Curiosity, passion, friendship.
Betrayal, freedom, fear.
Repression, addiction, courage.
These are but some of the feelings that race in the minds of the Lebanese users of Grindr, the world's most popular gay dating app.
Lebanon's gay people now have a virtual space where they can meet others, a grand improvement on the days they had to hide and do it in secret, they say. But has Grindr really created a margin of freedom for the LGBTQ community in Lebanon, or is it merely a mirror of the sexual repression of Lebanese society?
Lebanon and Grindr
Grindr is a 'geosocial networking application geared towards gay and bisexual men, designed to help them meet other men in their area." According to figures from late 2010, more than ten million people have the app on their smartphones.
There are no reliable figures on Arab Grindr users, but it's safe to say the app is popular among gay Arabs. For example, at the recent Rio Summer Olympics, Grindr released figures showing visiting Qatari and Bahraini users were among the most active.
Raseef22 decided to find out more about Arab Grindr users, especially in Lebanon, the country that arguably has the largest margin of freedom for LGBTQ people, and where unlike many other Arab countries, the app is not banned or criminalized, and does not need special measures such as a VPN to access it. Raseef22 reached out to two Grindr users in Beirut, "Marco", an Italian living in the country, and "Walid", a local user.
Marco: Lebanese Grindr is 100 percent about sex
Raseef22: How do you interact with men near you through Grindr?
Marco: I go into what I call the virtual men's market and wait for someone to talk to me if I get their attention. We chat until we feel that we would like to meet or not. If our criteria match, I invite him home, where we get physical. If I enjoy the experience, I ask him to stay for a drink and get to know each other better.
Raseef22: Why do you not try to meet men in the real world instead of virtually?
Marco: We live in the age of speed. I could meet someone on Grindr and invite them home in ten minutes, then spend ten minutes talking, and another ten minutes or more in bed. The whole thing doesn't last more than an hour. But if I want to go out to meet someone, I could spend the whole night without necessarily getting lucky.
For the Lebanese, they could have a different reason. They could be using Grindr because it's safer. Many don't put pictures of their faces but their bodies instead. We can say that out of every twenty Lebanese Grindr users, one uses their real face in their profile pictures, like I do. I understand this, although it's weird. But society here is ruthless with gay people.
Raseef22: How would you describe Grindr's Lebanese users?
Marco: Most of them are young and in their early 20s at most. Perhaps the older gay people have left for a better life somewhere freer. I know many in their early 20s who dream of leaving at the soonest opportunity.
There also celebrities on Grindr, some of whom display their pictures without fear.
Raseef22: What are you looking for on the app?
Marco: If you're looking for fun, people respond in most cases. If you're looking for friendship or dating, they disappear!
Some ask are you "top" or "bottom". I usually answer that I'm both but they don't get it. For most, you have to be either or. If there's a match, it means both are ready to go, although some ask more questions.
Raseef22: How is the average Lebanese Grindr?
Marco: He is a man who loves sex and wants nothing else. He is not good at conversation or even physical intimacy.
If you chat for too long he might get bored because he wants to go straight to bed. And if you take your time in bed he rushes you because he is after just one thing: orgasm.
Perhaps this is because of the repression he lives in his family and community, making him all about instinct rather than human contact.
Walid: We decide what Grindr is, not vice versa
Raseef22: Tell us about your Grindr experience.
Walid: It's just a gay dating app. I use it the way that suits me. If I want to play, I find someone to play with, and if I want to go on a date, I find someone to date.
I downloaded the app when it was released around seven years ago. I used it to compliment my real dating life: when I went out to a gay club in Beirut, and could not meet someone, I would go back to my car and use the app. It is easier to meet people online and it's freer.
Raseef22: Is there a risk?
Walid: Yes. We live in a society that has not accepted us. If you live out your sexual orientation in secret, you often end up in an abandoned building somewhere to meet someone. Or you end up bringing someone you like home at night when your family is asleep.
This is what it was like before I came out to my family. Now I conduct myself in a safer way. I put my picture on my Grindr profile. I know how to choose partners. I go out at a normal time.
Raseef22: What kind of personalities does one encounter on the app?
Walid: There is the clingy person, who doesn't stop calling all day even if you don't answer. There is the paranoid person, who becomes crazy and abusive if you don't respond within a minute from a message. There is the 'Hi habibi' guy who falls in love right away. Many are also sado-masochists on Grindr in Lebanon, and want to be treated rough in bed. Another figure is the 'pimp', who wants you right now and is willing to pay. Most of these people are older and probably spent their lives in the closet. Finally there is the 'intellectual', who writes on his profile that he is looking for like-minded people.
Raseef22: Have you tried Grindr outside Lebanon?
Walid: Yes. What I noticed in Europe is that people are more relaxed and know what they want. They too are looking for sex, but they are less obsessed about it and more human.
Raseef22: The Lebanese Grindr in a nutshell?
Walid: He is a man who detonates his repression and schizophrenia in a hysterical manner. He is a person exploring his sexual orientations in secret with people who are in the same boat. He is a teenager or a young man who wants to have a taste of freedom, and Grindr has met this need. But it is only a virtual freedom in the end.