5 Ways the Way We Talk About Grindr Upholds Thin Privilege and Body Fascism

Two people hugging while staring at each other just before they kiss

Two people hugging while staring at each other just before they kiss

I’m a queer, fat person who enjoys and seeks out sex with men, usually men who think of me as a man (and I don’t correct them).

Sometimes, I also befriend men, or other queer people, who enjoy and seek out sex with men.

Usually, as allosexual and sex-positive adults, sex almost inevitably comes up in conversation and given that these people are almost always thin people who exclusively enjoy sex with other thin people (though they wouldn’t probably think of themselves that way, or admit it) they inevitably bring up Grindr.

Not only do they inevitably bring up Grindr, but they talk about it in a way that assumes I can relate to their experiences.

People with normative, culturally valued bodies (that is, thin or muscular, white or light-skinned, hairless or appropriately hairy, cis, masculine, non-disabled, and so on) use Grindr as a way to seek out sex, friendship, and other relationships, and present their experiences on Grindr as if they are universal.

Meaning: They present their experiences in a way that assumes that everyone uses Grindr, or has the same access on Grindr as them, while at the same time erasing the ways in which their body is privileged in such a way that allows them to have positive experiences on Grindr.

But these conversations can become complicated because they run the risk of erasure.

Even as I write this, I can think of a handful of people I know who seem to use Grindr with their desired results who don’t fit the above description – particularly trans feminine people, and those who go to Grindr to specifically seek out meeting trans feminine people. Toyota Corona has written a brilliant article addressing her positive experiences on Grindr as a fat femme trans woman, and the diversity of desires that are present there.

These conversations also seem to imply that all men seeking men use sex apps a fantasy that is quickly dissolved when thinking about asexual homoromantic men, queer men in monogamous relationships, and queer men who simply don’t enjoy casual sex.

But there is also a difference between the reality of what happens on Grindr and the ways it’s discussed to present what is assumed to be a shared experience.

But when this assumption is based on the experience of people with thin (and other) privileges, it erases the experiences of others.

By not acknowledging this, it’s upholding the thin privileged experience as the expected standard.

Not honoring the diversity of experience that comes with diversity of bodies, and expecting us all to relate to the thin experience, upholds body fascism in these ways.

1. It Assumes That Grindr Is Welcoming to All MSM

I chose the language “MSM,” short for “men who have sex with men,” to acknowledge that not all men who use Grindr to sleep with men identify on some spectrum of gay, bisexual, or queer.

The way that Grindr has become talked about seems to assume that everyone is welcomed. It’s assumed to be a space where everyone has a “type” and all “types” are represented.

While it’s true that anyone with any body type can sign up for Grindr, not all body types have the same experiences on Grindr.

As a fat person, I have rarely received any messages on Grindr, and people frequently don’t respond to my messages.

The only times I’ve been approached on Grindr have been by people who come to the app knowing they’re attracted to my body type. This gives me reason to believe that the same is true for other Grindr users. Most Grindr users have a predetermined body type they are attracted to – a thin one.

So, while Grindr is discussed as a place where anyone who might be considered a man can find men to have sex with, who are (mostly) looking to have sex with men, this isn’t how my experience has played out.

And while there is certainly nothing stopping me from staying on Grindr, when I get no conversation or dates, it ultimately only takes up space on my phone. That space is better used for pictures of people who actually do love and want me, like selfies.

So I leave.

I can only imagine that many other folks with non-normative bodies leave Grindr for similar reasons.

So while Grindr is technically a welcoming space for all, in practice it actually self-selects based on normative standards of attraction.

When there are no – or few  fat people, trans people, disabled people, and people of color on Grindr, it’s not because we don’t have sexual desires  it’s because we don’t feel welcomed or comfortable expressing them there.

Through pushing out people without normative bodies, Grindr ends up becoming its own highly curated space, primarily for thin people who are seeking sex with other thin people.

So why isn’t it just marketed that way?

2. It Upholds Social Privilege and Negatively Impacts Our Self-Image

As a poor, brown, fat boy coming of age in suburban Texas in the early 2000s, Will & Grace was the only queer representation I had.

We didn’t have cable, so I couldn’t watch Queer as Folk, or even Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

I vividly remember seeing the actor who plays Will being thin, toned, sharply dressed, educated, successful, and urban, and thinking: If that’s what gay is, I can’t be gay.

I can only imagine what a difficult time I would have if I were to come of age now, given that the way Grindr is talked about, one would assume it’s the only MSM space. And, again: If this is what it means to be gay, can I be gay? That I no longer identify as gay for other reasons is besides the point.

As a confident and sexually active person who just entered my thirties, experiencing rejection and invisibility on Grindr has shifted from being devastating to obnoxious.

But this wasn’t always the case for me. It took years – literally  of working on my self-image and self-esteem, and learning to seek out spaces where my body is actually valued and wanted.

This type of body fascism runs so deep that I was 29 before I realized there are people who are sincerely attracted to me and are not merely settling when they sleep with me.

It might be unfair to assume that this is causing similar identity crises for young queers, but the pressure to both have and desire a specific thin or muscular body that circulates on Grindr has an impact.

While Grindr can’t shoulder all the blame, the disproportionate number of eating disorders and distorted body image amongst gay, bi, and queer men is well documented.

