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COLLEGE FEMINISMS: No Fat, No Femme: The Politics of Grindr - The Feminist Wire

COLLEGE FEMINISMS: No Fat, No Femme: The Politics of Grindr

By Nick Artrip

I turn on my phone and allow my fingers to scroll across the numerous apps. I select “Grindr” and smile with anticipation. So many possibilities await me! Loves undiscovered, connections that I may not have been able to make before. As I read more and more profile descriptions I become disheartened. “No fat” I see.  I take in phrases such as “no femme” or “masc only.” Everything I’ve learned in my courses about feminisms has been thrown out the window.

Grindr has become a large cultural phenomenon within the gay community that offers an experience that may be both liberating and oppressing. Many users will claim that they are not looking for hook ups, although Grindr has earned the reputation of being a “hook up app.” It is empowering in that it allows persons to locate gay men who use the app who are near them, even offering an approximate distance. For someone who is newly out or simply questioning, this can be an opportunity to find a friend or confidante.

The attitudes that emerge on Grindr, however, are counterproductive to many movements. Numerous profile descriptions include languages such as “no femme” or “masc only,” which acts to devalue many men who may not fit into the traditional prescriptions of masculinity that have been scripted and assumed in our patriarchal society. Often, this language can become transphobic, using slurs that exclude many users. Many profiles also include language such as “top only” or “top/verse.”

Misogyny has crept so greatly into our culture that even sexual positions within the gay community have become politicized. To admit openly that your preference is being a bottom is to admit an air of what is perceived as femininity. Many users mask this fear by adding the term “vers” or versatile because it allows space to negotiate. In a community that for centuries has been forced time and time again to prove their masculinity, femininity has become stigmatized to a degree that is often frightening and exclusionary.

Racism is also prevalent in our current Grindr culture. Some phrases that are popular are “no Black, no Asian” or “white guys to front of the line.” People are being given value based upon their race. However, for some, if they aren’t being rejected, they are being fetishized. For example, another popular moniker is “Rice Queen” or “Rice Daddy,” which is a racist descriptor used to describe gay men of non-Asian descent who are particularly attracted to Asian men. As a former Grindr user who disclosed his Jewish identity on his profile, I was subjected to an interesting mix of messages such as, “I’ve always wanted a Jewish husband” and “Do you have any Jew gold to spare?”

There’s a fine line between sexual taste and sexual fetishization. There are assertions, even scientific, that suggest that sexual preference is inherent and not socially constructed. It would be difficult to completely remove socialized beauty norms from this phenomenon, however. We have been told too often and from too many sources that certain appearances are better than others. In a different time in my life, I often felt unworthy and unbeautiful because I didn’t fit the standard of beauty for men.  A student of feminism and race theory, I am often questioning where fetishization begins and ends.

By exotifying flesh we otherize people. Though one’s intent might not be racist et al., the language sometimes used to describe fantasy and desire is at times racist and othering, especially on Grindr. In this new world of technology, interaction has — to some degree — become so impersonal that no consideration is taken for other parties.  Simultaneously, users are turned into objects that either fit or don’t fit another user’s desires.

The terms “no fat” or “no fatties” appear often, and I cannot say that I am surprised by the persistence of this given the “Adonis Factor” that has always had prevalence within the gay community. Yet, while fatness is being devalued by some, it is being fetishized by self-identified “chubby chasers.” In using this app people are expected to disclose their sexuality and gender, but are also expected to disclose their body types. This others body types that do not fit a norm. This is particularly disheartening for someone who embraces fatness as an identity.

As a self-identified “fat femme bottom” the world of Grindr is often one that can be cruel to me and others like me. By embracing these terms I hope to cause others to think. Is there a problem with accepting these identities and making them a part of my narrative? I don’t believe so. It isn’t uncommon for these identities to make others feel uncomfortable. I can identify as “femme” but this does not erase the male privilege I inherently have. I am, however, devalued to an extent, by the femininity I display.

