Queer Apps for gURLs

Although we are no where near a perfect sexual world, some apps out there give the impression that we can all be agents in our own personal sexual liberation. I always remind myself how lucky I am to live in Toronto because the city truly embraces queers in all forms. It’s not until I travel outside the city that I have to remind myself that the world outside metropolitan cities is not as open-minded as I like to imagine. With every two steps forward, it seems there’s one step back elsewhere.

What I love about social media is its relationship with communities. Many app developers are savvy about the potentials about connecting individuals who have something in common over great distances. These kinds of social media devices are often the most successful because humans are eager to feign off boredom and isolation with technology. Particularly, people are motivated to make romantic and sexual connections with strangers which is why Match.com, OkCupid, and PlentyOfFish do so well and encourage many users to create profiles and find potential mates.

Queer and heteronormative communities use social media alike. But it was not until Grindr did the value of geographical-based dating sites come into discussion. Grindr, for anyone who has lived in a hole for the past couple of years, is an app that you download for smart phones. The application allows gay men to turn on their GPS and find potential partners who also have the application and priorities the partners that are closest to you. Luckily, I’ve learned a lot about Grindr through my male friends and brother who remark on how the app started off as a bootycall system but has emerged to a community in and of itself. Many users log into the app to find friends, make blind dates, and just goof around. It wasn’t until Tindr emerged last year did the game change and the Grindr-like apps emerge for heterosexuals, queers, and lesbians.

Grindr was a huge success and a game changer in dating. In a press release on its third birthday, Grindr boasted 3.5 million daily users in over 192 countries. Grindr made international headlines when the app went down proving that users love the site. Following its success, apps have flooded the m4m mobile market with specialized apps such as Mister, “Scruff, u2nite, iDate, SpeedDate, Hornet, SLAM, nearox, ManCandy, Gaybook, Purpll and Adam4Adam.” Even more interestingly, OutMilitary just released their mobile app  a couple months ago.

These apps made me think quite a bit about how humans are little more then animals and how a primary concern, (after food and shelter,) is often sexual experiences. It’s no surprise that it took little time for technology to catch up with our desire to find potential mates that are geographically close. The trick is encouraging enough of the same kind of crowd to create usernames to find. This has been a continual issue in queer communities. It’s difficult to encourages a multitude of sexualities, sexual identities, and transpeople to feel safe in these kinds of semi-public sectors.

Karen Barad’s “Nature’s Queer Performativity” begins with a discussion on acts against nature primarily homosexual acts that have been categorized as moral transgressions. Barad dismisses calling homosexual actions “against nature” precisely because these intra-actions are extremely prominent in animal populations and the natural world. As technology increasing becomes personal and part of our identities, it was no surprise that we would find a way to make dating even easier and there would be progressively more users. Recently, The Washington Post cited a Flurry Analytics report, saying that “the number of people using dating apps is growing faster than the number using all apps.” Juniper Research predicts the mobile dating apps will be worth $2.3 billion by 2016. People have become more attached to their technology and have not lost the urge to make connections, so a device that acts as an intermediary between others and our personal devices make sense.

These gay apps give the illusion that gay is becoming progressively acceptable as the apps take over the mobile market. Unfortunately, for quite sometime these stats were not mutual in the lesbian dating app market. But not so fast there, speedracer. These explosive stats aren’t echoed in sapphic dating apps in the slightest. Many technology writers asked where the lesbian apps are.

The success of gay male apps and failure of female apps offer a queer picture of the state of sexual liberation in the virtual world. Similar to Barad’s characterization of queer critters, these apps maintain casual relations that are exhibited as a “result of the phenomenal/entangled nature of ‘their’ being (127). Unlike gay men who thrive off of an app like Grindr, queer women need apps that enact an appropriate “agential cut” between themselves and potential partners. Just because a particular scattering of men on Grindr love and thrive off the platform does not mean it works for all gay men. Like the atom in Barad’s paper, many of us are indeterminate and constitutive of many intra-actions (139). Generalizations are dangerous assumptions and essential notions do not always translate into big profits.

Kristen, a contributing writer and editor at Autostraddle, recently did an investigative piece about gay apps for women and her findings are thought-provoking as her tone remains humorous. Her article offers interesting insight on intra-actions between queer women, entanglements between sexual orientations, and the relational meanings that emerge as humans use technology as a mechanism to find sex. She began with the question: “does mobile community and digital gaydar sound like something queer women want?”

