The World of Grindr and Scruff
Back when I first started exploring what I sheepishly called “my hugging thing” (there’s an interesting story if you don’t know it) I tried to find hugging partners using Craigslist ads. That was actually reasonably productive, although if you’ve ever done anything at all through Craigslist, you know that an ad produces (let’s see if I can find a kind way to say this) “the widest possible swath of humanity and a diversity of responses.”
There was a point where I no longer used Craigslist because I had more potential practice partners than I knew what to do with. But as Touch Practice morphed from a personal practice to a spiritual practice that I felt called and encouraged to share with others I began to think about how to let other people find out about it. And when the teaching and workshop phase of Touch Practice emerged, letting others know became even more important.
It was at that point that one of my brothers and mentors encouraged me to create a website, and helped me do that. But getting people to the website was another issue. And it was right around that time that mobile apps, like Grindr and Scruff, came onto the scene. So I have a profile on each, which points to either my Touch Practice website, or my Facebook page, and helps people find those sites. It also helps people connect with me personally when I’m traveling in their area.
The online app world is really its own world; I’m certain it is the subject of numerous doctoral theses investigating aspects of sociology, sexuality, and to be honest, psychopathology. It is a world where I have met people who later moved into my closest circle of lifelong friends, as well as some of the most brutally unkind people I’ve ever met–or, fortunately, not met.
Because I could write so much about my online experience, I have to pick just one facet for today’s blog, so I think I will write about predictors, things I have learned to notice early on that indicate the likelihood of a positive, satisfying encounter, or else serve as “red flags”. These aren’t rules, but they are things that I have learned to trust, a kind of sixth sense around meeting people, that derive from hundreds of meetings.
1: Judgment. Getting an immediate negative judgment from someone after three lines of text is a very bad sign. Any person who thinks that they can take in three lines of text from another human being and render an evaluative moral judgment of that person is either incredibly shallow, immature, or lacking self-awareness. Life is complex, as are morality and sexuality.
So running into things like “you’re married?????” or “why don’t you just come out?” or “are you masculine” (on what scale, scored how?) are signs that the other person has compromised capacity to relate to who you actually are: they’re scoring you against some pre-made image that resides in their imagination.
(As a kick-my-own-ass example from a few weeks ago: I made an immediate judgment of someone who asked me three or four times, “are you discreet?” “you’re sure you’re discreet?” “privacy is very important to me, no one can know” and “you won’t tell anyone will you?” And I was thinking, “all of this to hug each other for an hour? You have to be kidding. What’s the big deal? It’s 2014, why don’t you just come out already?”)
Well the big deal is that this guy lives in a country in the Middle East where if he were to come out during his stay in the US, and people were to find out about it, he’d likely be tortured and executed when he returned home. That is kind of a big deal. It’s not anything I had a right to judge; I did not have enough information to judge. His position now strikes me as entirely reasonable.
Start from the assumption that everyone’s position is entirely reasonable, including your own.
Oh, and if you want to inhabit an online world where people don’t make immediate judgments? Be the change you wish to see in the world. Walk the walk. Change your own behavior and watch the world change around you, in response to you. I’ll say it again: brothers, let us love one another, and no, there are no exemptions just because you’re online. Love is love.
2: The grocery list. When the conversation begins, “hairy or smooth? Waist? Chest? married to a man or a woman?” it’s not a good sign. What makes for our ability to connect to each other, whether you’re meeting online for Touch Practice, coffee, a shared hobby or sex (it doesn’t matter) is the openness to relate and respond to the person you are actually with, not the image in your mind. These kinds of checklists indicate the person has already formed a pretty clear image in their mind of who they want to meet. Let me tell you something: they will never, ever meet that person. Never. That person literally does not exist.
Now, they may settle for meeting 70 percent of that imaginary person, or 80 percent, and go away thinking, “well, that was pretty good….” But this is tragic, because these people will go through life always meeting 70 or 80 or 90 percent of something in their imagination, and at each meeting, they miss the wonder of meeting 100 percent of who happens to show up and be in the room with them. Taking in and paying attention to 100 percent of any real human being is so much more satisfying than spending time with 70 percent of something imaginary.
This is so clear to me now that I just don’t understand why people get stuck in that rut–it’s so obviously unfulfilling and frustrating. But I know many people who are chasing after their imaginary image, hoping to actually find that in some other human being.
3: Face pic? Unless I have enormous blocks of time to kill, am bored, am online for entertainment value only or otherwise looking to fritter away time, I rarely respond to people who lead with this, only because I have had this experience over and over again.
My experience is that people who are willing to meet without sharing or asking for face pics have significant capacity to connect. They realize that there are many different kinds of faces in the world and that we don’t connect with our faces; we connect with our hearts. If someone is willing to meet me without knowing what I look like, and if they don’t feel compelled to show me what they look like, it’s a very good sign that they are looking for connection, and have the ability to do it.
On the other hand, a person who can’t have a conversation without seeing what I look like very likely has a specific image in their mind of “what’s attractive,” and again, the chances that anyone will perfectly fulfill someone else’s internal, imaginary image are zero. You might get 90 percent of the way there, but you will be with someone who is merely appreciating your ability to fit 90 percent of their fantasy, not someone who is appreciating any percentage of you. You’re merely a masturbatory image, posing, taking the form they created for you before you showed up. That’s not my idea of a good time.
So, what’s the upshot of all of this? For those of you who are willing to assume the missionary position: go forth! These apps among others are fertile ground for those of you willing and able to further a world where men love men. These are places waiting for ministry and in need of love. These are places that would be transformed by kindness, by openness, by the practice of warmly receiving each other just as we are.
My experience is that men who have deep, active spiritual practice or who are genuinely connected in communities of men often avoid these kinds of online venues categorically, either because they reject them as ineffective or faulty in some way, or because they simply have no need or interest. And, it’s possible that some people, perhaps even most people, are on these apps simply to look for sex.
But my experience suggests to me that there are many people on these apps looking for a possibility of connection, and sex is not connection. It can be, but often is not; sex is not the only way to connection, and it is often not the most effective way, especially with someone you have just met.
Those of you whose lives involve caring for men, who are social workers, ministers, massage therapists, researches, huggers, lovers, all of you who imagine contributing to a world where men love men, there are opportunities to do that everywhere. There are men looking for connection and community everywhere. Love is a real and powerful force everywhere, a force that, in the end, trumps fear and hatred. Even on Grindr!
Have thoughts you’d like to share?
Touch Practice is a sacred practice for me, and part of that is keeping confidences sacred. While a name and e-mail address are required to post a comment, feel free to use just your first name, or a pseudonym if you wish. Your e-mail address will never be seen by or shared with anyone. It is used to prevent spam and inappropriate comments from appearing in the blog. I’d really like to hear from you!