The privileging of these bodies in our sexual lives is a result of their larger social privilege. As a result, it also spills over into other aspects of our lives.

3. It Limits the Sexual Potential for Grindr Users

 A couple of months ago a friend who is very thin, as well as white said to me that his Grindr bio was simply, “Interrogate your desires.”

I said I appreciated the sentiment, but wondered what the use was when everyone on Grindr looks the same.

How can you interrogate your desires in a space that becomes an echo chamber of normativity?

What do you do when you do interrogate your desires and want to expand them? How is that possible when everyone still looks the same?

This isn’t to say that people who use Grindr only use Grindr. Many people use multiple apps. But across the most popular ones, the problem is replicated.

Different apps cater to different subcultures. For example: Scruff, arguably the second most common MSM app, is marketed more towards people who are attracted to hair and muscular bodies, while Growlr is marketed towards people who like fatter bodies, and sometimes fatter, hairy bodies.

The primary difference between body types that are featured on Scruff and Growlr is fatness. This is very transparent.

I can’t tell you how many queer men I know who use Grindr will know what Scruff is maybe even use it as well but will ask me what Growlr is. This is fat stigma in action.

Why don’t you have those other apps? There are diverse people and diverse bodies on Growlr.

Only seeking one community of people limits your sexual prospects and reinforces fat phobia by assuming that there is no one on there you’ll be attracted to (because you’re assuming they’re fat). Especially when people are so much more willing to interact with Scruff, but still refuse Growlr.

4. It Erases Other Types of ‘Hot’ Bodies

The first time I slept with someone who was excited about and wanted to engage with my body, I thought something was wrong with him.

My experience until then was with men who mostly didn’t touch me back and largely ignored my body.

I had so deeply internalized that I was a fetish that even I pathologized the people who are attracted to me. I thought they belonged to a niche community a small and group of people whose attractions and desires were wrong by virtue of being uncommon.

And now I resent this. While I would’ve never been able to learn this if I had never left Grindr, I am sexy and desirable and, even more – I am desired.

And I no longer want to have sex with people who I have to convince I’m attractive because it makes sex bad and lackluster. For me. They don’t know how to please me.

This experience made me realize that all the other factors I had taken for granted as natural bases of attraction were all constructed, too.

Factors like whiteness, muscularity, masculinity, toned abs, and big dicks are flaunted as desired qualities in most queer media and spaces, including Grindr and many other geolocation sex and dating apps.

They’re talked about as if they are the obvious and objectively most attractive bodies in a way that doesn’t seem to leave room for people who aren’t attracted to them.

Or, even yet, people who are attracted to bodies that posses none of these qualities.

This hides the way that they, too, are equally as fetishized as my fatness, and dismisses attraction to everything outside of these qualities to a forbidden status.

I’m willing to accept that those who are attracted to fat people are a niche market.

But we also have to acknowledge that those who are attracted to the thin, masculine, and muscular people that dominate Grindr is also a niche market.

It’s fine to be attracted to those bodies. But don’t act like it isn’t a niche, or as much a “fetish” as the attraction to fatness is.

5. It Doesn’t Honor the Diversity of Queer Desires

I’ve been talking about the diversity of sexualities throughout this article  ones that diverge from what’s commonly accepted and even enforced attraction to normative standards.

But, although it might not seem so, the spectrum of attraction is actually much, much larger than the bodies that Grindr promotes.

Sometimes, like in the case of Grindr, we use the most famous name-brand of a product to speak for all similar products the way it’s common to refer to all tissues as Kleenex. But sometimes these things have larger implications that simply don’t translate.

Grindr really is the McDonald’s of gay sex apps.

McDonald’s is fast food, but not all fast food is McDonald’s. Just because you eat fast food doesn’t mean you eat McDonald’s. I think if we can be this specific about our food preferences, we can do so about other things we put in our mouth.

By not using Grindr as the epitome for all queer male or MSM experiences, we can better respect the actual variety of bodies and attractions that exist in queer communities.

***

It’s okay to use Grindr. It’s okay to enjoy sex. It’s okay to have a “type,” and it’s okay for that type to be exclusively, normatively attractive people.

But those things are still political, and they’re not organic manifestations of sexual attraction. Which is fine! If you want to change that, there are definitely steps you can take to do that. If you don’t want to, that’s also okay.

But it’s inaccurate to assume that normative bodies are the only bodies that exist and that they’re the best types of bodies to be attracted to.

By continuing to treat Grindr as the best/only/default source for MSM, it reproduces the oppressions that privilege normative bodies by not acknowledging them.

It keeps pushing those of us with alternative bodies to the margins, rather than acknowledging that we’re all operating in spheres that are different but not necessarily better or worse than the other.

If you’re truly interested in and invested in interrogating your desires, you can start by diversifying the range of bodies you allow into your pool of sexual possibilities.

Caleb Luna is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. They are working-class, fat, brown queer living, writing, performing, and dancing in Oakland, California. They are a first-year PhD student at University of California, Berkeley, and their work explores the intersections of fatness, desire, fetishism, white supremacy, and colonialism from a queer of color lens. You can find more of their writing on Black Girl Dangerous and on Facebook and Tumblr. Read their articles here.