Over a month ago, I challenged myself to stop using hookup apps. Two weeks ago, I wrote a progress report on my halfway point, and now I can give my final say on the experience.
I confess: It was easy to go without Grindr, Scruff, Recon, Daddyhunt, Adam4Adam, MISTER, or any of the other hookup apps during the final two weeks of my sabbatical, because halfway through them was the Folsom Street Fair.
For one weekend, Grindr and Scruff were completely forgotten. Hot, hairy, kinky leathermen from all over the world had booked every hotel room in San Francisco, and most of them would be gathered into a few narrow blocks in San Francisco's South of Market district, many clad in leather harnesses, for the infamous fetish festival.
And although sex was certainly a major goal of the weekend, it was not the only reason I was excited to go. I wrote an op-ed for The Advocate about how Folsom is an important event for anyone whose sexual interests fall outside the vanilla realm and wants to meet up with like-minded folks. For one weekend every year since 1984, San Francisco becomes a city filled with both experienced and novice kinksters, teaching each other new fetish techniques and playing hard.
In other words, it’s a great time to cruise tech-free. I parked my car on a precarious San Francisco slope and carried my suitcase filled with leather gear to a townhouse in the Castro where I would be staying. The final lessons I took from going off the apps are certainly inspired by the weekend that followed, but they are applicable to gay men everywhere and anywhere.
I stayed with a friend through the weekend, and together we made plans to hit the best parties happening across the city. At one point during the official pre-Folsom dance party, Magnitude, my friend stood at the bar talking to a cute guy who kept checking his phone. Finally, my friend patted the guy's shoulder and said, “Dude, get off Scruff. Look around you. It’s here.”
The view was pretty stellar. Guys didn’t actually start having sex on the dance floor until closer to the end of the party, but there was a large tent erected in the parking lot that acted as the official backroom. Inside the tent were spaces partitioned off by black tarp and chain-link fence. Some of the spaces had leather sex slings that would have been immensely more comfortable if they had leg straps. Cruising the apps was needless — I was already at the fun.
If you choose to take a break from hookup apps, don’t do it because of "app shame." In the comments to my first article, a common response was that there was no need to be on Grindr in the first place — because hookup apps and the guys who use them are “gross” (among other pejoratives).
Most of these comments are just slut-shaming — and therefore completely dismissable — but many guys seem to truly believe that meaningful connections are impossible to find on Grindr. Many more think that guys who use hookup apps are shallow and classless. Others claim that the apps are effectively destroying person-to-person interactions.
All these sound pretty silly to me. Gay men have always hunted for sex, objectified each other, and treated each other poorly. The apps have hardly destroyed gay life — they have simply digitized it. Meaningful connections are truly hard to find on Grindr, but in today’s fast-paced world, meaningful connections are hard to find anywhere. So if you’re considering a sabbatical, do it with a spirit of adventure and curiosity, not because of generalizations you’ve made about guys online or about the apps themselves — generalizations that are more likely a reflection of your own insecurities rather than the perceived flaws of others.
It was a long and crazy weekend. After every party, my friend and I stood outside in the cold, waiting for our Uber. Something magical happens in those moments between the circuit party and the ride home. People emerge from the dark and you see them as they really appear. Guys you thought had perfect bodies look less perfect. Couples start holding hands again. Everyone is a little bewildered to discover how much time has passed. As the drugs wear off, everyone is reminded how life continues outside our mad little world.
After a few nights like this, I stood on my friend’s doorstep with my suitcase, ready to say goodbye. And right there, I realized he was a good friend, someone I could talk to about my fears and insecurities, someone I could call if I was drunk and needed a ride home.
I met him on Scruff over a year ago. We initially hooked up, but since that time we have become more than a hookup to each other. This is gay culture, the one I live in and see every day; friendships often start with sex, friendships often lead to sex, and friendships often include sex at some point.
If anything, this should illustrate how needless it is to vilify hookup apps. Sex is what we are going to do, because it is what we have always done, and there's nothing ugly or shameful about it. It is an ancient human instinct that gets horribly repressed, feared, and fussed over in today's climate, when it should be celebrated. Anything that brings us together — whether it is Grindr, Scruff, a dating website, or a sex dungeon — should not be scoffed at, because we need each other.
My friend told me to text him when I made it back to Los Angeles, and I knew he meant it. He cared. He was family.
I'm back on the apps now, but I'm definitely using them less. It was more fun to meet guys in person, but harder. The apps offer an easy way to tell guys what you're into sexually or what you're looking for; you just write it on your profile. Cruising in person requires you to say, "I want to have sex with you so bad, and this is what I want to do." But I must stress how awesome and empowering it feels when you finally bring yourself to say that — far better than a texted "'Sup?"
Alexander Cheves has written articles on sex, dating, and relationships for GC Magazine and is an intern with The Advocate. Follow his blog, The Beastly Ex-Boyfriend.