Jeremy is one of an increasing number of straight men on Grindr, the hookup app created in 2009 for men who have sex with men. Like most of them, however, Jeremy’s profile includes a perplexing caveat: “No Guys,” it reads, adding that any messages from men will be deleted. The 27-year-old personal trainer from Northern California is only interested in meeting trans women.
Earlier this month, he left Tinder, the go-to hetero dating app, after averaging a measly two matches a week and meeting only four people in six months. Living alone as a caretaker for his grandmother with dementia, Jeremy tells me he’s “pretty lonely IRL.” His father recently passed away; six weeks later his girlfriend dumped him. He knew Grindr was popular — the “gay Tinder,” as he puts it — so when he learned it included a “trans” category he quietly downloaded the orange-and-black mask onto his iPhone.
“I got over 100 messages in the first week,” he says, admitting the attention was nice but “didn’t really fill the void.” That’s because around 95 of them were from guys, four were crossdressers and only two were actual trans women. “I have zero attraction to men,” he repeats.
Despite being catfished three times and another three people cancelling at the last minute, he’s thrilled to have had two successful meet-ups in as many weeks, which he calls “way better” odds than he ever had on Tinder. And while the sex wasn’t earth-shattering — “showed up, got sucked, did the fucking, I came, then left” — that’s exactly how he likes it. “I have no interest in penises, but sex is sex if I’m getting off. There are trans women on Grindr who are totally into servicing men, and those are the ones I’m after. And because they have penises, they know what it should feel like, or at least all the little details.”
The growing trend of Jeremy and others posting “no men” on Grindr is understandably frustrating for some gay men who tell me they feel sidelined in a space originally designed for them. It’s especially prevalent in Washington, D.C., where a college friend tells me it’s “surreal” to go to a gay friendly space and see people explicitly ruling out gay sex. “To read ‘no homos’ or ‘no men’ on a gay male app is troubling,” he says. “To have trans women hitting on me — when it’s clear I’m not into women — is openly homophobic. This is one consequence of the trans revolution: Gay male spaces and lesbian female spaces are being erased.”
Some of the men I poll in the r/askgaybros subreddit agree. “I don’t understand why Grindr has gone to the extent of bringing in gender identities and preferred pronouns filters when it’s literally a gay hookup/dating app,” says Adam, a 26-year-old gay man in Sydney, Australia. “It’s like we’re being excluded within our own community.” Coronacivica echoes this sentiment. “Grindr is a gay hookup app for bisexual and gay men, and straight men shouldn’t be on it in my opinion.” (A spokesperson for Grindr declined to comment on the matter despite multiple interview requests.)
Other redditors offer blatantly transphobic reasoning: That men on Grindr who pursue trans women are “deep in the closet” and attempting to satisfy their desire for the same sex within a feminine package in order to convince themselves it’s not gay. “They want to have their cake and eat it too,” posits Platinumdust05, suggesting these men are in denial, likening it to when guys say things like, “I’m not gay, I just have a dick fetish.”
“Horseshit,” counters Mark, another straight man on Grindr whose profile specifies that he’s “only attracted to women” and has “n0 interest in men.” The 31-year-old Californian tells me he’s been on Grindr for about three years and has connected with “lots” of women, the most recent being his favorite. “I met a beautiful, articulate trans top who fucked me,” he explains. “I don’t typically bottom, but it was such a profoundly erotic experience that it converted me to being fully versatile.” He’s not particularly sympathetic to gay men who are offput by his profile, adding that he doesn’t appreciate the suggestion that he’s some kind of sexual gentrifier from the straight world. “If I’m a tourist misusing the platform then the women looking for straight men are as well,” he reasons.
More importantly, Mark says, it seems nobody is making a good-faith effort to understand heterosexual trans-attracted men. “It feels like everyone in the universe thinks we’re bisexual or gay men in denial, including a huge proportion of the trans women we’re attracted to,” he says. While he concedes that being trans-attracted isn’t nearly as hard as being trans, “it’s sure as fuck not easy.” He hopes to someday be accepted for who he is and not have his sexuality labeled as a “fetish” and himself, a “trans chaser.” “My fear is that this remains an unresolved source of pain and disappointment in the lives of the trans women who can’t accept trans attraction,” he adds. “It doesn’t have to be some shitty compromise to be with a guy who’s turned on by your body.”
In an attempt to better understand Mark’s sexuality I ask him to explain why he’s attracted to trans women over cis women. While many trans-attracted men I meet on Grindr dance around this question (or shut me down completely: “The game is to be sold not told,” rejects 48-year-old Jaythajuice), Mark doesn’t hesitate. “I find women with penises more sexually arousing than any other kind of human being,” he explains, noting that he’s not un-attracted to post-op trans women, just more into their pre- or non-op counterparts. In addition to being physically alluring, he says trans women tend to be intelligent, charming and funny.
As for Platinumdust05’s contention that Mark and his trans-attracted brothers are nothing more than closet cases, Mark just scoffs. “I actively wish, frequently, that I was a bisexual man,” he admits, noting life would be a lot easier. “I’d far prefer to be able to have sex with men than find myself mired in this identity clusterfuck.” This isn’t just a passive wish. He’s actually gone out of his way to have sex with dudes and likens the experience to “being a freshwater fish dropped in the ocean.” He vomited after the first time; other times he felt like he’d betrayed his nature. “I don’t know how to explain the paradox of liking dick and finding men totally sexually unappealing,” he adds, believing that to be a question for psychologists and others more credentialed than him. “I don’t feel like I’ve betrayed nature when I have sex with trans women because way deep down in that place where I allegedly store my unaddressed homosexuality I believe that trans women are women and not men.”
