They’ll speed up your Grindr search. But does our lazy addiction to labels do us more harm than good?
The creators of Grindr may have sent a collective wince across the faces of gay men across the globe with the announcement of a revamped interface allowing users to slide themselves into one of four categories, Bears, Jocks, Twinks or Muscle.
Now, I’m sure the good folks at Grindr are just trying to collect data for marketing pur— err… that is, be helpful and narrow your search. But jock? Twink? Muscle? Can you imagine saying in an online profile “I’m a muscle” – much less in person? These labels are fine for sorting porn, but for slapping on people? Not so much.
Does Grindr really think the whole spectrum of queer male diversity is pretty much covered by these four categories? (With apparently more to come. Oh, goody! My need for validation quivers with excitement!) Seriously, is there no such thing as the boy next door anymore? And what’s a hairy, 22-year-old sporty guy who works out supposed to do, exactly?
Then, there’s the question of whether we want to identify with these labels to begin with. Let’s look at ‘twink.’ Twink? Okay, I know a small minority of young gays have reclaimed this word and wear it with pride and that’s fine. There’s also nothing wrong with enjoying such stereotypically twink-like interests as skinny jeans, designer labels, nightclubs, the latest on Glee and Lady Ga— err, Katy Per— I mean, Nicki Minaj.
But personally? I hate the word, because it’s still used condescendingly to dismiss the opinion and intelligence of any skinny, hairless gay male under 25. I think Tales of the City summed it up best when one character called using the label “the gay version of being a male chauvinist pig.” The idea of filtering for them on a dating app conjures images of skimming the takeaway menu for ‘something light that won’t think too hard.’ Honestly? If that’s your attitude, don’t be surprised if your takeaway slaps you.
That’s not to say all of Grindr’s new ‘categories’ are negative. More power to the Bears, who have a decades old tradition of inclusiveness, of reclaiming the gay man’s right to hair, and to carry those extra pounds with pride. But the word does create a very clear image of a certain type of man in many people’s minds, along with a whole range of faulty stereotypes such as ‘all bears are fat,’ ‘all bears are old,’ or the irrational fear that any response to ‘Hi’ will surely end in you being hooded and strapped to a St Andrew’s cross in the dungeon of some silver-bearded fox you know only as ‘Daddy.’
Hey! Not judging! The point is there’s still this ignorant perception that the bear and leather scenes are somehow one and the same – another of the many wrong assumptions that come out when we’re carelessly throwing labels around.
Identifying as a ‘jock’ at least says something about your interests, and might put you in touch with some similarly sporty fellas. But when did we get so bad at communication that we needed to define our range of interests with one word titles anyway? What’s so awful about having an actual conversation and telling someone you’re into sports, exactly? If it goes nowhere, it goes nowhere, but at least you’ll both have the satisfaction of knowing you’ve not been shopped for and sorted like deli meat. And it might just lead to a longer conversation. You know, something beyond ‘take, eat, this is my jock body.’
Look, I understand completely that quick labels can narrow the field in pick-up land. I also understand that from a business angle, marketing is much easier with labels and categories. But in adopting them, Grindr sacrifices some of what made it so appealing in the first place. The diversity. The simple ability to find, as Top Gear so eloquently put it, ‘the nearest cruising homosexual,’ or indeed several dozen of them, all with photos and basic information for your convenience. The only filter you needed was your eyes, your common sense, and the occasional ‘block.’ These days, we can remove ‘ineligible’ bachelors from our little gay world by filtering by age, height, weight and body type. At least Grindr hasn’t followed some apps in allowing users to filter people by race – yet.
Now, if they could find a way to filter out the bitchy, self-obsessed, vindictive or bat-shit crazy, I think they’d be onto a winner.
Follow Christian on Twitter: @XtianBaines