this lgbtq facebook group is attacking grindr racism (and me)
Why Grindr Aesthetics is both a positive and negative addition to the LGBTQ community.
When I first heard about Grindr Aesthetics, it seemed like the virtual safe space every LGBTQ person needs. The private Facebook group, which has over 9,000 members, serves multiple functions. It can transform into a place to vent about microaggressions one second, a forum to debate pop music politics the next, and a platform to create friendships right after that.
Grindr Aesthetics didn’t start off this multifaceted, first launching in April 2016. It began as, and still is, primarily a place to post screenshots of absurd, offensive, and toxic messages received on Grindr. One heavily-liked screenshot sees two men messaging back and forth about hooking up, and then one of them gets trapped in a garage and asks the other for help. The boy trapped in the garage never gets a response. “This slight against your neighbor won't be easily forgotten,” the poster sends once he’s freed by someone else. The moment quickly becomes a popular joke within the group and is referenced over and over again for days in the most nonsensical of ways. When I asked the members of Grindr Aesthetics for suggestions on this article, one commented, “Talk about how garages have ruined our sense of community.” After I asked what “garage” was referring to, I was told I was unqualified to write about the group — despite being a member for months.
“I guess journalism is writing about things you don’t understand to get brownie points with your boss,” someone wrote.
The birth of this insider “garage” joke is a perfect illustration of how Grindr Aesthetics is both a positive and negative addition to the LGBTQ community. Yes, the group can be a safe space — but it can also be a finger-pointing clique. Shortly after asking what “garage” was and defending the effort I had put into this piece, I was banned from the group. “I vote for a ban TBH let them write about how they got banned from GA without the consent of the active members. That would be fierce. Please do it!”
It would be nice to think the taunts I received on Grindr Aesthetics were an anomaly. That I had just not found the right online queer community. But for me, and many other queer men, a lot of the times it feels like there is no online queer community for us — much less an IRL one. Queer people of color often get reduced to one-dimensional fetishes on dating apps. Sometimes you get hit with discrimination before you even say hello. Bios reading “No fats, femmes, asians, or blacks” on Grindr are unfortunately oh too common.
In 2013, the LGBT publication The Advocate explored if gay men are a gay man’s worst enemy. The article examined the popularity of wisecracks and gossip in gay groups, almost to determent. Need an example? Look at how queer-beloved shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race Show and The Real Housewives place a distinct emphasis on shade throwing. The same vernacular — like “drag” and “sis” — used by the reality stars were also being heavily thrown around on Grindr Aesthetics. At times, it was hard to tell if the comments were jokes or bullying. It often felt like both. Eventually I realized Grindr Aesthetics was just as toxic as Grindr, the very space it was trying to provide refuge from. This raises the question: Why do LGBTQ online apps and groups so frequently see the bullied become the bullies?
“I think sometimes you can see bad callout culture or virtue signaling,” Nikolas, a 26-year-old from Bath, says over email about Grindr Aesthetics. “People calling people out on stuff, not to educate, or to create a safer space, but because they think it makes them look cool and/or woke, when actually they might be doing the opposite.”
Even though the group has its flaws, Grindr Aesthetics is a crucial venting space for Nikolas.
“I post on there every time I have an unsettling, disturbing, or bizarre interaction on Grindr,” they say. When I ask Nikolas how frequently they receive and post these off-putting messages, I receive a sobering answer. “Like, once a week?” Nikolas is not alone in their frustrations with the Grindr app. Many users have a complex love/hate relationship with the hookup and dating platform — especially if they aren’t white, masculine, fit, and/or cisgendered. A 2018 study found that 77% of Grindr users feel unhappy after using the app.
“Grindr is a mirror for the LGBTQ+ community,” Nikolas says, speaking on the toxicity of Grindr. “When we look into it we see the festering racism, sexism, ableism, and transphobia that is embedded in our movement. By calling this out on a platform like Grindr Aesthetics, we're creating awareness of the problem, support for those who suffer it, and a space where it will not be tolerated.”
