Masks are used for three things: disguise, performance, or protection. They hide who we are, they allow us to pretend to be something or someone else, or they protect us from the elements. They can cover only the eyes, only the mouth, half of the face, or elaborately take hold of your entire identity. Regardless of use, they are almost always associated with deception, darkness, mystery, and caution. By covering the face we remove the human and make it obscure. It’s safer in the dark.
That begs the question: why does the most successful online app for gay men have a mask as its logo?
'When we construct a profile on Grindr we are able to include or omit any quality of ourselves that we deem to be desirable or undesirable.'
When we construct a profile on Grindr we are able to include or omit any quality of ourselves that we deem to be desirable or undesirable. Very tall guys might leave out their height or photos of them standing next to other people. Guys who might be (or feel) chubbier or overweight will only show a strategically selected face pic. A very muscular guy will be shirtless. An Asian guy may crop his face out of the photo to keep his ethnicity a mystery.
These are obviously choices we make an attempt to put forward what we’ve deem to be the ‘best’ version of ourselves. But let’s look a little more closely at what else those profiles do.
Very tall guys may add a comment in their profile along the lines of ‘I’m 6’4” (cause apparently that’s important)’. The chubbier guy may completely omit having a photo of himself altogether, but also mention something like ‘if you don’t like can you please block me’. The muscular guy will only include his Instagram account yet reject your sexual suggestion in the chat because he’s ‘not that kind of guy’. And the Asian guy will be shirtless in his headless photo because he knows he has some sexual value at least, right?
'Each of these choices is a way we protect ourselves from the brunt force of invalidation while attempting to accrue validation.'
Each of these choices is a way we protect ourselves from the brunt force of invalidation while attempting to accrue validation.
‘I’m tall and it’s your fault for thinking that’s a negative quality.’
‘I’m chubby and it’s your fault if you don’t block me.’
‘I’m muscular and shirtless and only have my Instagram account in my profile description but it’s your fault for thinking I’m only after sex.’
‘I’m Asian but I have a great body and it’s your fault if you can’t see my value.’
In short - and as a angry individual once said to me in a chat: what the fuck is wrong with you? We shout it at each other constantly. What the fuck is wrong with you?
There’s a convoluted logic to it all, but you know something’s up. Even my own profile used to feature a description that warranted validation. I wanted a guy to tell me that my strong capacity for love and my ambition towards it were ok and didn’t make me weird. Everyone’s on the defensive. This is most clearly witnessed when a person pokes any of those validation points with a stick. This is the same with any man. If you poke us in our shame, then prepare to be destroyed one way or another.
'We are so afraid.'
Lose interest in the tall guy because he’s tall, lose interest in a chubby guy once you’ve discover that he’s chubby, lose interest in a muscular guy because he has no personality, or mention ethnicity to an Asian guy, and watch them erupt. Mention to me that I’m ‘intense’ because of how strong my values are and I’ll do exactly the same. I was once rejected by a guy and so I had a go at his body type. It was wildly stupid of me. We can be so nasty when our pride is wounded.
Grindr feeds off of that fear. The fear of being alone. The fear that you aren’t good enough. The fear that you are incomplete. In return it gives you nothing. Nothing. It silences who you really are. It’s not just a mask. It’s a muzzle. Once it has you, it knows you can’t let it go. You need it. You need it if you don’t want to feel alone.
Nearly 50% of guys under the age of 35 find their dates on Grindr (primary data). This is somewhat baffling given the masked nature of the whole thing. You go on dates with a guy behind a mask? From an app that allows you to change the icon on your phone so no one can see that you have it? An app that makes you wince if you forgot to put it on silent before opening it in public? An app that - once you pay for it - gives you access to even more ways to define your hate?
Alan Downs puts it perfectly in The Velvet Rage (2012): ‘Peel away the well crafted layers, for only then can you see the secret clearly for what it is: [the gay man’s] own self-hatred’ (p. 17). This hate - and the ensuing rage - comes to the fore in the battlefield of Grindr. Just think about your thought process on the app for a second:
‘He’s not good enough.’
‘He’s not good enough.’
‘Maybe he’ll be good enough [looks more closely at profile details]… he’s not good enough.’
‘I’d probably fuck him - he’ll probably be a douche bag though.’
‘He sounds awesome - what’s the bet he doesn’t reply?’
‘Am I honestly the only decent guy on here?’
Is this really what we want young gay men to experience at 16-18 years old when they are trying to find themselves?
Nearly every path on the app leads to rage. The longer we use it, the more rage we have. The older we get, the more rage we have. The more alone we feel because it's 'everyone else's fault and what the fuck is wrong with all of them?', the more rage we have.
No wonder it’s logo is a mask. Who would want you if they could see how angry you really were?
Downs, A (2012) The Velvet Rage: overcoming the pain of growing up gay in a straight man's world. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press
Nathan helps people to express themselves at home, at school, and in the workplace, all around the world. He's passionate about thinking, and engages in it regularly. He's not overly fond of writing in the third person though. It's weird. Connect with him on Facebook to continue the conversation, make a video at colourbeat.com, or even share a dance with him at movewithcolour.com!
It is concerning that Grindr uses a mask when they're dominant use is for disguise, performance, or protection.
Most young gay men find dates on Grindr - an app with a highly questionable means of validation.
Grindr allows gay men to express their self-hatred and rage all in one go. It profits from your fear.