The arguments are old and tiresome, and I read or hear them almost every time I write or talk about my misadventures on Grindr.
“What do you expect from a hook-up app?”
“Why don’t you try meeting people in the real world?”
“Get a life.”
The clockwork arrival is practically guaranteed by guys around my age (forties) and older who think they always know better. Their unsolicited, sanctimonious wisdom: Back in the good old days before smartphones and social media took over everyone’s existence, gay life — and gays in general — were so much nicer.
Not only is the accompanying blanket implication that the Grindr generation lacks basic communication skills subtle ageism from folks who gripe when ageism is directed at them (“Age is nothing but a number” doesn’t apply strictly to those over 40), but it’s just so wrong. Some of the best offline conversations and interactions I’ve had in recent years have been with guys 25 and younger who found me online.
Grindr didn’t invent gay assholes. It just gave them a new platform. Going off the grid doesn’t guarantee smoother rides with guys. Racism, objectification, and shaming aren’t phenomena that belong strictly to the era of hook-up and dating apps. Just because men didn’t typically open conversations with “Top or bottom?” and “Looking for?” in 1998, or even in 2008, doesn’t mean a good man with manners and conversation skills was easy to find back then.
In my travel memoir Is It True What They Say About Black Men?: Tales of Love, Lust and Language Barriers on the Other Side of the World, Grindr and Gaydar play major supporting roles, but most of the leading men — the ones I loved, lost, and occasionally came to loathe — I met offline.
I was sexually harassed and harangued, objectified, shamed, and, on at least one occasion, called the N-word by men I met out in the real world. There, I was left without an LCD screen to separate me from handsy suitors like the one who grabbed my hand at DJ Station in Bangkok and put it on his exposed penis. Some left their paw prints and, in the end, longer-lasting emotional scars than online jerks who were all talk and XXX pics.
I’m old enough to remember when gays were shamed for going to bars and clubs to meet people. Now the shaming space is a different venue: gay dating and hook-up apps. Since I starting coming out 27 years ago, the biggest loser I’ve dated was someone I met not online, not under a strobelight, and not by the bar, but in the cafeteria at work. If I had gone to church, I probably would have found much worse there.
The million-dollar question is this: Why are men who spend their lives battling judgment often so judgmental themselves?
Three nights, three gay men
The last gay guy I met whom I didn’t first encounter on Grindr, I met three nights before I started writing this when I was sitting solo on a stool against the wall at a place called Thor’s Hammer Gay Bar in Bucharest, Romania. He appeared to be in his fifties, and his accent sounded like it was Scandinavian in origin.
He approached me and introduced himself as a photographer who was working on a project for the bar.
“Would you mind if I take some photographs of you?”
“No, sure. Why not?”
I then smiled for camera.
“Wait, wait. Why are you smiling? I don’t want you to smile. I want you to look natural.”
“Sorry, but I always smile in photos because I don’t like how I photograph when I’m not smiling.”
“But your smile is so fake. Look at this.” He shoved the camera in my face and showed me a strip of photos that I quite liked. “You look like you’re posing. It’s awful.
“Don’t you want people to see the real you?” he continued as if I’d shown up at Thor’s to audition to be in his photo project.
I was already regretting engaging him (it’s so much easier to end a difficult conversation online — you just stop responding), but I decided to humor him by explaining my preference for smiling poses with a story. I told him about my recent encounter with some Chinese tourists in Skopje, Macedonia, whom I caught taking photos of me when I wasn’t paying attention. After asking to see the photos they’d been taking, I suggested they take some in which I was smiling and not chewing.
“Oh, that’s so racist,” the Thor’s Hammer photographer interrupted.
“Those tourists were only taking photos of you because you’re black. That’s so racist.”
“Well, I think it was less that I am black than it was that I am different. I know white people who have had similar experiences in places like India. And also, as a black man, I’m less offended by a bunch of middle-aged Chinese tourists taking photos of me than by some of the less-friendly alternatives.”
“No, no, no. It’s racist,” he said in an incriminatory tone that made it sound like he was partly blaming me for not being properly incensed. “Would they have taken pictures if you were white, or Asian?”
