Many studies have been conducted on how Instagram and other social media apps for the ways that they inspire users to compare themselves to others and the negative feelings that prolonged usage generates, or FOMO (fear of missing out, for those who prefer words to acronyms). Less scientific research, however, has been done on the role that gay dating apps play on the mental health of users. Public health is bent, for good reason, on bringing light to the connection between dating app usage and STI transmission (raw means war, everyone) and Google provides hits of a few articles by brilliant science writers and journalists on the harmful mental health effects of using dating apps like Grindr or others.
Gay dating is competitive, hierarchichal, and exclusionary, and gay dating apps, with their filters, allow users to eliminate entire sub-groups of our community. Social scientists theorize the reasons and means that minorities converge and diverge in their overall levels of self-acceptance. On the spectrum of sexual identity and body dysmorphia, gay men and lesbians are diametrically opposed, with lesibans being the most self-accepting and gay men having the most severe body dysmorphia. Gay men who hate their bodies are prone to developing eating disorders and set unrealistic expectations for their bodies, as well as the bodies of potential lovers. Furthermore, competition, not collaboration, tends to increase among minorities, suggesting that the desire for conquest supersedes the desire for camaraderie or companionship, in and of itself.
For example, if you communicate in anti-transgender or femme-phobic ways, whether on your profile or in your private messages with people, you are contributing to a larger pattern of violence against femininity and betraying your own self-hatred. Stop projecting the disgust you feel towards your own femininity onto socially-vulnerable women and femmes. Furthermore, ask yourself why or for whom (your anti-queer family, friends, or heroes) you communicate violently in the first place–how we speak with others and think of ourselves is tied to family dynamics and the experiences we have incompletely integrated into our consciousness. If you need meme therapy for working with your shadow (following Instagram accounts that promote cognitive behavioral therapy), try the holistic psychologist or the brujo, Olde Ways, among others.
Of course, gay dating apps are useful, and gay men, transgender women, and others use Grindr to fulfill the human need for sex and other forms of intimacy: conversation, exchange, etc. The major problem with dating apps, however, is that they can become crutches for users who would personally benefit from learning how to flirt effectively in real life, instead of online cruising. Gay men, like all people, function with and despite the darkness they carry, and darkness reveals the forms it conceals only in light of human interaction. “Philosophers say man forms himself in dialogue,” wrote Anne Carson in The Autobiography of Red. But do apps like Grindr, mediums of communication, contribute to the persistence of darkness, and add to emotional deformation? Do the apps give us greater sexual efficiency in exchange for the alchemy of human interaction?
But the furtiveness of Grindr use in public indicates more about the simultaneous hyper-publicity and domestication of sex, making sex available at your fingertips at the same time that the body shifts its attention to the phone itself. Does sex shrink when contained and subdivided into 100 (or more, if you pay for Grindr Xtra tiny squares)? The Ethical Slut states that the hunger to be seen is a natural human emotion, but do we starve ourselves and others when we gaze into a screen over the risk of getting rejected in person?
Some may believe that social media is a good way to tune out from the days stressors, but everything is a trade-off, and time is an irrecuperable resource. A fundamental Buddhist teaching is that desire grows where you place your attention. The way you interact with the world literally reshapes your synapses and creates the cravings and compulsions that constitute your habits. The human brain cannot focus on more than one task at a time and, like it or not, scrolling through a feed or swiping through profiles. What are you giving up, delaying, or ignoring by losing time to Grindr?