Many interactions on Grindr, the ubiquitous gay dating app, follow a script. There’s the inevitable “sup,” followed by “into?” and maybe — if you’re lucky — a “horny” thrown in for good measure. This game of masculine posturing can be torturous for both parties, like being forced to talk about football at a drag show. But, blessed be, there is a refuge: a place you can turn to that’s filled with other gay brothers and sisters who are just as fed up as you are by the limits the Grindr chat box prescribes. It’s called “Grindr Aesthetics,” and it’s a private, 6,000 member-strong Facebook group for gays who’ve had enough.
Through the group, I’ve learned, among other things, that I’ve been using the dating app all wrong. Grindr, it turns out, is not a restrictive place at all, but an online venue for testing new standup material, sharing brutally honest confessions, and dismantling barbed declaratives (“no fats!”) with style and grace. It’s about embracing being femme in a masc4masc world and, sometimes, scaring away hookups by telling them all about your mental health issues. In the past few days, I’ve become enthralled by the Grindr user who lures other men into fidget spinning on his dick, and another who told his archeologist date, “study me bones.” The gay bar may be dead, but grindr aesthetics is a salon where touching, bracing, ridiculous stories can be shared about the great gay bar in the sky.
Of course, there’s also plenty of heartbreak to share — unsurprisingly, the app that inspired the blog “Douchebags of Grindr” can really get under people’s skins. I’ve read about people being ghosted after sending their first racy picture (seems to be a common occurrence!) and the scalding racism, transphobia and Islamophobia on the app. (These are stories you’re probably not going to read about in Grindr’s new online magazine, “Into.”)
More recently, Grindr Aesthetics seems to be undergoing a politicization not unlike the gay community writ large; There’ve been more and more posts about companies that obscure unsavory business practices by touting their record on LGBT rights, police brutality at Pride rallies, as well as dirty memes that reference communism scattered amongst the clever retorts and galling screengrabs.
That’s just fine with Andrew Terenzi, the Brooklynite software engineer who founded the forum in April of 2016 as an offshoot of the since-shuttered Facebook group “Post-Aesthetics,” which analyzed memes and Internet culture. Terenzi envisioned a place where he could dissect funny Grindr screenshots with friends as well as post about the social issues du jour. “I wanted the group to mostly be fun but also [a place] for support and solidarity,” he said.
In many ways, the group operates like other radical queer spaces online — certain threads ask users to describe their gender identity with pictures of famous people or to post their appreciations for trans boys. But while many threads begin with a TW for “trigger warning,” others seem to be lightly mocking Tumblr outrage. Grindr, it turns out, is filled with people who care about social justice, but don’t want to be dicks about it.
At least, that’s how I’ve been absorbing the group. Another way of reading the online community is that it’s a place to build one’s sexual capital and score dates. A 20-something user in New York says that when anyone in the group who looks cool or cute comments, he sees if he can buy them a drink (as long as they’re in the same city as him). He said he’s also made lots of platonic friends as well as “people I meet from Australia or somewhere I’ll never go who are really cool and cute that I just want to talk to and gush over.”
Garrett Allen, one of the group’s moderators, says them and others try to ensure that the group doesn’t become one long selfie thread, which can be a challenge: ”It’s kind of like being a party host — making sure everyone is happy but also that problematic things are not happening often,” they said.
Dispiriting interactions on Grindr often become a catalyst for lively group discussions, like when one user who’d been shamed for not liking anal asked group members whether it was normal to be gay and hate penetrative sex (to which a resounding chorus replied: YES!). Another user posted a useful critique of Grindr etiquette. “Does anybody else get upset when you politely say no to a hookup because you have work/class back to back or family in town and they keep pestering you with ‘just be late’ or ‘sneak away’ or ‘ditch class’?” the post reads. “Like I’m not going to ruin my career, lose money or piss off my family because you want your dick sucked. I appreciate that you really want me specifically to do it, but it’s going to be a no for me thanks.”
It’s especially surprising when an anonymous hookup reveals themselves to be genuinely classy, like the man who wrote to one of the group’s members after a date, “I wanna apologize that we hooked up and I didn’t know I was poz and that I put you at risk,” an admission that drew cheers from group members.
Mostly, though, Grindr Aesthetics seems to be a refuge for those who’ve had alienating, infuriating or just plain lackluster encounters on the app. After all, when you’re rejected by a racist, or when a strangely behaving sugar daddy asks you to go on his boat, or when you’re thinking of hooking up with a guy who can’t form complete sentences, sometimes it’s good to get your impulse control disorder in check and snag a second opinion from your peers.
Like other forums that put dating app douchebags on blast, Grindr Aesthetics is both a meta commentary on the ids of strangers and a support group for those suffering from dating app fatigue. And while posting a screengrab of your most recent interaction in a Facebook group — even with the offender’s name blacked out — might not be the nicest thing you can do, sometimes it’s the least worst option.