted to. Preferences may seem natural or inherent, but they are actually shaped by larger structural forces – the media we consume, the people we know, and the experiences we have. In my study, many respondents seemed to have never really thought about the source of their preferences. When confronted, they simply became defensive.

“It was not my intention to cause distress,” another user shared. “My preference may offend others… [however,] I don’t get satisfaction from being mean to others, unlike those who have issues with my preference.

The other way I’ve observed some homosexuals justify their discrimination is to phrase it in a way that puts the focus back on the application. These users would say things like, “It’s not e-harmony, it’s Grindr, move on or block me.”

Given that Grindr has a reputation for being a hookup app, you should expect some candor, according to users like this – even when it veers into racism. Responses like these reinforce the idea of ​​Grindr as a space where social niceties don’t matter and carnal desire reigns.

Prejudices rise to the surface

While social media apps have dramatically changed the landscape of gay culture, the benefits of these technological tools can sometimes be hard to see. Some researchers point to how these apps allow people living in rural areas to connect with each other, or how they offer those living in cities alternatives to increasingly gentrified LGBTQ spaces.

In practice, however, these technologies often only replicate, if not exacerbate, the same issues and problems facing the LGBTQ community. As scholars like Theo Green have unpacked elsewhere, people of color who identify as gay experience great marginalization. This is true even for people of color who hold some degree of celebrity in the LGBTQ world.

Grindr has perhaps become a particularly fertile ground for cruelty, as it allows for anonymity in a way that other dating apps don’t. Scruff, another gay dating app, asks users to reveal more about who they are. However, on Grindr, people are allowed to be anonymous and faceless, reduced to images of their torsos or, in some cases, no images at all.

Emerging sociology of the Internet has found that, time and time again, anonymity in online life brings out the worst human behaviors. Only when people are known do they become responsible for their actions, a finding that echoes Plato’s story of the Ring of Gyges, in which the philosopher wonders if a man who became invisible would continue to commit heinous acts.

At the very least, the benefits of these apps are not universally felt. Grindr seems to recognize this; in 2018, the app launched its “#KindrGrindr” campaign. But it’s unclear if the apps are the cause of such toxic environments or if they’re a symptom of something that’s always been there.

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