Downloading Grindr – then deleting it, before re-downloading it, only to delete it again – has become a modern rite of passage for queer men. The hook-up app revolutionised dating and sex when it arrived in 2009, inspiring the likes of Tinder and the digitised, swipe-heavy dating world of today. Grindr changed gay culture forever too: it created a visual map that proved that gay and bi men are literally everywhere (sometimes just feet away!). The app quickly became the most popular gay app in the world and, by 2014, it had seven million users worldwide. It’s been referenced in many TV shows and films too, from Glee to How to Get Away With Murder, The Real Housewives and, perhaps most fittingly, Trainwreck.
So many discussions about gay culture end up circling back to Grindr, from body image to sexual racism, “chemsex” and bottom-shaming. On the app, users often behave differently to how they would in “real life” and gay Twitter is often flooded with screengrabs of men behaving badly, brutally and straight-up bizarrely. There’s a whole glossary of emoji-driven codes and even visual “tribes” – such as “otters”, “daddies”, “clean cut” and “twinks” – which would take a very long time to explain to most straight people.
One trend that I’ve noticed – and have long been intrigued by – is men looking for a “gym buddy” on Grindr. On user profiles, it’s very common to see the desire for a “gym bud” listed alongside someone’s favourite drink (usually gin), height, body type and preferred sexual position. But why?
On the face of things, a gym buddy is just a friend to go to the gym with. Some people do use Grindr for platonic connections, particularly if they’ve just moved somewhere new, but it’s nevertheless an intriguing place to look for a gym companion. Michael, a 24-year-old gay man who enjoys group exercise classes and going to the gym with friends, thinks this trend makes sense. “Personally, I used to find the gym an incredibly difficult place to be. It was like hyper-masculinity on speed, with this immense pressure to be fit, strong and ultimately to know what you’re doing,” he tells GQ. “I think working out with somebody can break that intimidation because it’s a) somebody to back up what you’re doing and b) potentially somebody to guide or coach you. It’s safety in numbers in what can be a scary place.”
Personally, the idea of being sweaty and exhausted around someone I don’t know very well fills me with dread (particularly if he’s also a gay man which, no, I won’t be unpacking at this time!). But that’s not Michael’s experience. “In the age of athleisure and boutique gyms, the gym doesn’t have to be a gross and sweaty place,” he says. “People look good at the gym. Plus, they can suck each other off in the steam room or have sex in the shower.”
After speaking with Grindr users in London, I can confirm that Michael is right in suspecting that sometimes the search for gym buddies goes beyond a platonic friendship. There’s obviously a reason why men are using Grindr, specifically, in this way (there are already apps for finding a gym buddy, such as GymBuddy and SportPartner). Some guys, such as 26-year-old James*, were genuinely using Grindr to look for a pal to exercise with, because “Straight men might think I’m hitting on them or not be comfortable working out with me. Or, even if they aren’t thinking that, the feeling that they might be would make me feel awkward.” But others, such as 28-year-old Callum*, were hoping for “something more” if the attraction was there, because “You have more time to work out whether a guy is hot at the gym than in nudes he’s probably edited, or just before a hook-up, and it’s less pressure than meeting somewhere else.”