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The following text reflects an encounter I had on the gay dating and hook up app Grindr, during my travels in Southeast Asia this winter.
Traveling alone as a gay cis-man, I discovered that using dating apps like Scruff or Grindr really can ease off some of my feelings of loneliness, that came up. Also it opens up a lot of information and I met some really nice people along my trip, not for sex but for just meeting up and traveling together. Also I had interesting conversations and encounters with locals and could learn about their experiences as queer / gay men in different countries.
So I realized that using the apps gives me a lot of very interesting information. Also being on Scruff and Grindr I get in contact with guys that normally I would never meet. From an intersectional perspective in that sense – funny enough – using the app actually is a medium and social space where class or social groups still play a powerful role, but are somewhat disabled at the same time.
For instance the whole power structure of white supremacy / racism, masculinity and body fascism / toxicity, misogyny are super out and in the open on the apps. People’s seem to be on their worst behavior.
At the same time for me – I also chat and sometimes meet up with guys, whom I probably wouldn’t meet otherwise, because we don’t really share a lot of similarities except for being gay/bi or attracted to men*/queers and on these apps. That is a privilege of being a cisgender gay man for sure, since for trans* and non-binary folks those apps are far more dangerous, or simply rude and excluding.
For me – like many other folks using dating apps, I have quite a challenging relationship to them. I feel like some gay men can work with this “meat hunting” approach, for me and many others it is always a conflicting process. As an empath and spiritual guy, I need some connection and warmth, and see and meet other people in a holistic way, not just as a flesh of meat. That stands quite in contrast on how these apps are built.
At the same time, I am also turned on by this objectification, the pictures and people who are emotionally detached. So just being on those apps brings up a whole lot of feelings within me and still I use them in phases again and again.
So on dating apps I chat and negotiate a potential contact mostly on basis of sexual attractions and desires. Often I know that a guy is probably not really a match with me in a social setting and we would not have anything to talk about. I often feel ashamed about getting turned on by profiles, that emotionally aren’t attractive for me and seem quite „douche-baggy“. I also feel angry and often block them, because I can’t stand seeing them in my feed. Other times I ignore these profiles, but sometimes also I text them and see what happens, just out of curiosity and wanting to play a bit. I don’t really believe that something could come out of a chat with such a guy. In any case in my mid-range hotel in Kuala Lumpur on my first night the following tale happened:
The profile that is next to me sends me a message. They say that we seem to be very close. The distance on Grindr says 1m. So I guess we have to be in the same hotel. The Profile shows a picture of a muscular torso in a tank top, but no face picture. There are stats in the profile and a text that says that one should send a face pic for chatting / when interested and that they are looking for masculine people for fun.
I respond to the person and he sends me some pictures of him. He looks fucking hot. He is a really buff guy, like a body builder and has a cute handsome face. He introduces himself as Arwan. We chat a bit and he wants to know if I’m top or bottom and stuff like this. His messages are short and from the sort of interaction, when it is about total anonymous and feelings-detached sex. I answer that I am more into connection and that I like to see how things go. To my surprise, he is still texting after that. I didn’t expect anything to happen, so out of curiosity I just ask him, if he wants to meet up. He says that he has a room with two single beds, so I invite him to my room, as I have a queen size bed in my room. He agrees and says he will be up in 5 minutes. I feel a rush of excitement and anxiety throughout my body. Like often when I am on the app, I am physically shaking and feel very nervous. I ask myself if that was the right thing to do, if I want to engage in this risky setting, but ultimately decide to go along anyway.
I hear a knock on the door and let him in. I still feel very nervous. I offer him a tea, since I made one for myself. Arwan sits on the bed and I sit next to him, trying to make small talk. We chat about the hotel and the room. He lies down on his back and I move closer to him, caressing his body a bit. I learn that he is from Indonesia. Since I am going there, I asked him which island he is from. He lives in central Sumatra, Padang and also mentions that he is 37 years old and works as a personal trainer in a fitness center. I didn’t even think consciously about it, but realized automatically that the chance that he is living an open queer life there is basically zero.
Since I was there twice, I learned how traditional society in Sumatra is and also that the economic situation and social structure are very challenging and make it very hard to survive without marrying and living in hetero normative structures. I just felt that there is something and out of me gut I heard myself ask the question „Are you married?“
He seemed to feel a bit exposed and answered that he has a girl friend but that they are not married. I asked him if he is bisexual, what he confirms. I then ask, what his girlfriend thinks he is doing. He tells me that she thinks he is visiting friends. He tells me that he wants to explore his sexual interests in men.
After this small exchange Anwar basically just lied on his stomach and looked up the sky. I feel how he tenses up. I try to ask him a few questions and pat him on his belly and chest. I ask him, how he is doing right now and apologized if I said something that offended him.
Anwar says that he feels unwell in his stomach,but that all is okay. He puts my hand on his still hard cock and feels me up in between my legs. I am not hard at all. I feel sexually excited by the beauty and hotness of this man next to me, but not aroused at all by this situation and having sex with somebody, without the consent of their partner. Since there is an akward silence, and he still complains about his stomach, I ask him if he would prefer to go back to his room and take care of his pain. He says it’s fine and continues to lye on our bed.
