05/12/2015 03:58 pm ET | Updated May 12, 2016

Grindr Is Digitizing the Labelling of Gay Men


Grindr CEO Joel Simkhai.

Grindr, the most popular LGBTQ mobile dating app, is now encouraging the labelling of its users. The smartphone app has been around since March 2009 and has claimed to serve over 5 million active users -- whether they're out or closeted. The service has easily become the most popular way to meet other gay men in your vicinity. It can also prove an invaluable tool for those in need of sex (or romance?).

The social network earned its success by beating out newer geolocational based mobile dating apps (cough Tinder cough) in providing instant text and photo-based messaging to nearby users. The app even can tell you how many hundreds of feet away a potential rendezvous is! It's hard not to wonder if this gay-centric app inspired the other popular mobile dating services we see today.

And because of the constant need to improve a user's experience, the company introduced the profiling system of Grindr Tribes in October of 2013.

These tribes, which are optional, display how a Grindr user categorizes themself. They include terms that are often tossed around among gay men: 'Jock,' 'geek,' 'rugged,' 'twink,' 'otter' and 'discreet.' Without going into too much detail: I'll say that most of the available terms refer to someone's physical appearance.

Even better, Grindr is updating its app so you can more easily sift through their throng of tribes. For instance, you'll be able to search by tribe to find what Grindr calls "your type of guy." You can also filter the people you see around you based on their tribe. One caveat is that a user is able to identify with multiple Grindr tribes if they wish. So you might end up finding a 'rugged twink jock geek' in your searches. Anyone else see a contradiction?

Point is, to use the app fully it's more important than ever to be in a Grindr tribe. Which brings up the issue of Grindr tribes -- coming from labels that predate the app -- as social constructs.

'Jock' and 'geek' brings to mind a more heteronormative lifestyle. Unearthing a desperation of the gay community to fit into mainstream society. However, the most problematic of these labels is 'discrete.' Its a label that permits Grindr users to remain closeted while still openly seeking gay sex. A trend you see much too often in the app. It's a bit disturbing to think that a service for the gay community directly encourages people to hide their sexuality.

But there is an overarching theme that goes beyond the openly closeted community on Grindr. Gays labelling one other.

Before the LGBTQ community began to come out of the closet, the terminology that described gays was assigned by oppressive heterosexuals (and of course the occasional closet case). Labels like 'fag' or 'queer' -- which the gay community has impressively taken pride in -- are just a few of many examples. Is the desire for gays to label one other a continuation of the vicious cycle that oppressed them? And is Grindr making a mistake by feeding into it?