Somehow I think this is pertinent to some areas of my PhD research, albeit it is still a half-formed idea in my brain. This particular post has a little background story on it:
When I had a conversation with my friend the other day, we talked about relationship in general and the difficulties of gay men who are non-scene oriented to meet their potential partners offline. Out of a sudden, my kind and helpful friend mentioned that he has a friend who is single and interested to meet up for a date. I asked for a few details of his friend, and then I caught myself asking this question: “is your friend interested in meeting an Asian gay man for a date?”
He was rather bedazzled by that question of mine. He wasn’t sure why I was asking that. And I elaborated it further to him: “some people have a particular ethnic preference when it comes to who they date.” He nodded, and then the conversation sort of faded away, with both of us realized that ethnic discourse somewhat became a reality in modern dating practices. Moreover, I think the term ‘preference’ is highly contested and loaded.
In relation to that (however remote it could be), this conversation makes me realized about the impact that these gay hook-up/ dating mobile applications can have in my offline environment. Since when I start to question whether my ethnicity is desirable or problematic to others? I try very hard to recall my days back home in Malaysia, thinking about the ways in which I used to date. I do not remember ethnicity being a factor that I have to be wary about. And if that conversation that I had with my friend happened in Malaysia, I am pretty sure I will not be asking the same question at all. Perhaps I will be saying yes and go on a date instead of being worried about my ethnicity.
However generalized and assumptious this might sounds like, I do think that the these mobile applications(being one of the most widely use methods for gay men to look for another) play a significant part in constructing my perception of the dating scene in relation to my own ethnicity. These apps make me aware of my own ethnic identity; they make me think about my ethnic identity in a conscious way that I would have otherwise ignored in my daily life. The interface of these apps put my ethnicity into categories that I can select and make it visible to others.
As our mundane daily life is intertwined with technology, we are made aware of these online environments could indeed, impact on our offline settings in an unprecedented scale. Tudor (2012) argues that mobile application like Grindr blurs the distinction between online and offline, and it has the fascinating capacity to queer our offline space. To queer in this sense, is not as simple as just turning a space into a designated queer space; it is to queer the identity between online and offline. It confuses you between your online and offline identity, and issues that are normally ignored in our routinised daily life are now being brought onto the surface. Additionally, to queer in this notion also implies that ethnicity is being queered and questioned; do we all fit into these cookie-cutter ethnicity selections? What does it mean to possess a certain ethnic identity in relation to online dating? I have more questions now than answers.
The intriguing aspect of studying geo-location enabled mobile applications is how the users’ experience will change depending on the location that they are in. Additionally, subculture within these applications changes from location to location. Of course, there will always be similarities in these apps universally (such as the critical functions of sexual gratifications and meeting potential romantic interests), but the differences are far too striking to be ignored.
Gay hook-up/dating mobile applications, such as Grindr and Jack’D, tend to cater to different subcultures and audience within the gay community. For instance, Grindr in New Zealand is seen as the prominent ‘cybercottage’ for the purpose of sex-cruising, whereas Jack’D is seen as a social networking platform with less focus on hook-up. This preliminary suggestion/assumption is based on my initial observation on both of these applications. Grindr has significantly more users with topless pictures of themselves, and Jack’D in comparison, has more users with pictures of their face on their profiles instead of topless/naked pictures of themselves. However, as pointed out by Zhou (n.d.) in his recent study of cyberqueer techno-practice in China, Jack’D has a totally different audience base in China, in which its users are seeking for sexual gratifications rather than social networking on it. This is completely different in comparison to the cyber-subculture of Jack’D in New Zealand.
This leads back to my earlier point on how the users’ experience, the subcultures within these applications is very location specific and oriented. The geo-location technology that comes with these mobile applications, or commonly known as GPS, transmits location-specific data that are meaningful to its users. It makes these data relevant to its users, allowing them access to information that is pertinent to their geographical location and context. In relation to gay hook-up/dating mobile applications, the location specific information translates into particular cyber-subcultures that reflects local expectations and social codes. In other words, the ways in which people might use Grindr here in New Zealand might differ from how people in Los Angeles use it.The purpose and the orientation of these mobile applications differ accordingly, and the users have to be able to socialise into these positions and expectations before they could expect any positive results from these applications. For instance, the possibilities of someone successfully establishing a meaningful relationship with others on Grindr is lower than on Jack’D in New Zealand. This is of course, a rather simplistic and deterministic claim, as the possibilities are also depending on a lot of other factors, such as ethnicity, age, and physical appeals. The difference lies within the fact that these applications are labelled with certain social codes that attract different audience, and for some people, they might choose to use certain applications because it has a certain reputation that fits into their expectations of what type of interactions and crowds they will get from it.
My impression (which derives from my own experience of using these mobile applications)is that they have different crowds and types of interactions on these different platforms. For instance, if I am looking for a casual hook-up, I would consider Grindr instead of Jack’D. There are definitely overlaps in terms of the types of interaction, and it is not mutually exclusive. This means that there are still some people looking for casual hook-up on Jack’D, but the overall interactions on Jack’D is still very much social networking-oriented. As for Grindr, there are users that might be looking for a meaningful relationship or looking to establish their social network, but the general impression and environment is very focused on sexual hook-up due to their interface designs (which I will elaborate further in another post).
On this note, the cyber-subculture within these mobile applications differs from location to location. These applications not only are grounded by its physical location, it is also being localised and have its functions reinvented by its users within a specific location.
Zhou, T. (n.d.). Techno-practice and Offline Gay Male Experience in Contemporary China. Retrieved from http://www.inter-disciplinary.net/critical-issues/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/zhouerpaper.pdf
© 2015 Joe Xie Quin Lim