I recently posted some random thoughts about gay social apps on Facebook and Twitter, more specifically along the lines of how gay Aspie men would even begin to navigate their way through these apps (and also the gay community in general). The comments and reactions I got were quite fascinating…
My initial thoughts were that there would be so many variables to consider, such as “social rules and etiquette” as well as “expectations” (a lot of things that Aspies have issues with in general, not just in the gay community). However, one of my close friends made the following comment (and I paraphrase here):
- Any gay man, whether they be on or off the Autism Spectrum, would struggle with the apparent rules of gay social apps, especially because they don’t seem to exist! If they do, no one knows what they are, and thus no one would be capable of being completely successful in navigating them.
Furthermore, he made a classic quote (“The rules are, there are no rules!“). And I think that seems to sum up nicely one of the fundamental flaws of online dating apps – everyone has their own set of expectations that never seem to exactly match up with anyone else’s, and thus when those expectations end up not getting met, both parties get completely annoyed with each other.
And when this scenario occurs repeatedly ad infinitum, it ends up having a detrimental and chaotic effect on the well-being and self-esteem of those people. As my friend put it, it does become soul-destroying and demoralising (not to mention the fact that it would be considered anti-social behaviour in the real world).
And yet (and this is the kicker)… it’s addictive. And for someone like myself who has an addictive personality, that can be almost dangerous.
When you’re on the spectrum, you have enough trouble reading non-verbal cues in spoken conversation. Online, you don’t even have non-verbal cues, just words on a screen. And the only choice you have is to take things at face value, which in the realm of online dating can come back to bite you really hard.
I remember the first time I ever encountered Grindr. It was during dinner with an old friend of mine back in 2009 (I remember it as clear as yesterday). We were discussing cool apps for our respective iPhones, and he told me about this app that picked up other gay guys in the near vicinity. I found it quite unusual, but also rather exciting at the same time.
You see, I was not a big fan of the gay scene (I had stopped going to gay bars on a regular basis about 2-3 years prior due to the fact that I was simply not fitting in as I thought I would). So my contact with other gay guys was limited back then to actual gay dating websites such as Gaydar, Manhunt, Gaymatchmaker (remember that one?), gay.com, etc.
In the eyes of some people, that makes me desperate for attention. But I don’t quite see it that way.
Admittedly, I do crave interaction with people, and particularly intimacy with other men. But me being the socially awkward person that I am, it’s not easy to find other guys who want that as well (unless they’re the creepy sort that seem to find you first).
So anyway, here I am downloading this Grindr app onto my phone, and instantly a new world was opened up to me. “OMG”, I thought, “so many nice guys on here to chat (and potentially hookup with)!”
The problem was, as time went by, I realised that Grindr was actually more fickle than the real gay world. Many guys saying that they want particular traits, blatantly ignoring (and often blocking) those who dared to deviate outside those specifications. And yet, I found myself trying to put it all out there (so to speak) in the hope that one of those buff torsos might actually be attracted to me as well.
It fucked with my head for years, and in a way, it still does. For someone like myself who prefers people to be upfront and honest with what they want, I see so much hypocrisy in the profiles that I encounter. You do learn after a while to suss out those guys who are genuinely after connection and those who just bank on their looks to get attention (and sex), but alas it doesn’t always work out that way (remember, everyone has their own rules – no consistency).
I’ll be really honest here – I do have body image issues, and it is something I have struggled with most of my life. Despite the fact that BMI-wise, I sit well and truly in the healthy range for my age, and have a very lean build, I don’t seem to attract those guys who work out in the gym and look like they have come off the cover of Men’s Health magazine. And it always goes through my head that if I bulk up like those guys do, then maybe I’ll get noticed more. Therefore I need to change myself to make myself more appealing to more people…
HOLD UP!! WAIT A GODDAMN MINUTE!! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING???
It took a conversation with my psychologist a couple of months ago to gain another perspective on the above. You see, here I am thinking that the muscly guys on the gym floor will only be attracted to other muscly guys on the gym floor. But that is not necessarily true.
Just as I am attracted to a wide variety of guys for different reasons, the same applies for them too. Eg. maybe there is a really fit athletic guy out there that prefers someone lean like myself over the bigger guys.
Everyone’s tastes are different, and sometimes when we focus on one thing too much, we lose sight of all the other beautiful things in the universe. And when we start to look outside, we open ourselves up as people even more. To use another cliche, beauty shines from within.
I have recently started using Tinder, with the sole aim of breaking out of the Grindr mindset that has been so demoralising over the years. And for me, it was a revelation of sorts.
On Tinder, you can only use photos from your Facebook profile. For someone like me who likes context, it is awesome, because you get to see people in a more real setting (as opposed to the torso pics you usually see on Grindr). And that gives you a bit of an idea of what they could be like as a person. Also, you can only chat with them if they also liked your profile.
And that is one of the big differences I see between Tinder and other dating apps – for me, it becomes more about the intellectual interaction and less about the hookup/sex talk. And you very rarely, if at all, get anything intellectual from Grindr, Scruff, et al.
One way that I have resolved to use these apps moving forward is to actually be more open about who I am as a person on those apps. It then means that other guys who view my profile can see what I am about right from the word go. And if they choose to be fickle and ignore that, then that’s their issue (and trust me, it took me a loooong time to accept that).
The above is a direct consequence of finding out my Aspie status. One thing that being diagnosed on the spectrum has done for me is empower me to take more control of my life and stop taking shit from people who give me crap. And gay social apps are no different here.
In fact, I now use it as a talking point in my various profiles, firstly because I want to raise awareness of Aspergers, and secondly because it sets me apart from everyone else instead of becoming homogenised and blending in with the scenery. A number of people I have met off Tinder thus far have been some of the loveliest people I have met, and almost all of them had read this blog (the link is in all my profiles).
So there you go! Gay social interaction does not always have to be about sex (shock horror!). I honestly find myself looking forward to what other interaction opportunities arise in the near future.
The best thing I can advise to any other gay Aspie out there is to just know what you want and have the courage and confidence to stand up for it (in a diplomatic way of course). Sometimes you do need to make yourself really clear about any expectations you might have in terms of conversation or outcomes, and while that might seem over the top to some people, it at least sets the boundaries early on.
You might have guys who will not take kindly to that and insult you or block you (and trust me this will happen a lot). But you know what? It says more about them than it does about you. And it ensures that you maintain integrity and self-respect in the long run (and allows you to build confidence and keep a positive outlook along the way).
As always, I look forward to any questions or comments you might have about this post. There will inevitably be points that I have overlooked and you might wish me to address these in more detail later.
Peace out 🙂