Indeed, as Andrew Sullivan tells me, “the difficulties with the LGBTQ formula is that many of the parts are very different in sexual ways.” Other scholars, like Jesus G. Smith, assistant professor of ethnic studies at Lawrence University, likens Grindr to McDonald’s where users can “have it your way” by picking and choosing what they want to satisfy their deepest sexual curiosities. “You can piece together your type of lover like a pizza,” he says. “And in my research, it’s very common for people to perceive these websites as such. That’s why we see a lot of negative language on Grindr [i.e., ‘no fats, femmes or Asians’] — because it’s a way of screening so that you get the pool of people that you want. Exclusionary practices that have traditionally targeted racial minorities in some ways have now spread to targeting all gay men.”
And yet there must be a way to express what you’re looking for without making people feel like shit. At least that’s the hypothesis of Dan Wohlfeiler, the director of Building Healthy Online Communities (BHOC), an organization dedicated to making apps like Grindr a friendlier place. Rather than saying “I don’t want this” and “I don’t want that,” he suggests expressing what you do want and leaving it there — for instance, “I find trans women beautiful.” Finding ways to look for what you want without making other people feel less-than is one of the goals of BHOC’s newly launched website niceaf.org — in partnership with Grindr, Adam4Adam, Daddyhunt and Poz Personals — which is committed to making online communities more welcoming by crowd-sourcing solutions for letting someone down gently.
Nevertheless, Sullivan agrees with the criticism that “a hookup app for gay men is an odd place to find straight men who are into trans women.”
But is it? After all, the gay bar has traditionally been a place where the trans community, despite being somewhat stigmatized and discriminated against, could find partners and hook up. So are we not seeing a virtual version of this on Grindr?
Perhaps, says Jason Orne, an assistant professor of sociology Drexel University and the author of Boystown: Sex and Community in Chicago, in which he refers to straight women invading gay bars as “going on safari.” He thinks that’s different, though. “It’s similar in that it’s clearly people coming into a space that’s for an identity that’s not their own and repurposing it. But it’s different in that straight men looking for trans women aren’t taking over a gay space and consuming it for their own pleasure. Why is it so bad for this to happen? Maybe it stings a bit, but where else are these men and trans women supposed to find each other?”
“No other places that I know of, besides some trans subreddits that post personals,” says Jeremy. Tinder has a long history of discriminating against trans women, leading many to boycott the app. And while OkCupid allow users to list their identity as transgender, there wasn’t an explicitly trans dating app until last year’s disastrous rollout of Transdr, which originally billed itself as a “premier TS dating community for both transgender people and their admirers.” Many found the term “admirers” to be fetishizing. Same for how the dating service was listed in the App Store: “Transdr: TS Dating for Shemale.” (The term “shemale” is highly offensive toward trans women as it implies transgender women are feminized males who act like women.) Within weeks of the app’s launch, many transgender people took to social media to heavily criticize it.
A screengrab from designer Kylie Jack shows the app’s official website initially listed Transdr as an app for “transgender, crossdresser people or their admirers. Whether you are a shemale, ladyboy, sissyboy, MTF, FTM or any other trans people, you are welcome to join Transdr.” (While Transdr also declined to comment, a rep told HuffPo last year that such words were used “to improve the search ranking.”) Regardless, language conflating vastly different experiences — like crossdressing or forced feminization fetishes — with being a transgender woman led Jack to wonder if any of the app’s creators were even trans (one was, in fact).
As for Grindr, it attempted to be more inclusive of transgender members in November 2017 when it added “identity” features in profiles that included options for listing gender and preferred pronouns, which has helped, says Michelle Manley, a dating coach for trans women. “While Grindr is a sex app and not all trans women are looking for sex, the truth is that isolation runs deep in this community so any space where trans women feel like they can find some connection and love is gonna be attractive to them,” she explains.
Angel, a 24-year-old trans student I meet on Grindr, says she’s had “lots of success” connecting with bisexual and straight men there. “I first look for guys with a handsome face and a career of some sort who respect me.” While she only plays with men who are into women, she’s sympathetic to gay men who may feel excluded. She adds, however, “Grindr is evolving to be more inclusive and basically anyone besides cis women are on here. Men explicitly preferring women isn’t a bad thing in my opinion.”
Nor is it unpopular per Pornhub’s 2018 Year in Review findings. Interest in trans porn saw significant gains in 2018, with a 167 percent increase in searches by men and more than 200 percent with visitors over the age of 45, making trans porn the fifth most popular category for those between the ages of 45 and 64. Mark, the heterosexual trans-attracted evangelist, did some back-of-the-napkin math based on this data and concludes it makes him among the single largest sexual minority on the planet. “When we start going public in numbers, it’s going to totally remap sexual politics,” he says.
In the meantime, though, Mark continues to lament that there’s no seat at the table for him and his fellow trans-attracted heterosexual males. “I don’t want to sound like a martyr, but it sucks,” he says. “The mainstream thinks we’re failed heterosexuals or secret gays, and the LGBTQ crowd wants nothing to do with us for the same reasons.”