I feel how there is a huge power imbalance between us and how I am in the position of power. Also I realize and physically feel how difficult it must be, to be him, and to live in his life circumstances. I tried to connect with him, beyond the sexual script talk and hook up behavior and revealed that he is actually about to betray his girlfriend, who probably has no idea what is going on.
We both hear his stomach making noises. Luckily after a couple of minutes Anwar says he should probably leave. I agree, walk him to the door and after maybe 15 or 20min our encounter ended.
I am left with a feeling of confusion, feeling sorry, awkward, bad and wondering if I crossed a boundary or line and and also still feeling sexually aroused. With a lot of confusion I went to bed.
The next day I have a Facebook call with one of my closest friends, let’s call him Billy. We were actually talking about white supremacy and colonialism and how I experience Malaysia and the colonial structures there and in Asia as a white European.
After a bit of serious talk, we felt like switching the conversation to something lighter, so I told Billy the story about Anwar. Somehow I presented the story just as a crazy tale of what’s happening in my life on Grindr, and how again I am unable to play to game of gay hook up culture.
But then, the conversation became very deep again. Billy mentioned to me, that actually he thinks that Anwar felt so uncomfortable, because I had seen him, for who he was as a person. I was interested in his life situation and didn’t just treat him like a peace of meat, and executed some porn-style-sexual script. We could have just had sex without any talk, without his „secret“ being revealed, but that is not how I work. My empath and highly sensitive personality just striked right there again.
I felt immediately how uncomfortable he was, and tried to make him and me more at ease. I also immediately realized that he maybe is bisexual but maybe also gay and that in his life situation, there is no possibility for him to live openly as a gay or bisexual man.
Talking with my friend I realized that Anwar wanted to go along the sexual script of “Top, Bottom, who will stick his dick into who’s asshole”, as in his life there is no other possibility for same-sex sexual connections, then that. If he was opening himself up to the possibility of having intimate, connected, emotional sex with me, that would maybe make his life very difficult, if not unbearable.
Billy and me realized that most probably Anwar has to repress all these feelings, in order to survive in his hetero normative life circumstances. He outlives his gay parts in a raw, sexual manner, which doesn’t touch his emotional side, because it is the only outlet that he has. I, by seeing him and his whole person for what it is, threatened most likely this security and of course I killed all sexual vibes.
So instead of sharing an “unsuccessful” attempt of trying to hook up, Nik and me were astonished to see again how patriarchal and oppressive structures are highly potent, that they create such distanced, emotion-depraved, and somewhat toxic interactions on Grindr, as I just experienced.
I was astonished. All of this is not new information to me. I used to work as an activist for years teaching and reflecting on power structures, cis-heteronormativity and internalized homo- and transphobia.
But being physically so close to this guy and having become so much more emotionally open with my spiritual process, I sort of „felt“ this oppression directly in my body. It was so powerful to have this experience. One of the homophobic ideas I grew up with, is that gay men care only about fucking and have no or little capacity for long lasting intimate relationships.
I see again how fucked up this idea is. The society which oppresses us, killed and still kills some of us, shames us, is actually creating the circumstances in which gay/bi/flexible men then manifest such behavior. And then some straight homophobic assholes shame us again for it, instead of apologizing for the violence that they and the system impose. How fucked up!
We talked about what impact this encounter might had on Anwar. We think that he probably doesn’t meet people like me very often. Probably most of his sexual encounters are within these detached- porn-skript hook ups. I wonder how Anwar felt after our encounter. Maybe he was frustrated or angry or ashamed? Maybe he didn’t think about it for another second? Nik pointed out to me that maybe I did something really powerful.
I “saw” Anwar as a human being in his fullness and not just as a quick fuck for my satisfaction. I was open and curious about him. I tried to connect with him, I showed him, that I was interested in him and his life.
We often don’t know what the effect of our action is. Maybe Anwar was not thinking about me or this situation any longer and continues his life in the exact same way. Maybe thou on some subconscious level, he experienced that queer men* can interact with one another in another way, then he is used to and some day, in some situation that knowledge will manifest somehow in his life. Maybe also I caused him suffering, because it was a bit more difficult to suppress his queerness again in order to survive in his life circumstances back home.
I also reflected on what is happening there in terms of consent and power imbalance. What did we both agree on? Was there consent in me bringing up personal stuff? It is most probably not consensual towards his girlfriend/wife to hook up with anonymous men. It is definitely not consensual to me. I don’t want to have sex with a person, who then maybe feels shame or guilt because the sex was a betrayal towards their partner.
Can there be real consent between me as a white westerner with all my privileges? I just travel around a bit and then go back to my safe, secure and open life, that I can live. Anwar is most probably relatively privileged within his social context, but still in a total different position then me.
It is so crazy how fucked up these power structures and inequalities are, and how through airplanes and social media, these factors can manifest in an attempted gay hook up after 22:30 on a weekday-evening in an medium-budget chain-style hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
I felt really weird and emotionally agitated after my phone call with my friend. But then also I remembered something that I discuss a lot with my friends, who are „empaths“. Sometimes we feel as if “we” highly sensitive people or empath folks „work“ all the time. If perceiving and connecting with feelings and issues that structure and rule our lives, is considered work, then it feels to me as if I’d work all the time.
Although it often feels challenging to be this way and often I feel stressed, inadequate and weird in our society, it is such a gift as well, since even hooking up on Grindr can turn out as such deep and critical event in my life.