LBGT individuals from Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Jamaica and Uganda give personal accounts of their app experiences in a country where it’s illegal or taboo to be gay.
Open Grindr in London and you’re presented with a grid of eligible men, mostly looking for hook-ups. Open the app in Beirut and you’re more likely to see headless torsos, as few are willing to publicly out themselves. In Tokyo, oddly, dozens of users have replaced their profile pictures with images of food, since many dislike showing their faces online but have large image folders of meals they have photographed.
Dating app use differs between cultures, but nowhere is the difference in Grindr more stark than the 72 countries wherein same-sex activity is illegal. The app can be a positive force in those societies, helping to build LGBT communities in places where there are no safe spaces to congregate. But it can also be dangerous – a hotbed for catfish, thieves and undercover police, creating a society in which sharing a photo of your face can get you jailed.
As a result, Grindr includes several safety features in what it calls ? “ dangerous neighbourhood countries”, like Uganda where 67 were charged after a raid on a gay bar earlier this month, Indonesia where two men were publicly caned after they were caught having sex, or Egypt where police are known to use Grindr to entrap and arrest gay men. In such countries, Grindr offers advice in local languages about how to meet safely and disables their location feature by default, meaning it is easier for LGBT users at risk to remain hidden.
Grindr around the world
Each is simply the perspective of one person and not representative of the whole country: experiences differ depending on social, economic and geographical context.
CAIRO, EGYPT, 25
“ Dating apps are trendy in Egypt now. It’s useful if you’re gay because it’s dangerous to flirt with muzmatch someone in real life – your gaydar might fail, and it would be a scandal if he turned out to be straight.
Grindr can bring people together, especially since you can’t be open about your sexuality in public. I have close gay friends I met from Grindr. When I first struggled with my sexuality, seeing people on Grindr helped me realise I wasn’t alone in this world.
But Grindr has pros and cons. I feel it ruins some values. I don’t like the idea that you can say you’re looking for ? ‘ right now’ or sleep with someone as soon as you meet them. It feels inhuman. I like smiles and love letters and the ? ‘ guy next door’.
Police use Grindr to entrap and arrest gay people. I was never caught, but we live in an atmosphere of fear. I have to hide my sexuality and do everything in discretion. Having to live in secrecy is its own kind of punishment. Despite the dangers, I use Grindr because I take precautions. I can detect police by checking people’s ages, speaking English, or looking at their Instagram or Facebook.
But you can’t detect thieves. I met one guy after chatting for a long time. We were the same age, from the same neighbourhood. We went to a sports track to try and have sex there. We started kissing, but I soon felt someone snatching my phone from my hand. I looked up and there was another guy who looked absolutely terrible, carrying a knife. He was swearing at me and when I tried to defend myself he stabbed me in the thigh. Suddenly there were about seven guys running towards me. I ran to hide, then remembered the guy I was kissing. I had left him behind. I looked back and saw him laughing with the others. He had been working together with the thieves.