The Stone Age of Queer dating: Life in a Pre-Grindr World

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Grindr truly was a major leap forward for queer dating and hookup culture, which in years previous was an extremely difficult world to navigate. This isn’t to say Grindr doesn’t come with its own set of issues, but when comparing the tactics people used to form romantic and sexual relationships in a pre-Grindr world seem primitive to the modern gay. The stories I have heard about queer dating long before Grindr in a pre-internet world demonstrate the perseverance of queer people as a marginalized group but are nonetheless harrowing.

Before the internet, queer dating was dependent on who you could find through constructed networks of communication. For example, coded language and slang were often used to determine whether someone was queer at a time when outright queer gatherings were often a target of police violence. Asking someone if they are a “friend of Dorothy” in the 60’s might’ve gotten you a funny look and a “no” from a straight person, but asking another queer person could lead to a hookup, a date, or a friendship. The oldest trick in the book, is cruising.

Riis beach, popular gay cruising spot, circa 1960

Cruising is when a specific spot like a park bench, a bathroom stall, or a street corner is decided by the queer community in a certain area to be the place you go to find people to have sex with. The culture of cruising became less and less discreet as time went on and queer people were freer to gather.

Following the mid 20th century there was an explosion of gathering places for queer people in major cities across the U.S. Clubs, bars, and bath houses were all places where people could gather, mingle, and possibly hookup with other queer people. These places of business became the main places where people would go to seek out romantic and sexual relationships in a world where it is statistically less likely to spark elsewhere. This major boom was dampened by the AIDS Epidemic but saw a huge revival in a post-internet world.

After use of the internet became accessible to a wide audience, one of the most popular ways to meet other queer people was through chat rooms. Places like CompuServe, AOL bulletin boards, and craigslist “M4M” ads were all different ways to find people in the early 2000s.

Criagslist Personals Page

While internet spaces like these provided easy conversation, they did not have the streamlined process that Grindr did and provided little competition to the hookup spaces that clubs provided. In 2009 Grindr was launched and it revolutionized the queer hookup scene both in person and online. What Grindr introduced was the combination of location based services and the ability to tailor who appears on your page based on factors such as height, age, and reason for downloading the app. All of these factors gave people the safety and convenience that in person spaces did not offer along with the ability to be more selective that a chat room did not have.

After the advent of Grindr several similar apps such as sniffies, scruff, and Grwolr showed up on the scene using a similar UX premise, often geared towards smaller subcultures within the queer community. One of the most obvious repercussions of the Grindr was its effect on the queer night life scene, spaces that previously depended on people coming for both entertainment and sex now lost a large portion of their attendance. While the debate about whether or not Grindr’s influence is beneficial to queer communities will never end, it is impossible to argue that Grindr’s influence did not radically change the way that queer people find, form, and navigate romantic and sexual relationships.

Works cited in text.

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