“I DID THIS FOR YOU LADIES.” – Kristen on Autostraddle

GirlDar champions itself as a way to “connect queer women for networking and friendship purposes.”  The developer, Krysten, has repeatedly reminded users  that it’s still in its infancy and needs the support and patience to grow.

Brenda is a simple app that stresses safe spaces and reminds users to agree to their ground rules to chat with other queer-identified women.  Kristen asserts that many users liked their app but there were very few actually using it. Additionally, Pink Sofa is an Android app that Kristen attributed to have similar success to Brenda. The two apps are not ideal for instant messaging and connecting with others close by.

“THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I WAS LOOKING FOR.” – Kristen on Autostradde

LGBT Chat and Lesbian Chat are just chat rooms that encourage cybersex to emerge in its natural habitat.

Kristen was desperate to find an app comparable to Grindr and the only app that was free and open to women was Blendr which claims it allows users to “make new social connections and meet people who share your interests or background and like to visit the same places you do.” Fortunately, this app allows users to pick sexual orientation (although queer and trans is not on the list). A relatively private site, you do not have to enter any information besides your name and gender. This app encourages you to go through a checklist of hobbies to find others with similar interests regardless of orientation, gender, or proximity.

Kristen MeetMoi  claims it “turns every occasion into an opportunity to connect with the people around you.” Every occasion? That sounds promising! The app encourages you to make a profile before making intros to people nearby. Intros are a one time phenomenon that last an hour or you can pay to talk someone from the Browse menu. This app was reviewed as poor and a waste of time.

Skout claims it helps you “find your party anytime, anywhere.” Kristen spoke to a few ladies who claimed to like it. Unlike the other apps, the Meet People section actually shows ladies who were interested in speaking to ladies! Compared to the other apps reviewed in her article, this app stood out for its usability, clean interface, immediately introduces you to users after making a profile, and the quality of chats on the forum.

According to Kristen, Skout’s major downfall was that men could see or message her even if I only wanted to speak to women. The strange thing about this app is although men do not come up into the contact list of lesbian-identified women, all women come up in the contact list of men looking for women.  The mobile harassment issue made Kristen particularly curious about who’s actually on the other side of the screen. Other users suggested Kristen use the block button or ask users to send photos with today’s paper.

Kristen went further and asked users if any of them would use their apps in a Grindr-like way. In her research, few people were interested and most used the app exclusively as an instant chat method. Most users used it anonymously, few used in semi-anonymously, and even more rare were users who used it as an introduction before real world encounters. Kristen makes an interesting assessment of the state of things by claiming that,  “queer women shying away from instant hookups (digital or not) may just be a fact for now, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, for the lady that simply wants to talk to other queer ladies in her area, we’re moving in the right direction.” So perhaps it’s understanding to assume that gay does not translate across internet dating sites, social media apps, and chatrooms.

The best of all the apps was Badoo which prides itself as “great for chatting, making friends, sharing interests, and even dating!” This app is the most popular on the market (158 million users worldwide ) and has the capital necessary to design and maintain a slick looking and effective working app. This app encourages users to sync their account with their FBook profile or create something more anonymous (including  letting you create a more flexible orientation). Most importantly, Kristen commended that the app lets you actually talk to women and not be messaged by men.

So the truth of the matter is there is no ideal app on the market But that does not mean that some apps don’t have the potential to be great provided that users encourage others to join the apps and encourage more participation. Like mentioned in Jack Halberstam’s “Animal Sexuality beyond the Hetero/Homo Binary” things are not as clear cut as we’d like them to be. Just like animation has the rich and meaningful potential to rethink collectives, transform, and reconsider animality so do apps that facilitate ripe sites for intervention and entanglements (322). These apps are a heavy mix of science, mathematical algorithms, biology, and design. They are not pure content – only an aesthetic mediation of what happens “in the wild.”

If you’re interested in more material about human sexuality and the grey areas of orientation, gender, and pluralism, check out the Flexuality test by James W. Hicks, MD. The test is designed to help users reconsider that labels are only ever offer a partial picture of ourselves. Its our responsibility to move outside binary thinking (gay/straight, homo/hetero, bi/mono) and look inside ourselves to understand pleasure, pain, and sensuality.

Works Cited

Halberstam, Judith. Animal sociality beyond the hetero/homo binary in Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory. Vol. 20, No. 3, November 2010, 321–331.

Barad, Karen. “Nature’s Queer Performativity” in Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences. Vol. 19(2):121-158, Spring/Summer 2011.

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