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Dating apps for gay men don t have the greatest reputation. From Grindr to Scruff, Hornet to Jack d, the digital platforms are best known for dredging up flakey users,,, and. Yet their scope and reach in the queer community are hard to overstate. Since the 7559 launch of Grindr, the first and most ubiquitous of the set, gay dating apps have racked up north of several-dozen million users in some 755 countries (! ). Grindr says that its users average 59 minutes on the app per day. Now, almost a decade after they started bringing torso pics to queer men s devices the world over, these powerful gay platforms are trying to reach beyond their hookup origins. Grindr, for instance, seems to be looking to shed its scurrilous image as just a hookup app.

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In March, the company that pioneered the geolocation-based, casual sex facilitating sensation launched the online magazine. CEO Joel Simkhai in a recent interview that millions of Grindr users [were] asking us to figure out what s going on around them, so the company decided to start curating culture-minded content. While it s still early days, the publication seems to represent an earnest effort to re-envision the Grindr brand. It s a serious editor in chief. It s published a buffet of articles, photography, and videos that cater to a variety of and. And it s putting out more than just fluff by featuring topics such as the, the,, and the. Grindr isn t the only gay app getting in on the rebranding game. Scruff, which leans just a touch toward the bear or husky, hirsute crowd, has started helping host parties and Pride events across the planet. The gay social-networking app Hornet, too, has been hosting live events. Just this month, it put together a group of LGBTQ media gurus in New York for, a sold-out panel discussion that centered around the importance of inclusion in a diversifying media world. Such moves make good sense. Lots of queer men power up their gay app of choice when they go out or arrive in a new city in hopes of finding people who might be navigating similar life experiences.

With open events and publications, these companies get to put their brands on a wider variety of gay connections. And, in doing so, the likes of Grindr, Hornet, and Scruff are re-creating queer sociability in significant ways. These apps are playing host to conversations—silent and verbal, private and public—about what, exactly, the queer experience can entail. These apps, on the one hand, still allow queer men the messiness of exploring our identities. We can cruise furtively through rows of profiles, eking out a string of flirty chats or just going for some unembellished, anonymous sex. Especially for people who might be deeply closeted or marooned in bigoted communities, these services offer keys for investigating what may initially seem like errant feelings of homosexuality. In many respects, this isn t too different from the late 6995s, when online chatrooms cracked open a universe for curious queers that had previously been mired in mystery. What perhaps sets these new brands apart from their predecessors, then, is their push to expand the visibility of the queer community. For instance, one user might not know much about another offline, but he might know little things about him from having scrolled through his geotagged social media page. He might even recognize him from his profile photos walking down the street, or in the audience of, say, about digital content by and for the queer community. Far from keeping queer men on the fringes, these apps are fueling a novel knowingness among users on the app, yes, but also offline, when users go out to create and engage with open communities. These apps are playing host to conversations silent and verbal, private and public about what, exactly, the queer experience can entail.

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They re helping, in other words, make the connections so many queers have been yearning for all along. This isn t to suggest that having an out presence in public spaces is the only thing that matters for strengthening the community, especially when vulnerability often attends visibility. But there s power in being able to meet, forge connections, take up space, and simply point queer people to gatherings of all different forms and shapes. Sound familiar? At a time when for reasons like rent, warming attitudes toward the queer community, and technology gay bars are, apps are trying to offer the sorts of interactions that reproduce many of the same historic functions. They appear to be reconceptualizing spaces that have historically been bulwarks against anti-gay bigotry spaces where one can, at least to a degree, enjoy being in public without mainstream judgment. Digital dating platforms aren t just taking building their own branded communities, though. They ve also started to move into advocacy. Hornet, for instance, has been trying to combat the persistent stigma around HIV by providing its users with health facts through various public events and by them about HIV prevention. Grindr, too, has been tapping its extensive user base for public health awareness campaigns. It s a fitting role for apps whose original purpose unquestionably (and unavoidably, given that stigma still forces many men into silence about their health status) contributes to sexually transmitted disease transmission. The companies are activating their networks for political action, too.

Earlier this year, Grindr users might remember seeing. The pro-Kremlin government in the long-contested region had begun and dozens, if not hundreds, of alleged homosexual men. Chechen authorities. They to their families in a region where the sexual orientation is considered taboo. Grindr for Equality, the app s advocacy arm, and the Russian LGBT Network, a St. It s difficult to know whether the outreach had much impact on the ground. But the actions were still remarkable a hookup app as a source of political power while other nations, most notably the U. S. ,. Of course, these companies aren t addressing all of the issues facing LGBTQ individuals today. For starters, the apps don t seem to be looking to jettison their most infamous features. Users still have to deal with trolls and prejudices along.

( Hooking up with a black guy is on my bucket list, a Grindr user wrote to me once, sans irony. ) It s still an open question as to what it might mean that companies are trying to monetize these connections. Their effect on the character and shape of the queer community has yet to fully play out. And, naturally, men can still look for, and probably find, more intimate connections to ease queer loneliness elsewhere. Future Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. To read more, and sign. You depend on Slate for sharp, distinctive coverage of the latest developments in politics and culture. Now we need to ask for your support. Our work is more urgent than ever and is reaching more readers—but online advertising revenues don’t fully cover our costs, and we don’t have print subscribers to help keep us afloat. So we need your help. If you think Slate ’s work matters, become a Slate Plus member. You’ll get exclusive members-only content and a suite of great benefits—and you’ll help secure Slate ’s future.

Brandon Tensley is the assistant editor at New America and a contributing writer for Pacific Standard.

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