My straight girlfriends are always complaining to me about how Tulsa is too little a town. They mean it in that "it's a small world after all" kind of way, in that they're constantly bumping into exactly the people they don't want to see. It's always your ex's mom at the flea market, a former one night stand at a poetry slam, your old junior high nemesis pointedly avoiding eye contact at your little sister's art show. (I lead a pretentious life and I try to own that.) Every night out is another opportunity for you play a carnival game wherein you keep a wide berth from potential awkward conversations: "Things have been good, thanks for asking. How have things been for you since we banged six months ago and then never spoke again?"
To me though, us gay men have it worse. While it's ignorant to think that all homosexuals know each other, there's a hint of truth in it, at least for me. Tulsa is generally considered within Oklahoma to have the highest amount of gays per capita, or "GPC" as per the imaginary acronym I just made up, but it's nothing to brag about. Being known as a "gay-friendly" city in the bible belt is like being known for having a lot of lemonade in a place where everyone hates lemonade.
The Tulsa gay is a special type; culled in from smaller communities, we are podunks, closet cases, maladjusted types; uncomfortable with our sexualities and only now finally getting to explore the way we should have been doing in high school. We're all inappropriate crushes and messy intimacy.
Formally trapped as I am though, I've fashioned a study of sorts on this strange and exotic species of gay men, forced to carve a niche for themselves in a part of the country that would make no room. Call it "The Esoteric Breeding Habits of the Repressed Homosexual Male." It is a very hands-on study, more a catalogue if you will, based on my experiences with hook-up apps. For the uninitiated, these apps are pretty simple. You download them to your smartphone, create a profile, and you're all set. Guys are presented as profile pictures, shrunken down to thumbnails and listed in a grid by how close they are to your location. You can chat, exchange photos, anything you'd normally do on a social network, except with a lot more dick pics.
I consider myself something of a connoisseur. Growlr is an app specifically used by bears, large hairy gay men that look like lumberjacks and only drink dark beers. Hornet allows you a series of "private photos" that you can either lock or unlock for specific users, creating the absolutely surreal situation in which you must create a "best of" gallery for your own body. Tinder is okay, but it's more of a heterosexual fad.
Grindr itself will always be the most notorious, probably because the users are so blunt about what they're really there for. It's like a personality quiz. Which of these hookup apps best represents YOU? (I am a human disaster so I of course belong to seven of them.)
I was formally introduced to Scottie, a mutual friend of a friend. After about an hour of occasionally looking at him from across a party like, "where do I know your face from?" I asked him, inebriated and stupid:
"Do I know you from anywhere?"
"I was just thinking that, yeah. I don't know."
"...are you on Grindr?"
"YES! That's what I thought!" I nod inquisitively, then, "We haven't had sex have we?"
"Okay. That would've been embarrassing."
The sad part is, it wasn't the first time I've had this experience. When you're a habitual user, you get used to stuff like this, even more so when in the LGBT desert that is where I live. There's a certain allure to the idea of sex without consequences. The detachment. The forgetting. The roll of the dice with every new guy you meet up with.
Still, I understand there's a stigma to apps like Grindr. It's for twinks, sluts, men just looking for hookups, or someone to compliment their muscles. But to a hormonal kid with no other outlets for experimentation, it was just something I fell into; like recreational drugs, or the time I tried tap dancing. We're connecting, but in a way entirely foreign to society. We're like little homo Lewis and Clarks, mapping out dark territories with our sex.
But sometimes I wonder how it's changed me. Though I should ostensibly be lusting for something more stable, the pizza-in-bed-with-Netflix kind of relationship, what I'm getting is anything but. Closeted "straight guys." No strings attached late night booty calls. Couples looking for a third. It's definitely changed how I think about dating for sure, in that I do a lot less of it. Because what's the point of spending so much time and effort on a night out when an older man in the basement of his parent's house absolutely needs you right this second?
It's true that apps like these devalue your sense of "person-ness" a little. Is this at all different from the modern dating experience though? Doesn't everyone struggle with really seeing people? Gay or not, everyone's looking for instant gratification in one form or another. We are jumping through hoops, doing what we think looks cool to impress other cool people. You have to really work at seeing people as people, people who cook and have friends and make candles, and not just a series of statistics and preferences listed on a screen. 6'4". Masc. Looking for now.