Words: C. B. Smith
Posting ‘no men’ in their profiles, the growing trend of straight men on the app is frustrating gay guys who say they feel sidelined in a space originally designed for them
Thabo is one of an increasing number of straight men on Grindr, the hookup app created in 2009 for men who have sex with men. Like most of them, however, Thabo’s profile includes a perplexing caveat: “No Guys,” it reads, adding that any messages from men will be deleted. The 27-year-old personal trainer is only interested in meeting trans women.
Earlier this month, he left Tinder, the go-to hetero dating app, after averaging a measly two matches a week and meeting only four people in six months. Living alone as a caretaker for his grandmother with dementia, Thabo tells me he’s “pretty lonely IRL.” His father recently passed away; six weeks later his girlfriend dumped him. He knew Grindr was popular — the “gay Tinder,” as he puts it — so when he learned it included a “trans” category he quietly downloaded the orange-and-black mask onto his iPhone.
“I got over 100 messages in the first week,” he says, admitting the attention was nice but “didn’t really fill the void.” That’s because around 95 of them were from guys, four were crossdressers and only two were actual trans women. “I have zero attraction to men,” he repeats.
Despite being catfished three times and another three people cancelling at the last minute, he’s thrilled to have had two successful meet-ups in as many weeks, which he calls “way better” odds than he ever had on Tinder. And while the sex wasn’t earth-shattering — “showed up, got sucked, did the fucking, I came, then left” — that’s exactly how he likes it. “I have no interest in penises, but sex is sex if I’m getting off. There are trans women on Grindr who are totally into servicing men, and those are the ones I’m after. And because they have penises, they know what it should feel like, or at least all the little details.”
The growing trend of Thabo and others posting “no men” on Grindr is understandably frustrating for some gay men who tell me they feel sidelined in a space originally designed for them.
Are Gay Male Safe spaces being erased?
A college friend tells me it’s “surreal” to go to a gay friendly space and see people explicitly ruling out gay sex. “To read ‘no homos’ or ‘no men’ on a gay male app is troubling,” he says. “To have trans women hitting on me — when it’s clear I’m not into women — is openly homophobic. This is one consequence of the trans revolution: Gay male spaces and lesbian female spaces are being erased.”
Some of the interviewed agree. “I don’t understand why Grindr has gone to the extent of bringing in gender identities and preferred pronouns filters when it’s literally a gay hookup/dating app,” says Adam, a 26-year-old gay man in Sydney, Australia. “ It’s like we’re being excluded within our own community.”
Coronacivica echoes this sentiment. “Grindr is a gay hookup app for bisexual and gay men, and straight men shouldn’t be on it in my opinion.”
“Horseshit,” counters Mark, another straight man on Grindr whose profile specifies that he’s “only attracted to women” and has “no interest in men.” The 31-year-old tells me he’s been on Grindr for about three years and has connected with “lots” of women, the most recent being his favorite. “I met a beautiful, articulate trans top who fucked me,” he explains. “I don’t typically bottom, but it was such a profoundly erotic experience that it converted me to being fully versatile.” He’s not particularly sympathetic to gay men who are offput by his profile, adding that he doesn’t appreciate the suggestion that he’s some kind of sexual gentrifier from the straight world. “If I’m a tourist misusing the platform then the women looking for straight men are as well,” he reasons.
More importantly, Mark says, it seems nobody is making a good-faith effort to understand heterosexual trans-attracted men. “It feels like everyone in the universe thinks we’re bisexual or gay men in denial, including a huge proportion of the trans women we’re attracted to,” he says. While he concedes that being trans-attracted isn’t nearly as hard as being trans, “it’s sure as fuck not easy.” He hopes to someday be accepted for who he is and not have his sexuality labeled as a “fetish” and himself, a “trans chaser.” “My fear is that this remains an unresolved source of pain and disappointment in the lives of the trans women who can’t accept trans attraction,” he adds. “It doesn’t have to be some shitty compromise to be with a guy who’s turned on by your body.”
But is it? After all, the gay bar has traditionally been a place where the trans community, despite being somewhat stigmatized and discriminated against, could find partners and hook up. So are we not seeing a virtual version of this on Grindr?
Perhaps, says Jason Orne, the author of Boystown: Sex and Community in Chicago, in which he refers to straight women invading gay bars as “going on safari.” He thinks that’s different, though. “It’s similar in that it’s clearly people coming into a space that’s for an identity that’s not their own and repurposing it. But it’s different in that straight men looking for trans women aren’t taking over a gay space and consuming it for their own pleasure. Why is it so bad for this to happen? Maybe it stings a bit, but where else are these men and trans women supposed to find each other?”
Angel, a 24-year-old trans student I meet on Grindr, says she’s had “lots of success” connecting with bisexual and straight men there. “I first look for guys with a handsome face and a career of some sort who respect me.”
While she only plays with men who are into women, she’s sympathetic to gay men who may feel excluded. She adds, however, “Grindr is evolving to be more inclusive and basically anyone besides cis women are on here. Men explicitly preferring women isn’t a bad thing in my opinion.”
Nikki, also on Grindr says, “I was 19 years old when I first entered the dating world, I tried Tinder, I tried Bumble, I tried Clover, plenty of fish, and a bunch of different apps, getting the same result every time.
”My friend told me about Grindr, how they now allow women to come on and chat with people, I was skeptical at first being that Grindr was for men to chat with other men. I decided to give Grindr a try. I downloaded the app and set up a profile. Within minutes of my profile picture being approved I had messages upon messages of men who thought I was beautiful, it actually started giving me this confidence boost, as a trans woman you need to be constantly reminded that you’re beautiful because confidence is easy to loose by hurtful words.
“Grindr was the first app I was accepted on, I was meeting men for dates, actually building connection with people, talking to other trans women and our experiences. Making friends along the way, talking to other members of the LGBT community. I’ve had friendly conversations with gay/bi/straight men, cis/trans women, and non-binary people. I’ve had the best dating experience via Grindr. I know Grindr is more of a hookup app but I feel more comfortable on Grindr than on tinder as transgender people are much more accepted there.”