My brightly colored nails with a confetti topcoat often draw attention and puzzled looks. It is often difficult for others to realize that I’m not here to perform for them. I embrace my femininity as well as my masculinity unapologetically. By openly accepting the label “bottom” I hope to subvert the gaze that I am subject to in a gay culture where being “top” is king. I am a “power bottom” both sexually and socially. My prefered position does not make me “less than.” Taking these identities and being open with them often limits my romantic possibilities, especially with men who are afraid of them. I find, however, I would prefer to be unapologetically me than conform to a norm for companionship.

Fatphobia appears in many realms of our lifeworld, but the oppressions felt cannot be compared. For a woman, being overweight or not fitting what society has defined as the norm can often be difficult. It is interesting to see how women who own the label of fat at times garner praise from the gay male community and ridicule from the heterosexual community, while I as a gay man who embraces the label fat receives praise mostly from the heterosexual female community and ridicule from the gay male community. Being female and fat in a society that has set very specific beauty ideals is difficult, especially when occupying a body that has always been subjected to a sexualized male gaze.

At times I feel this attitude in the gay community. It’s desexaulizing. Instead of being viewed as sexual subject or a potential romance, I am sometimes forced into the category of the “frumpy gay friend.” Still, I have learned to embrace my identities and my body. Yet, I worry for others, particularly future generations, who have not. Technology such as the Internet and apps like Grindr have given us greater access to communication with people who are like us, but has also worked to expose us to the world’s caprice.

Grindr has become a space where one can find many problematic values of misogyny, racism, body-shaming and other violent language. It is my greatest hope that these attitudes will one day encourage others, specifically young men, to start a dialogue about how we “other” individual’s identities and place value on one another according to the spaces we occupy — and how we occupy them. Persecuting each other for our differences isn’t working for us.  It doesn’t allow us to address many of the greater issues facing the queer community.

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GrindrNick Artrip is an undergraduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) double majoring in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies and Religious studies. As a student, Nick is heavily involved in the Jewish community on VCU’s campus, and is involved in various feminist and queer oriented organizations. His main interests are Jewish feminism, queer theory, and the politics of masculinity.

17 Comments

  1. Fannie LeFlore

    November 8, 2013 at 9:46 am

    It minimizes racism and sexism when non-sensical examples are used to describe what constitutes real oppression.

    People’s preferences with intimate partners are not the same as being racist. If someone doesn’t want to date a person of a different race, who cares?

    I am a black woman and hetero. I don’t care if someone wants to exclude me socially from their lives for whatever reason. After all, I have a right to be selective too about friends and intimate relationships.

    Just don’t mess with my QUALITY OF LIFE OPPORTUNITIES — educational, economic, larger social/societal human rights and political options. When you take away options in these areas, that’s when racism, sexism, etc. are problems warranting response, reform or revolutions at different levels.

    Conscious people of color are not salivating for personal approval by white people. Enlightened women are not holding their breath waiting for men to tell them they have basic value as human beings.

    In economic and political arenas, those who keep saying things like “White men to the front” will ultimately find themselves viewed with less respect over time, due to the inherent racism and sexism of assuming all white men are somehow more deserving than everyone else. The superiority bull has gotten way old. What we see with extreme economic inequality is a result on ongoing discrimination against women and people of color, and now affecting white middle class as well as diverse poor people.

    Who cares what people’s personal preferences for mates may be? To each his or her own…

  2. Miss M

    November 8, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    @Fannie: maybe for you these things are trivial but imagine yourself as a queer man trying to connect with people online and having people outright say no to you before you even talk to them. I’m a hetero lady but I’ve been in enough gay men’s circles to know that their openness with each other can sometimes be cruel. No offense intended, I adore gay men but their racism and sexism can be really hurtful for my femme friends who are both people of colour and anti-racist white men. Nick, thanks for writing this. I totally agree that sexual positions are gendered and you have great analysis. Fat femme solidarity- you put the power in bottom 🙂

  3. Fannie LeFlore

    November 8, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    Miss M Someone — Unless I misinterpreted the author’s points completely, not being interested in dating someone is a personal choice.