“Probably not. But just because something happens to you because of your race doesn’t mean it happens to you because of racism. People stare at me all the time in this part of the world, but that doesn’t make them racist. I certainly don’t think the kids who gathered around me begging for photos in Sarajevo were being racist!”
From bad to awful
Curiosity isn’t a symptom of racism. Malice and condescension are — so, in a less obvious way, is the patronizing assumption that anything that happens to a black man happens to him because of racism. Where was the block option when I needed it?
My lifetime of firsthand experience with racism didn’t matter to him. He wasn’t budging from his initial diagnosis. Since I’m black, a silly tourist moment that happens to me must be a form of racial victimization. He continued whitesplaining racism to me (as so many white gays before him have tried to do online), because apparently, I had no clue.
When I challenged him by pointing out that I didn’t need a refresher course on racism because I live with it every day, he announced that he lives with it too — courtesy of his Brazilian housemate. The implication: Because of his personal connection to non-white, he knows being on the receiving end of racism as intimately as I do.
As he talked, he made his points with increasingly aggressive body contact, and my responses became louder and angrier as I recoiled from his jabs. He went back in on my “fake” smile, and when I suggested he photograph fruit if he doesn’t want his subjects to have an opinion, he gave up.
“You’re very handsome. I hope you have a good evening.” His words echoed those of guys online who go from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde when facing rejection, only he was switching in reverse.
“I apologize if I offended you,” he said in his most condescending see-I-am-better-than-you tone, and moved on.
Back to the grid
The next afternoon, I received a Grindr message from a 48-year-old tourist from Canada who had seen me the previous night as I was leaving Thor’s, minutes after my exchange with the photographer.
“We were going to come up and say hi to you but then you left shortly after we arrived”, he wrote.
“My friend and I are going tonight. If you want some company and conversation come tonight.”
I stopped by the bar later on as I was walking home after having a drink with three lovely ladies I’d met. “America!” he shouted when he spotted me.
“Canada” and I chatted for about 30 minutes. We shared travel stories and tips, and he offered his opinion about why so few gay men in Eastern European cities like Bucharest go out to the one or two local gay bars (if they even exist). It’s not because Grindr has replaced face-to-face communication, he said, but because they’re in the closet and afraid of people seeing them in gay establishments.
It was an interesting point of view that I’d explored in the past (like here), and one that shows just how clueless and provincial so many of those people who turn up their noses at the apps as an unnecessary gay evil are. It’s also why most of the gay stories I’ve told over my past eight months in Eastern Europe began online, which anyone who’s ever bothered to leave their U.S. comfort zone probably already understands.
I was so happy to be talking to an intelligent, agreeable, and well-traveled gay man that I stayed about a half hour longer than I intended to. When I said “It was nice chatting with you,” at the end, I really meant it.
Although he first laid eyes on me off Grindr, we probably never would have met if it hadn’t been for the grid. Not once did he ask about my preferred sexual position, my endowment, or what I was looking for. Our entire interaction was as non-sexual as the one I’d previously been having with the ladies over wine.
Another night, another score
Earlier that day, I’d received a Grindr message from a guy in his early twenties who also didn’t ask any of those clichéd Grindr questions. He introduced himself as Dan, and once we had a rapport going, he requested a shift in online venue from Grindr to Facebook, because, he said, “I hate this app.”
Sensing a kindred spirit who also regarded it as a necessary evil in an ultra-homophobic culture where you don’t just meet other gay men in the produce section, I agreed. Once we connected via Facebook Messenger, he said he was a photographer, and he was looking to take some photos with a black guy.
Would you be interested? he wrote. If not, he assured me, we could just hang out.
Recalling my encounter with the photographer the previous evening, I was initially hesitant. But after I told Dan about that experience, he promised he’d let me smile as much as I wanted to, so I was in. The night after I met “Canada,” I went to Dan’s studio for our photo shoot.
As Grindr connections/dates go, it was the second successful one in as many nights. Dan took beautiful photos and never once made me or my smile feel uncomfortable. When he showed me a photo of a shirtless white male model wearing an aluminum collar with water dripping from his face and asked if I’d like to do something similar, I was so at ease with him that I was fully onboard.
