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so, grindr has opened its doors to all – what does this mean?

In a radical move, the famous queer-specific dating app has become more inclusive by offering cis, trans, and other options to its users.

Jake Hall

This article was originally published by i-D UK.

Last week, Grindr announced a series of new features intended to make the famous queer-specific dating app more inclusive. Although a "trans tribe" has been present since 2013, these new changes further open up the app to GNC (gender non-conforming) and nonbinary users by offering various gender identity options — as well as an FAQ and the choice to add your own if you don’t see it listed. Cisgender women will also have a place on the app for the first time. It’s a radical move, but one which is both necessary and makes sense in the context of an app which has been singled out for discrimination — which it is increasingly aiming to tackle — in the past.

“Making Grindr even more trans-inclusive has been an ongoing process,” explains Marketing VP Peter Sloterdyk over email. “We introduced the "trans" tribe but later learned that wasn’t enough. Recently, at our annual Pride party, Slumbr, a number of trans individuals shared feedback with us about their experiences on Grindr — that’s what sparked this change. We wanted to get it right, and the only way to do so is through insight from the global trans community, feedback, and buy-in from global trans leaders.”

This ethos of inclusivity is admirable, as is Grindr’s willingness to acknowledge the problem and work alongside its trans users to make genuine progress. There is one key question, though — if a queer-specific app "opens up" to everyone, isn’t that specificity lost? It’s now possible for heterosexual hook-ups to happen on Grindr, which could leave some feeling jaded. “Grindr is focused on serving the LGBTQ community and all of the fabulous and varied identities that acronym includes,” says Sloterdyk when asked about the ambiguity of Grindr now being open to anyone. “We are thrilled that this new feature set takes that intention one step further.”

"There is one key question, though — if a queer-specific app "opens up" to everyone, isn’t that specificity lost? It’s now possible for heterosexual hook-ups to happen on Grindr, which could leave some feeling jaded."

For nonbinary student Mads, these changes are welcome. “I think it’s a good idea — you want to be able to be who you really are in every aspect of your life, dating/hook-up apps included,” they state via email. “It can also provide more options to find and connect with people like yourself, which is especially important if you live in a small town.” The presence of Grindr in countries which still persecute homosexuality (there are over 70 worldwide) also can’t be under-estimated; in these pockets of the world, the app enables the creation of queer communities that would otherwise be stifled by repressive, outdated laws, and state-sanctioned violence.

The app is also a relatively safe haven for women like author and trans-activist Juno Roche, whose debut book Queer Sex is due for release in April next year. In her eyes, the changes make sense and represent the first step on the road towards a “more sustainable, secure, sexually open space in which marginalized people can connect freely.”

Grindr has made positive steps in the realm of sexual health, allowing its users to state their last sexual health check and offering FAQs which explain terms like "undetectable." This refers to when the virus is present in the body but through treatment the viral load has been brought to an undetectable level and cannot be passed on to sexual partners even when unprotected, according the the US Centers for Disease Control. Juno does have some worries about the changes to Grindr — in particular that opening the app up will enable the same discrimination she experiences on other, non queer-specific platforms, including in regards to HIV understanding: “It does begin to muddy our subcultures, which is maybe fine, but I get a lot of shit on, say, Tinder. For me, Grindr at least gives me shortcuts like the "undetectable" category and a "tribe." That’s not to say it results in good sex, but at least nobody calls out my trans identity or calls me a whore for being HIV+.”

"With other dating apps I feel like a visitor who can be rejected at any time, mainly because I’m HIV+ but also because being trans makes you easy to reject on other apps. At least on Grindr I have a "tribe."

Although HIV can obviously affect anyone, its tragic place in queer history means that awareness of these conversations is arguably more prevalent within LGBTQ communities: “I think cis women might use these spaces because I’m sure they might like the safety that I feel as a trans woman,” Juno says, “but I would worry that opening it up would change the sense of cultural understanding that exists there. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a community -- we understand each other, and that makes us feel at home. With other dating apps I feel like a visitor who can be rejected at any time, mainly because I’m HIV+ but also because being trans makes you easy to reject on other apps. At least on Grindr I have a "tribe."

Still, the inclusion of cis women could help erode the undeniable misogyny still prevalent in the gay community. As conversations around women in gay bars and the ‘validity’ of female queens (spoiler — women and nonbinary people can be drag queens, too!) continue to be dogged by prejudice, these new changes highlight one often-ignored fact: queer women exist. Although currently in a long-term relationship with a woman, Louise Kealy identifies as bisexual and would happily use Grindr if she were single. “I do think it’s really good,” she says when told about the new changes. “I know lots of people have had problems with transphobic language and behavior which this could tackle, but I do feel like it opens the app up to straight, cis women scouring the app for a "gay best friend."

Rico Johnson-Sinclair echoes these concerns. Although he doesn’t state any personal feelings on the changes, he points out that many men use Grindr for its exclusivity: “It could lead to a whole host of unforeseen circumstances and even result in less gay men using the app — from my experience, the gay community is that way inclined. For the most part, I think they’ll see an increase in gay men buying Grindr Xtra (the app’s premium option) to use the filters — after all, the last thing a homosexual that rates "6" on the Kinsey scale wants to see when cruising for sex are women, and vice versa for women seeking men. Maybe that’s what the changes are actually about.”

It’s important to point out that straight men already use the app to find trans women, whereas trans men could already technically use the app, but only if they were gay or bisexual. These labels are significant in this particular context, but recent studies have named millennials the queerest generation ever. Aren’t these changes merely another indication that people are less fixated than ever on labels? Better still, this new inclusivity could help to tackle the gay community’s problem with discrimination and actually strengthen queer communities. After all, why would straight people bother to use a (still) queer-focused app when they have so many other options? “As we move towards a more sexually indecisive age, inviting cis women to Grindr makes it the ultimate sexual playground,” says Johnson-Sinclair. He’s right. As today’s youth continues to broaden its horizons and become less focused on labels, this new fluid approach to queer dating seems more timely than ever. It is literally — to quote the popular meme — the future that liberals want.