    It is nonsense to call it discrimination just because someone isn’t personally interested in dating you, me or anyone of us. That’s not being racist if someone wants to only date certain people. If someone doesn’t want to date a person with a certain body type (fat or skinny), people have a right to choose and respond primarily to those they find attractive.

    I have empathy for all marginalized people and am concerned about systemic oppression and discrimination — racism, sexism, homophobia, extreme income inequality affecting quality of life of diverse people.

    And of course, no one should bully or make fun of others, which is what forms of oppression can amount to.

    But that’s different from personal preferences.
    Someone being upset about the personal choices of others amounts to a sense of entitlement. It involved not respecting the boundaries other people have.

    For example, I’m completely supportive of gay men. But gay men should not be overly pushy with hetero men, for example, when a hetero has indicated clearly that he is not interested, etc.

    • QueerAphrodite

      November 28, 2013 at 6:26 am

      Fannie LeFlore people’s personal sexual and romantic preferences are based on the same learned behaviour which racism, sexism, transphobia and ageism originate.

      If you’re not prejudice, the most important factors in choosing a partner would be how you find a person physically attractive, emotionally and intellectually compatible *as an individual* and not how that person fit’s into your stereotyped and biased beliefs of what a perfect partner needs to be.

  4. Zax

    November 9, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    Just to put it shortly, everyone can have their own taste or preference when it comes to their romantic and sexual life. It is how your wishes and desires are outwardly expressed though, that can make or break the deal.

    If on Grindr in your description you say something like, “Men 18-35 ONLY” that is discriminatory towards age – ageism. Delete that description, and type in something saying, “No black or Hispanic people” that would be racism. In both of these situations what has been said is discriminating against a certain demographic of people. The reason the latter is more offensive to people because of the more prominent history of racism in our society and culture. (Ageism becomes a problem where people are recruited for certain tasks i.e. the military, police force).

    Nick, this is a very well written post. I think that the sooner people start to adopt this model of thinking, the world will slowly rid itself of its stereotypes and hate.

  5. JJ

    November 10, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    “phrases such as “no femme” or “masc only.”

    And just by identifying gay you’re “discriminating” based on gender, by calling yourself gay you are implicitly saying “no women, men only”. Why is one OK and not the other?

    By the standard you’re suggesting unless someone is just completely pansexual, they’re prejeduced.

    • QueerAphrodite

      November 28, 2013 at 5:51 am

      “…And just by identifying gay you’re “discriminating” based on gender, by calling yourself gay you are implicitly saying “no women, men only”. Why is one OK and not the other?…”

      Sexual orientation is inherent, it’s something a person cannot change. Whilst sexual preference is a learned behaviour, it’s something a person can change and does change over a persons lifetime.

  6. W

    November 11, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    I think that, based on the replies, some people are missing the point. While for many people, who they find attractive / are open to dating is not based in racism or discrimination; the way they express these desires often employs racist or discriminatory language. It is one thing to say that you are generally attracted to (fill in the blank). But it is another to have a complete blanket statement NO (whatever). Let’s face it, none of us downloaded the app for its pristine reputation to meet and date a nice guy, maybe we thought or heard it could happen, but the majority of people you speak to will tell you that this app has a specific intended purpose.

    I also think that when it comes to sex or dating people do have some racial preconceived notions. Case in point, my mother is caucasion, my father is african american, generally I do not advertise my race online simply because when asked to describe myself, hobbies, location ect come to mind first. Regardless it is fun to see the different reactions to race. some used to assume I am of some latin, asian, or middle eastern heritage and chat me up then drop me like a bad habit once race came up.

    In defense of rejection, again implied in the article, you absolutely have the right to refuse a date or sex to anyone regardless of what you have messaged them or what you say in your profile. However, as members of an already other-ized community (or as outdated as this concept sounds; fellow human beings???, manners anyone???) we need not create rifts within. A simple no thank or though a bit rude, no response would suffice. to reiterate a NO BLACKS chant is hurtful.