Feeling emboldened and adventurous because of how great the shirtless aluminum and water shots looked, I suggested we take some of me in the bathtub like the ones he’d shown me earlier. While we were waiting for the water to rise, we were so excited by how great the shoot was going that we embraced. We hugged for several minutes before we started kissing.
By the time I was lying in the bathtub submerged in water (and wearing his black swimsuit to cover my private parts), I probably would have done anything for Dan the photographer and anything with Dan the man.
But I didn’t, and he didn’t press. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had with a guy I met on or offline in the seven months I’ve been traveling through the Balkans, and he never said or asked anything that made me feel icky or like a piece of meat.
In my first 12 of 14 days in Bucharest, I’d had significant interactions with three gay men — one whom I’d met offline, and two on. The former reminded me that although gay men usually didn’t open with “Top or bottom?” in the days before online hook-ups became a thing, they frequently went on to be just as annoying and/or offensive as the online guys who immediately drop clichés as well as their trousers for those introductory XXX pics.
The latter two reminded me that there are good guys everywhere, even on the online grids. Sometimes they’re hiding in plain sight among the racist, sex-obsessed, shaming and shameful jerks who fool so many into thinking they’re living their best gay life because it’s grid-free.
You may have to go out into the real world to actually meet the good guys, but to find them, sometimes they really are right at the tips of your fingers.
We want to hear your opinion
Blowjobs in Berlin
Want to know how to give the best blowjob of your life? Michael Soze of Boner Magazine has put together this handy guide.
Why is it called a blowjob?
The name itself isn’t particularly accurate. Nothing is blown here. The theory is that the term is derived from the slang of English prostitutes — to ‘blow off’ was to drain the steam, to release the pressure from the pipe.
Who invented the blowjob?
The earliest recorded blowjobs have been found on papyrus scrolls from Ancient Egypt. But the blowjob also appears in the records of the ancient civilisations of China and India. It’s a practice that also seems to have been celebrated by Native American tribes. Even today, there are tribes in Papua New Guinea where boys swallow the sperm of an adult as part of their initiation rite. Blowjobs have power.
Who wants a blowjob?
While blowjobs are generally accepted as a fairly normal part of a sexual encounter, studies suggest that 50 percent of straight guys report that they want to receive more oral sex.
Turn-offs or turn-ons?
If you’re guy who’s hooking-up with another guy, it’s a pretty safe assumption that blowjobs will be on the menu.
But not all guys are into the same things, so until you’ve got a bit familiar with each other you might want to play it safe to ensure that some repeat business is an option.
Cleanliness is usually a good starting point. Sure, lots of guys are into sweat and stank, but if you’re expecting a blowjob from a guy you don’t really know then having a shower and ensuring that you’re minty fresh is a sensible move.
Manscaping is something to consider. If you’re a hairy guy, a bit of a pre-blowjob trim might be a good option. Not only will it reduce the amount of stray hairs flying around, but it presents your package in its prime.
Take your time
Depending on the encounter that you’re having, a blowjob maybe all that you’ve got time for. However, if you’re not in a rush, taking your time with each other will result in a better blowjob all round and will probably lead to a further exploration of the fun that you can have together.
Practice makes perfect
Here’s some things to think about if you’re wanting to deliver a great blowjob:
- Make him wait. You know you’re going to give him a blowjob. He knows you’re going to give him a blowjob. But don’t just dive straight in there. Foreplay of any description is all about building the anticipation and expectation. If the first step on the sexual road-map of your encounter is getting your mouth on his cock, gradually work your way towards that. Use your lips and hands to explore his body. Slowly undress him. When you eventually peel down his underwear and his cock springs free he should be so ready for you that he’s begging you to put your mouth to work.
- Get him wet. Once you’ve got his cock in your hands and your mouth ready to go, don’t think that you’ve got to get his cock into the back of your throat as quickly as possible. Ideally, that’s where you’re heading, but take your time. Use your lips, use your tongue. Work your mouth up and down his shaft — get as much saliva as you can all over every inch of his cock. Keep jacking him while you’re working your mouth on him. Get your tongue into his balls. If he’s got a foreskin then give that as much attention as possible. Get him so turned on that he’s aching to feel your lips wrap around the head of his cock.
