The other evening I had one of my epiphanies? It was nothing life changing, mind you, just an interesting observation/theory about the baser instincts of gay men.
What if the number of crude opening lines I’d received over the course of a week or so on Grindr had less to do with the application itself and more to do with what I wearing wearing in my photo on it. Make that, not wearing.
In the photo, I’m shirtless and wearing low-rise jeans allowing for a bit of peek-a-boo underwear action. But because of Apple’s standards of decency — no visible underwear, period — you can only see me from the waist up. So for all anyone knows, I might be wearing nothing at all.
Could it be, I asked out loud, that people were taking one look at the photo and assuming that I was after only one thing? In the previous 24 hours alone, the opening remarks thrown my way had run the gamut from “hi” to “you got big black dick?” to “do you want to f**k me?”! Maybe, like the rape victim in the eyes of some truly twisted people, I was getting exactly what I was asking for.
The person sitting across from me, considered, but not for long. “I don’t think so,” he offered. “All of those websites and applications are the same: Grindr, Manhunt, Gaydar…” He mentioned a few other ones I’d never even heard of. “Guys go there looking for sex, so they’ll say anything.” In fact, he said, he found it kind of refreshing. At least you knew where they stood from the beginning. And anything was better than those boring “hi” openers.
I understood where he was coming from, which, in my humble and shirtless opinion, still doesn’t make it less crude. Though I have no idea what goes on with most of the sites he mentioned, I am familiar with Manhunt and Gaydar. I’ve been asked all of the expected questions on both: “Top or bottom?” “What are you looking for?” “Is it true what they say about black men?”
And far far worse. I’ve written about it on this very blog. Yes, I’ve read just about everything. But on Manhunt, I’ve found that there’s generally a bit more content — at least coming from users who aren’t on mobile devices and can more easily type more than a few words at a time. “You got big black dick” doesn’t seem quite so bad with two or three sentences surrounding it.
That said, for me, on Grindr, there was a shocking increase in shocking vulgarity. As I had been told by the comedian in Melbourne who’d written an entire stand-up act called “Grindr: A Love Story?,” there’s something about Grindr. Like all of those other forums, most guys go there in search of one thing only, but something about this particular format encourages extreme behavior (which might hold true for other meat-and-greet mobile-device apps, none of which I’ve actually used yet).
Perhaps, I considered, this is just how things are in Bangkok. It’s a city whose name is almost synonymous with sex (it’s even pronounced Bang-COCK!), a place where guys will walk up to you in a bar and grab your crotch. Maybe it had nothing to do with what I was wearing — excuse me, wasn’t wearing — in the photo.
Part of me remained doubtful, though. I spent a couple of days pondering my hypothesis while fielding vulgar come on after vulgar come on. On the third day, I decided to try an experiment. I switched the shirtless photo with a far more modest one in which I’m seated at a dinner table, the only thing naked being my head and my arms.
The first thing I noticed was a dramatic decrease in activity. Over the first 12 hours or so, only about five guys messaged me at all. Maybe the new photo wasn’t that attractive. Perhaps, it was just a slow Grindr day. Nobody called me “hot” or “sexy.” Everybody opened with a simple “hello,” except for one guy.
Him: “Hey, man, where are you from?”
Me: “hey, i’m from the u.s. u?”
Him: “From indonesia. U work here?”
Me: “sort of. i’m a writer.”
Him: “What do u write?”
I couldn’t believe what I wrote next.
Me: “google jeremy helligar and find out! :)”
That stupid smiley face and my arrogance surprised even me! Maybe I was so accustomed to coming up with clever responses to that tired old “Is it true what they say about black men?” question, and old habits were dying hard. More than likely, I was just tired of answering that work question online and offline.
Also, typing on an Ipod Touch keypad is murder, so I wanted to keep my responses short and brief. But if I really put all kidding myself aside, I was probably partly trying to impress him and partly trying to get rid of him. Who would bother to check something like that?
Moments later, he responded.
Him: “Get out! You wrote for People mag and Entertainment Weekly???”
You would think he’d just witnessed the second parting of the Red Sea. He went on to name EW‘s two movie critics, who have been with the magazine seemingly since the first parting of the Red Sea. He couldn’t believe I knew them.
Him: “I read Entertainment weekly religiously, man! I even have a copy right now from jakarta. This is huge!”
Now he was really saying something. I liked him already. A former devotee of Premiere magazine, he turned to EW after it folded. Now he was as addicted to it in Jakarta, where he works in advertising (his “day job,” as he put it, which had brought him to Bangkok) and writes a movie column for a local magazine, as I was in the ’90s, years before I was hired as a senior editor there.
Our exchange went on, until I couldn’t bear to type another letter on that ridiculous keypad. Not once was there any talk of tops, bottoms, “fun” (that annoying Asian euphemism for sex), or dicks. By the end of the conversation, at which time we agreed to meet up at some point before his Saturday departure to share war stories, I was wondering if we would have had it, if he would have messaged me at all, if he would have cared what I do for a living, if I hadn’t changed my photo.
Maybe it still didn’t matter. After all, I’ve gotten crude comments when I’ve been standing fully clothed on a sidewalk. But maybe it did, and if this was a preview of what was to come if I kept my clothes on, maybe Grindr wasn’t so bad, after all. Better much less attention than the unwanted kind, or having to answer that dreaded question yet again: Is it true what they say about black men?
If you’re rude enough to ask, chances are you’ll never find out!