Ryan Lee

Ryan Lee: Doped up outrage over Olympics Grindr controversy

My second relationship lasted one-and-a-half years, which was about six months longer than it should have, mainly because I didn’t want to lose the googly-eyed tale of how we met. One of the things that made it such a great story, in 2005, was that our meeting took place in the real world, in a grocery store to be exact.

So I confess to experiencing a bit of a letdown whenever I told the story of how I met my third boyfriend: in an online threesome.

I had been using the internet to meet guys for about seven years at that point, but the concept of “online dating” was still socially taboo, having inherited the aura of desperation that newspaper personals and mail-order brides once had. Even though gay men were pioneers in using the internet to find partners, there remained great cynicism toward the idea that a long-term relationship could be kindled on Men4Now or Manhunt.

I’m not sure gay men get enough credit for reducing (or ignoring) the stigma of online dating, but nowadays it’s likely that your father met your new stepmother on eHarmony, or that you’ve heard your great-aunt’s cell phone buzzing with Tinder notifications. Given gay men’s history and familiarity with online dating and hook-up sites, I was surprised by the outrage over an article on the Daily Beast where a heterosexual writer profiled the Grindr scene in the Olympic Village.

With exaggerated indignation, the Daily Beast report was labeled everything from homophobic to cyber terrorism. Several gay activists, as well as Grindr CEO Joel Simkhai, laughably characterized Grindr and other online hook-up sites as “a safe space for the gay world” – which would surprise any gay man who is overweight, effeminate or over 40.

The biggest grievance with the Daily Beast article was that it supposedly included details that could be used to identify closeted athletes from repressive countries, and thus endangered those athletes when they returned home. There was no consideration for those countries likely having more Grindr users than Daily Beast readers, or that an elite athlete from Kenya is just as likely to live and train in Naples. Fla., as in Nairobi.

It also ignored that in many countries where LGBT folks endure dire persecution, Grindr and other apps often include a warning for users to cruise carefully to avoid entrapment and other dangers. It’s naive to pretend that men from these countries don’t know how to safely search for sex partners, and it’s condescending to assume that these men are victims rather than subjects of uninspired journalism.

Despite what this controversy would like you to believe, online hook-up sites are not, and never have been, shelters for LGBT people. They can be compromised by your curious female neighbor, a homophobic co-worker, bitter catfish who will misappropriate your photos, or an armed robber looking to prey on gays — and so every gay man on the planet should maintain some baseline level of caution when logging onto them.

If outrage were a sanctioned sport, the LGBT (and allied) response to the Daily Beast “controversy” would be guilty of performance-enhancing doping.