- When you can’t resist any more, let the head of his cock start to slide across your tongue. Try and stay in control of the pace and momentum of the encounter. If you’re doing it right, by this point he’s going to be tempted to just grab hold of your head and throat-fuck you, but if you show him that you know what you’re doing he’ll want to experience everything you’ve got.
- While you’re taking his cock in your mouth, keep using your hands on him. Jacking his cock while you’re sucking him, alternating your mouth and your hands. Some guys really respond to a bit of a twisting action as you work up and down their cock-shaft. Keep playing with his balls.
- The general rule with a blowjob is no teeth. The cock is obviously a sensitive part of the body, and teeth are generally a bit of a boner killer. However, if you’re having an encounter that’s a bit more intense then you might not have to worry so much if your teeth are occasionally making contact with his cock.
- When it comes to blowjobs, saliva is your friend. You need his cock to be spit-slick and as wet as possible. Don’t worry about slobbering all over him, that’s what you’ve got to do. If your mouth is getting dry, it’s handy to keep a bottle of water handy. You can use lubricant if you want, but nothing beats a spit-slick cock.
- A good blowjob will often lead to rimming, but that’s a whole separate article, so we’re not going to address that here. Except to say that we’re obviously in favour. We love rimming. You also might want to use your fingers on his hole or fucking into him. Some guys really like that while they’re getting their cock sucked, for others it feels a bit like a distraction. Give it a try, the way his body responds will let you know how he feels about it.
- As the heat between you builds, you’re going to be taking his cock deeper and deeper into your mouth and into your throat. It can take a bit of practice to build confidence and experience to know what it feels like to have a hard cock slamming into your throat. Take your time, do what you feel comfortable with. Breathing through your nose helps. The more you can relax, the deeper you’ll be able to take him. There’s nothing quite so blissful as feeling his balls slapping against your chin or nose as he slams his hard cock into the back of your throat. This is where you both lose yourself in the intensity of the moment — all he can think about is fucking your throat, and all you can think about is servicing his cock.
When you lose yourself in the pleasure of giving an awesome blowjob, it’s fairly likely that from time to time his cock will slam so deep into your throat that you’ll gag a bit. It’s no big deal, don’t panic, just slow down the pace a little, re-focus, and get back to work.
It’s not always easy to multi-task while you’re focused on giving a great blow-job. If you’ve got a spare hand, give his nipples some attention. Twisting them hard is a great way to intensify what he’s feeling.
Giving a blowjob is one of the most intimate things you can do with a guy. It’s really important that you’re totally present in the experience. You don’t need to have constant eye-contact, that would probably raise some red flags, but looking him in the eye while you’re sucking his cock is a real turn-on and demonstrates the sexual connection you have with him.
Leave the bad dialogue to vintage porn. Your mouth should be too busy to say anything, and all you want to hear from him are grunts of pleasure.
These are a bit superfluous if you’re giving a blowjob to a guy on a one-off random hook-up, but if you’ve got repeat business and you want to mix things up a bit then here’s a few tricks you can try:
- Warm your mouth with warm water, this gives him a different sensation.
- Heat up half a grapefruit. Squeeze it and cut off the end — you’re effectively making a grapefruit flesh-jack. Push his cock through it and jack him with the grapefruit while you’re also sucking him.
- Suck on a mint and then lick his cock-head. It will give him an intense tingling sensation.
- Play with your food. Whipped cream, chocolate sauce, or honey can all be good fun.
Spit or swallow?
- Obviously, your encounter may not end with the blowjob, so how you enjoy each other’s cum could be a question at a different stage in proceedings.
- There are some studies that suggest that 90 percent of guys don’t swallow — that they prefer the cum to spray over their chest or their face. That number seems high to me, so we might need to do some more research on that.
- Sure, it may not taste exactly like pineapple juice, but feeling a guy’s cum pumping down your throat is pretty satisfying and a great testament to your blowjob skills.
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