Thanksgiving obviously comes at a very different moment this year. Nearly 12 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and more than 250,000 (and counting) have died. For those reasons, the CDC has asked Americans not to travel for the holiday, and recommends only gathering with people in your immediate household.
It is, then, a horrible time for those of us who wish to see our families during this crisis. But I also can’t help but mourn the death of another annual tradition for us queers — Thanksgiving Eve Grindr.
Yes, this is a frivolous thing to mourn. And yes, Thanksgiving is an American tradition rooted in gluttony, genocide and familial discontent. It still, however, continues to be my favorite holiday, as no other day is dedicated solely to eating and lying around to digest. Even better is how, as a prelude to this languorous fourth Thursday of every November, is Thanksgiving Eve, or what some refer to as Blackout Wednesday. It offers partygoers a perfect storm of opportunity to cut a rug — no work until Monday, and about 16 hours from enough food prepared lovingly by mom to cure any hangover you accrue.
Better yet, personally speaking at least, I don’t even need to go out to experience Blackout Wednesday. I can just encounter people from my hometown on Grindr, all from the comfort of my childhood bedroom. I used to work at Grindr as a staff writer for their now-defunct news site INTO, where a colleague confirmed what I always knew to be true: Grindr has its most users during holidays. (Nevermind that Grindr already has some of the highest engagement of any dating app on the market; in 2017, for instance, users spent an average of three hours a week on the app.)
Most people think of Grindr solely as a place where gay men find other gay men to fuck. Putting aside the fact that there are people of many genders and sexual orientations who use the app, it’s also a misnomer to say it’s only for fucking. The most potent function of Grindr is that it effectively makes cishet people disappear. With a tap of an icon, the whole world is queer.
High-school me certainly would’ve been gobsmacked by Grindr. Back then, I was using a much different digital source — Myspace — to flirt with boys. Some of them were just one town away, others a 45-minute drive. But none of it was like Grindr, and it definitely wasn’t like Thanksgiving Eve Grindr, where dozens of other gay men you know from high school are sitting at home, looking to chat. (And yes, maybe hookup.)
I attended high school from 2003 to 2007 in New Jersey’s Hudson County, 10 miles outside of New York City. The school was large at 2,500 students, but I felt like I was one of only a handful of out gay men. I’m sure there were more queer boys amongst us, given the size of the school; but there were also many, many, many tiny pockets of existence there, and even though I was in both the drama club and choir, I didn’t intersect with all of them. And so, Thanksgiving Eve has always been a time to correct this, as all the queer guys who grew up in Hudson County are now all in the same (digital) place.
It might sound cruel that I spent my high school years speculating as to who was gay and who wasn’t — but this wasn’t tabloid speculation. This was me hoping that there was anyone out there who I might be able to talk to about things like Queer as Folk, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Hell, if the stars aligned, I might even get to kiss one of these guys. Growing up in Jersey was a guessing game. But years later, coming home for the holidays with Grindr in hand felt like the chance to uncover some answers.
Some of the people I’ve encountered on Thanksgiving Eve Grindr never left my hometown; others, like me, come back only for holidays. Regardless, what we acknowledge is that gay people were here all along, even if we didn’t know it at the time. Which is why this year, I’ll miss doing the digital equivalent of the head nod from across a crowded room, one that says, “Hey, even if we’re not going to suck each other’s dicks right now, I see you and I’m super proud.”