On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I hiked up to the storied Griffith Observatory and stared out into the night sky. Dazzled by the view, my eyes searched through the sea of lights as I did my best to scout out the general location of my beloved King Taco on the east side and where I was supposed to meet friends the following night in West Hollywood. Below me was one of world’s most talked about cities. I was captivated. But Hollywood’s spell was suddenly broken by the buzz of my phone: a Grindr notification. My moment of pure bliss experiencing one of the city’s most revered spots was cut short by the prospect of getting my dick sucked.
Grindr, the gay social/dating/hook up/whatever you want to call it app, has unquestionably been a useful tool for plenty of gay men zipping around the globe. It’s a quick resource on which you can ask locals for recommendations, and it’s especially handy for locating queer bars and spaces. If you’re traveling solo, Grindr can help you link up with other gay men so that exploring feels a little less lonely and a bit safer. For non queer folks, too, Airbnb and Instagram’s location feature has let us swap travel agents for more self-tailored, personalized itineraries. Dating apps have become a magical key to unlocking the best local spots. But during my past couple of trips, the yellow skull haunted me.
Here’s what typically happens: I’ll arrive to my destination, whether it’s returning home for a short stint in southern California or somewhere halfway around the world. I roll off the plane wearing my $20 Marshall’s sweatpants, text my mom I’ve made it, check Lyft prices to wherever I’m staying, and almost immediately fire up Grindr. Beyond skyline views from my plane window and geographic-specific franchises in airports, the men on Grindr are usually my first introduction to a new place. For many, the cherished local cuisine is key to being acquainted with wherever they’re vacationing. The same mentality can be applied to the guys.
Sampling the guys of places I visited was fun until it wasn’t. Instead of being open to hookups while traveling, it began feeling like a necessary part of the trip—that it was my international duty to make nations closer by having my body parts smashing up against some resident’s. And while there’s nothing wrong with wanting to hook up on vacation, I’ve come to the realization that that I was relying on making out in new places just as tourists depend on Fodor’s Travel Guides as the blueprint for a proper trip .
Jeremy Birnholtz, an associate professor at Northwestern University, focuses on human-computer interaction issues and has done research involving Grindr. He acknowledges that the app has the benefit of helping a traveler connect with the local community members, especially helpful considering the decline of gayborhoods. Birnholtz also sees some drawbacks, such as being too absorbed by ass-hunting that you’re neglecting your actual travel partners and overlooking notable sights such as cathedrals or art masterpieces (sorry in advance, Mona Lisa). But he points out that even before the age of Grindr, it’s quite possible that lots of young gay travelers spent good chunks of time in cruisy parks or bathrooms the first time they went to a major city in hopes of a happy ending. Nonetheless, Grindr has added an XTRA layer to all this.