For many gay, bisexual, trans and gender non-conforming people, it’s hard to picture a time before Grindr. A realm of endless possibilities just a mere tap away, the world’s largest queer networking app has changed the face of hook-up culture in the LGBTQIA+ community around the world, existing as a platform for late-night mindless conversation, the occasional date, but most predominantly, sex.
And while many great things – and people – come from the app (pardon the pun), Grindr isn’t always a safe space for everyone. It notoriously exists as a hotbed for discrimination, whether against different ethnic groups, body types and identities, or people living with HIV. While instances of abuse and prejudice on the app crop up time and time again, so does something else – the crossing of personal boundaries.
In some cases, it could be receiving unsolicited nudes, in others, it’s receiving a photo of yourself – taken in public without your consent – sent from another user. One of Grindr’s signature features is that it only shows the users closest to you, but in some cases, people are taking advantage of this and overstepping the line, and it’s putting people off the app completely.
“There were times that I’d have to go to the back of the store to hide from him”
A few years ago, 23-year-old Ross downloaded Grindr for the first time. Soon after, he began receiving unwanted sexual messages about how he looked in his supermarket uniform.
“Thinking back, I felt weirded out and slightly concerned that people knew where I worked,” he says. But Ross couldn’t imagine what happened next.
“It got to the point that they would come into the store when I was there… The first time I noticed one of the guys, I was working on the self-scan tills and he couldn’t keep his eyes off of me.”
Things also escalated with another customer, who Ross says came into his store every weekend for over a year and asked to be served by him every time.
“I realised when he actually messaged me on Grindr revealing himself, and then it became more and more intense,” he explains. “At that point, there were times that I’d have to go to the back of the store to basically hide from him.”
Ross made his colleagues aware of the situation, but the experience – which only ended when he blocked the man and moved to London – left him feeling “100% paranoid, and also a bit scared that people act like that on the app”. Since his experience, Ross has unsurprisingly avoided the app entirely.
“He led me to believe he was someone else”
26-year-old Luke was catfished by someone he knew on the platform. Living in his hometown on the outskirts of London at the time, Luke’s profile was blank (meaning it contained no public photos or identifying information), with him preferring to send photos to others privately.
“Another blank profile popped up, and we started the generic back and forth – what are you into, all of that,” Luke explains. “He asked me to send a photo of my face, so I did, but then he said he wasn’t able to. He said he wasn’t out yet.”
The user then bombarded Luke with sexual messages and nude photos – which he didn’t reciprocate. On a night out sometime later, the conversation started again and the two agreed to meet up.
“I waited at the train station and around the corner came one of my friend’s older brothers, who is openly gay and set to get married in a few months,” Luke recalls. “It made me feel so weird and creeped out, because he knew who I was this entire time but he led me to believe he was someone else.”
When Luke tried to leave the situation, the man followed him, repeatedly calling his name.
“The only place open nearby was a late-night bar, so I waited in there, by myself, hoping he’d leave… But when I left an hour later he was still outside waiting for me. He repeatedly kept asking me to get in a taxi with him,” Luke explains.
Eventually, Luke managed to leave the situation safely, but says he’s bumped into the man on a few occasions man since. The experience has made him think twice about sharing his personal information with people on the platform.
“I feel like he really overstepped the line – nobody deserves to be deceived and followed like that.”
How can we keep the app a safer space?
Being made to feel unsafe – whether through Grindr, in-person or both – is a serious matter. As well as reporting users on the app, don’t keep cases of stalking and harassment to yourself – share them with the people around you and contact the police if you feel in danger.
While Ross and Luke’s stories reflect some of the more severe experiences users have had on the app, how can all of us navigate the tricky terrain that is Grindr?
Dario van der Kraken is a qualified dating and relationship life coach whose work focuses on the experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly gay men. He says that the versatility of Grindr – being both a springboard for hook-ups and more serious dating – adds a layer of complexity to its use.
“It’s essential for users to be clear about their intentions and respectful of others’ boundaries,” Dario explains. “Unfortunately, the app is not immune to individuals with harmful intentions. To protect yourself in such extreme cases, consider Grindr as your ‘outer chamber’ for initial interactions… The more information you share, the easier it is for someone to invade your personal life.”
To clear things up, we asked Dario to create an expert guide to Grindr etiquette.
Don’t take photos of others without their consent
“This is really not okay,” Dario says. “Sending photos of someone in public without asking them first is almost like stalking.” He believes some people may do this without meaning any harm in an attempt to break the ice, but that doesn’t make it any less creepy.
“The thing is, dating apps have blurred the boundaries between the do’s and don’ts when getting to know others,” he continues. “Sending these kinds of photos isn’t just creepy; it’s a clear invasion of privacy. The same rules we follow in real life should apply online too.”
No answer is an answer
“You can try messaging again in case your first message got lost, but if there’s no reply the second time, they’re not interested,” Dario argues. As well as respecting personal boundaries, he says that you’re only wasting your own time by chasing someone else who isn’t interested. “Just move on.”
Grindr is not real-life
“Don’t assume that just because you see someone on the app or chat with them, you’re friends. You’re not. Until you’ve met them face-to-face and have established a relationship, you’re not friends – you’re strangers.”
Be honest – and kind
“Be honest about your intentions and what you’re looking for,” he says. “Understand your dealbreakers and what you’re willing to compromise on.” It’s also important to be honest about who you are. Of course, you can keep things blank if you’re not out, or if you just prefer to keep things discreet, but deceiving someone – like in Luke’s case – is never right, especially if you’re expecting honesty back.
“It’s also never okay to be rude or to put someone down,” Dario continues. It might go without saying, but that includes the use of discriminatory language, bullying and deception. Importantly, Dario points out, this outlook pertains to interactions with everyone on the app, not just a user you might be interested in pursuing. As they say, it costs nothing to be nice.
Trust your intuition
“If something feels off about the person or the situation, don’t hesitate to block and report them. The same goes for repeat offences: block and report.”
And lastly, take breaks when you need to
“I often hear from clients and friends who feel as if they’re obligated to keep using the app, which is far from the truth,” Dario says, highlighting that Grindr can easily become addictive or even feel like a chore. “It’s okay to step away from it when it starts to feel overwhelming.”
Help and support:
If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police. If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:
The Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run by Refuge: 0808 2000 247
In Scotland, contact Scotland’s 24 hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 027 1234
In Northern Ireland, contact the 24 hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline: 0808 802 1414
In Wales, contact the 24 hour Life Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800.
National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428
Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327
Respect helpline (for anyone worried about their own behaviour): 0808 802 0321