Nikolas is right. There is a distinct feeling of empowerment when you share the ludicrous and and absurd parts of queer life and dating — nuances your straight friends might not understand — on Grindr Aesthetics and are able to get real-time feedback. Grindr Aesthetics also stands out for making it possible to be connected to the LGBTQ community anytime, anyplace. Julian, a 22-year-old student in Montreal, says this about Grindr Aesthetics: “It has been a place to seek a feeling of solidarity and community around a virtual space like Grindr, which can sometimes feel like the loneliest place in the world, despite the hundreds of other people it connects you with.”
The founder of Grindr Aesthetics envisaged the group being a retreat from the slew of microaggressions a Grindr user can come across on the app. A “support group” you might say. “[Grindr Aesthetics] is a place where you can vent that simply doesn’t exist in real life, especially in smaller, rural areas,” founder Andrew Terenzi said in an interview last year. “There’s a million think pieces out there that claim millennials are the most disconnected generation because of the internet… But if you’re a person who is already disconnected from society because of your queer or marginalized identity, you have more to gain from internet spaces that have the power to connect you to others that are also overlooked by society.”
But Grindr Aesthetics is not a digital queer utopia. Many of the queer friends I talked to said, sometimes, the group made them feel more disconnected from society. As if one cool kid table had simply been replaced with another. There is a lot of confrontation and heated responses to problematic behavior on the site. However, holding nuanced dialogues and education about how to fix the mistakes is not as popular. But rash reactions and searing digs are. One source recollected a time when a white member swiftly got banned from the group after he posted a gif of NeNe Leakes, because others felt it was racist.
However, some appreciate this kind of education. “Grindr Aesthetics is a place where people not only call the screenshotted people they are ridiculing or critiquing out, but call each other out,” Julian says. “Especially when I first joined, I learned so much about how deeply embedded the fetishization of POC are in the gay world, and how something as innocuous sounding as ‘What’s your background?'” can be deeply problematic coded language that facilitates the normalization of white supremacy in a hypersexualized space like Grindr.”
Perhaps members of Grindr Aesthetics are so passionate about curbing offensive comments and posts because they are working to undo not only bad behavior within the queer community, but also bad ways of thinking and being. It has been found that Grindr changes the psyche of its users. Dr. Joel Anderson, a social psychologist who teaches at Australia Catholic University, conducted a study on this. He examined how the app influences users to place a higher priority on the appearance of their bodies, versus the health of them. Dr. Anderson tells i-D: “We found that [users] who have pictures where they are topless are higher on a psychological factor called self-objectification – a process in which an individual places priority on their appeal or the looks of their body over its utility (e..g., muscles for looking hot rather than for being healthy) and [appeal] over their humanity.”
This process not only changes how users view themselves, but also how they treat other queer men. “We also found that people who use Grindr, compared to those who do not, objectify others to a higher degree – thus being less concerned with protecting their partners or being concerned about their feelings, needs, wants, etc.,” Dr. Anderson shares over email. In many ways, the users of Grindr Aesthetics are fighting to bring back a touch of humanity and empathy to online LGBT online spaces. To create a world where the first message you receive on Grindr isn’t “BBC?” (The second message being a nude, of course.) However, the attacks I faced on Grindr Aesthetics and the insecurities they birthed make me unsure if the group is really advancing inclusion and acceptance or further preventing them.
There’s a problem: the members of Grindr Aesthetics seem to be torn on exactly how the LGBT community can be made better and stronger. There were mixed responses to me writing this piece. Some felt it would ruin the group. “No good/remuneration can come of this,” one person commented. While others eagerly volunteered or privately messaged me their thoughts. The fact I dared to dissent from the consensus and argue why spotlighting the group to mainstream society — to highlight that queers can bond over more than sex — immediately bought scorn upon me. I didn’t have very long to argue my point, either. Only two minutes after pointing out other publications were pitching this same story, I was blocked. I had been kicked out from yet another queer safe space.
I wonder: If I was trapped in a garage, how many people from Grindr Aesthetics would try to rescue me?