The Not So Colorful Side of the Rainbow – Racism on Gay Men’s Dating Apps

4 mins read

By Per Risberg

Thanks to the wonders of technology a casual hookup is no further than an app away. A simple message and an instant later you can be at a complete stranger’s house, or have a stranger at your house. Just to get some simple sexual pleasure. 

There is, naturally, a difference between what apps straight people and LGBTQ+ people use, and for what purpose. As I have understood, Tinder is used for hookups and dates for straights, whereas for male LBGTQ+, henceforth just ‘gay’, Tinder is reserved for serious dates (more or less), and apps like Grindr, amongst others, are used for casual hookups. 

As a user of both types, I actually feel blessed that I live in a time where being gay is so generally accepted that there are more apps than I can count on my two hands devoted to gays in search for a casual hookup. While mostly a positive experience, there are of course some backsides. In this piece of text I want to explore, comment and express my thoughts on one of those negative consequences – and that, guys, gals, and non-binary pals – is the rise of racism in the gay community. 

I think all other fellow Grindr using gays can relate when I say that more often than not when you enter a profile, the guy has some kind of biography that states his preferences. Often it is things like older or younger guys, slim or fat, hairy or smooth, and very often it’s framed in a way that says what he does NOT like, instead of what he likes. This is where we find the racism, which is expressed in different ways. Some guys are more blatant:  “No blacks”, “No Latinos”, “No Asians.” Some are less blatant and write things like: “No rice”, “No chocolate.” The problem is, however, not only contained to different guys’ bios. A defining feature of gay hookup apps is that you see everyone nearby, and can message everyone too – unlike Tinder where you have to match with each other first. Since seeing everyone would perhaps be a bit too much, there are filters. A filter can be for instance age, body type, single or in a relationship. A bit more of a questionable filter is ethnicity – you can enter what ethnicity you are, and then when looking at the homepage with guys nearby, you can filter so that you only see, or don’t see, certain ethnicities.  

I think we can all agree that this is a pretty bad phenomena – and with pretty bad I mean really bad. There is no question about that. What’s interesting is, however, why this came to be. Why the modern times has seen such a rise in racism in the gay community. I think that one obvious answer is that Grindr allows it. If you give people the choice to filter out any ethnicity you don’t like then people will use that for racist motives. One of my friends that I have talked with about this thought it might have to do with the fact that casual gay hookups are more available now, so you can be more picky. That in “the olden days” you, as a gay, had to take whoever you found in the bar or club, and since the times were not that forgiving not that many people were out or dared to go to possible outing venus, and thus you got what you got. Maybe there is something to it, but then again the olden days were also generally racist (not saying the modern times are not racist, too), and thus racist prefernces were perhaps not seen as racist. Maybe the racism we can see in the gay community now isn’t in reality new –  just that it has been given an opportunity to be expressed in more visible ways, and is more visible online since racism “IRL” is less accepted.

Then on the flipside of the coin we have those who instead of excluding different ethnicities actively seek them. One profile of a white guy on Grindr I saw said “Latinos to the front”. Is this racism, or only fetishization? Is fetishization racism? Since the goal, so to say, on apps like Grindr is pleasure, to what extent can we accept preferences that facilitate ways to find that pleasure? And are preferences solely based on looks or societal factors as well? I feel like these are questions that require years of study to be answered, and could possibly be grounds for a PhD. Nonetheless, today racism is framed as preferences and is therefore a problem.  An online problem with real-life implications. Non-white users experience, because of Grindr, lower self-esteem and lower life satisfaction, as a study by Michael Thai from 2019 has shown. 

Obviously, I am not arguing that racism only exists in the gay community, or that the gay community is the root of racism in society. It is a problem that encompasses all of society, and we must all help address it. And for us users of Grindr, just Grindr might be a good place to start, (or write an article about it for Uttryck). If you read the user guidelines you can see that racism is a clear violation of rules, and if reported will result in a ban. So if you, fellow gays, see something – say something. We would never allow someone to put up a sign out in public saying “No blacks”, so why would we online?

Illustration: Therése Lager

Per Risberg is a student of the Peace and Development program in Uppsala. Born and raised in the far North, he likes be outside in nature, and go downhill skiing. When there is no snow on the ground, he can instead be found drinking a nice glass (or two) of white wine on his french balcony, listening to his favourite Australian band “Cub Sport”.

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