    I’ll also throw in, Nick, picture alone I’d message you and intelligent discourse in the fashion of this article would keep me messaging you 😉

    • Fannie LeFlore

      November 11, 2013 at 7:05 pm

      If someone writes “No blacks,” why would a self-respecting black person even want to date this person?

      And, perhaps the website can revise their platform so people can check boxes. I know the Interracial Dating website allows options for people to select, and everyone on such a site knows those signed up are relatively open to dating diverse people.

    • Miss M

      November 11, 2013 at 9:34 pm

      I think the problem is more that when you say “no x”, you are saying you only want to date other racist people who also think it’s ok to be so openly discriminatory online.
      I like to think its nicer to say, “in general my type is x”, but overwhelmingly I see it written as “in general my type is white” and so I still think it shows what a white supremacist society we live in. Maybe not everybody agrees with this idea, but I bet there are some who do. I think it’s far more polite to just ignore people or say “no thank you”. I prefer when people keep their bigoted attitudes to themselves.

      Some sites do have filters and it’s great that there are interracial dating sites but I think these are just short-term solutions. Grindr is like the Facebook of gay hook-up apps so the chances of you finding someone you like is higher there. We need to recognize our prejudices and call others out on theirs.

  7. t dawg

    November 12, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    Fannie Le Flore I totally agree with you. While I think the check box idea for certain mate selection criteria such as gender, race, age, etc is the most PC way to run the app, it certainly is not necessary.
    The author (and other commenters) seem to be confusing the idea of sexual discrimination and discrimination in general.

    Sure, it would be more PC to enlist checkboxes to identify your preferences in a mate, but that doesnt change the fact that discrimination based on age, race, sex, and body type are occurring. And honestly, it is NOT a bad thing to be sexually discriminatory.

  8. Leila

    November 16, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    I find Fannie’s replies very disheartening.

    Nick: I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. Thank you very much for this!

    • Fannie LeFlore

      November 17, 2013 at 11:00 am

      Leila wrote: “I find Fannie’s replies very disheartening.”

      Really, next time, just say you don’t agree with me.
      My views do not represent the end of the world.
      Stop the drama.

      • Zaxary

        November 17, 2013 at 9:01 pm

        Yeah, I totally agree with Madame LeFlore. What b.s that is. Have a position on this at the very least.

        • Fannie LeFlore

          November 18, 2013 at 12:12 am

          Zaxary, good to know you understand the point.

  9. Frankinstein

    November 21, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Thank you so much for this articulate, intelligent article. There has long been a serious misogyny (and yes, racism, although experientially, I can only speak to the misogyny) problem in the gay community. This has resulted in, as you point out, the dismissal and denigration of femme men, as well as the dismissal and denigration of women. I’ve even had gay men grab me (boobs and/or butt), then tell me I have no right to get offended or upset “because I’m gay, honey, I’m not turned ON by you.” I’ve also seen some wicked horrible scenes where the insults start to fly … and the worst thing that men can apparently call each other is a woman. 🙁

  10. Bridget

    November 22, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    As a mixed race, disabled, fat translady who likes dudes and transitioned after a number of years trying to make it as a gay femme, I can say that this experience of undesirability has everything to do with discrimination.

    Take a look at who we see in ads, in positions of power, and look at who we don’t see as desirable. Notice anything? Desirability is political. Although it is tempered by the cultural influence of our “preferences”. So in that way, yes, to each their own. Look up “the cotton ceiling” for an example of institutionalized undesirability looks like.

    We can’t make people want to date/fuck someone else, but what we can do is attempt to shift the culture and the meanings of desirability.

    To start, I see systemic shame. Shame for bodies that do not conforms to the norms of desirability, and shame for finding these bodies desirable. I think we need to find ways to respectfully voice how desirable people are. To appreciate people and value them. And to not put down what other people like. I’d love to see a culture where people are all valued and treated as human beings.