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Gay Apps 101: How to protect your mental health and respect others

While so many people love gay apps, and there have been successful stories about gay men who have found love and lifelong friends on on these apps, there are still some who have written off these apps as a toxic environment. This is mostly due to such problems as body shamingfemme-shamingtransphobiagenderphobia, and sexual racism, which are very prevalent in the gay community as a whole.

Whether it’s the overwhelming number of people looking for sex on apps, while other people really just want to find friends and build community. Or whether it’s recent accusations that apps are unsafe for users, and even blamed for the rise in HIV and STIs in the gay/bisexual community. You can’t help but wonder if many of these “findings” are rooted in homophobic logic and preconceived notions, even within the gay/bisexual community.

Yes, things like sexual racism and transphobia absolutely happen on these apps. As a gay Black man, to deny that would be absolutely tone-deaf and blind. However, I would argue that apps are the same as any real life social setting; there will be a-holes, racists and transphobes that you will have to weed through in order to find good, quality people, but trust me, the good ones are there!

Just like real life, dating apps come down to simply curating the experience you want for yourself and selecting to engage with people who make you feel safe, and apps, such as GROWLr, have the tools for you to do that.

So, how do you stay safe and protect your mental health while avoiding being rude and hurting others on apps? Here’s a few tips…

#1 – Be Yourself

I promise you, this isn’t just some trite, cliché tip. People really want to see YOU. They want to know who you are, honestly and fully. In the long run, this will be so much more important than giving a false “online” persona, and it will help you attract people who share your interests. On many gay apps, there is a way for you to filter your search and create a list of nearby guys who have similar interests. On GROWLr in particular, there is a search option that allows you to filter profiles based on relationship status, type and what the users are looking for, be it love, dates, friends, conversations, networking or no strings attached fun. 

GROWLr even has a video chat option, so you can chat virtually face-to-face. Let them see who you are – the REAL you. In turn, you can see who they really are. It’s a fun way to chat, and an effective way to get to know someone.

#2 – Go Live or Video Chat

One way to deal with communication issues is to engage people via video or when they go Live. On GROWLr, for example, there is an option for people to go live. While you may not be able to talk to them directly while they’re live, you can comment on their live stream and see their reactions to comments in real time. 

On GROWLr, you can also request to video chat with someone from their profile. If they are interested in video chatting, you will be able to select it on their profile. This is a great way to communicate for those who may like more of a “face-to-face” interaction. It’s also a good way to make sure you aren’t being catfished, which is another problem users of apps have reported. 

GROWLr recently did a poll, where it was asked if users felt that GROWLr Live made it easier to socialize. Of the users polled, 63% said yes. While going live may not be for everyone, a big number of users have definitely felt that it has had good effects on app socializing.

However, if you video chat with someone and it’s not going great, don’t just hang up. Be polite, but also be direct. Remember, direct communication is always more appreciated.

#2 – Be Direct

And speaking of having the “I’m Not Interested” conversation… Though no one wants to feel rejected, being straightforward and telling someone you’re not interested is always better than playing “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush” or just not responding to someone. Not responding to someone just adds insult to injury. 

Remember, even though this is online, this is still a social setting. Would you just ignore someone who said hello to you in a club or bar? Well, some people might. But, if someone just straight up ignores you for saying hi, then that’s a serious red flag. 

#3 – Don’t Ignore the Red Flags

There’s an old saying that goes, “When people show you who they are, believe them.” If there are countless red flags all over their profile, such as “no fats, no femmes”, “no Black or Asian”, or even more subtle things, such as a list of things they don’t like as opposed to things they find pleasant or interesting, or (one I saw recently) suggesting that people who played video games are “weird” or “immature”, then those are the types of people you may want to stay away from. 

Don’t ignore the red flags just because you’re looking for fun and you think he’s hot. It won’t be worth it in the long run. Find someone who is hot AND shares your values. 

#4 – Say What You Like, Not What You Don’t Like

I totally get it – You want to save yourself the hassle of having to tell someone you’re not interested. But listing qualities and physical traits that you don’t like on your profile makes those who fall into that category feel bad when they look at your profile. It also makes you look a bit like a Negative Nancy. 

Remember, this is still a public setting. You wouldn’t walk into a restaurant and tell the waiter what you DON’T want to eat. You would simply order what you actually want to eat. This is not to say that people are objects on a menu to be ordered, but you get my drift. On apps, you can say things like “I like to hang out with people who like theatre”, or “I’m a lover of large guys” or “Guys with beards really catch my eye.” This let’s people know what you’re into without bashing what you’re not into. 

#5 – Let Them Down Easy 

If you have to reject someone, you don’t have to be rude about it. Just simply state that you aren’t interested. You don’t have to say why, and you could even add a nice comment like “I hope you find what you’re looking for” at the end. It softens the blow a bit, and just simply lets people know you aren’t an a-hole. Most people will appreciate your thoughtful honesty. 

#6 – Accept Rejection

This one can be tough for some, but if someone says they aren’t interested then you have to accept it. Remember: NO MEANS NO. Asking someone to tell you why they are rejecting you is self torture. Even if someone rudely ignores your message (sometimes people do get busy and forget to respond) don’t keep messaging them. 

One or even two messages (because, again, some people just forget to respond) is enough. Anything else, and you run the risk of turning into the “Hello, Hi, What’s Up” guy who sends 100 “Hello” messages in a row even though the person hasn’t responded in months. Don’t be that guy. You’re a great person. Someone who is interested will respond to you. 

#7 – Remember That Virtual Communication Can Be Fickle

I don’t really like the term “It’s just an app”, because I feel it gives people justification to be rude, flaky and impersonal. It’s not “just an app.” We’re dealing with real people, with real emotions and real schedules. They’re not just thumbnails on a phone screen, so we should treat them as such.  

However, we also have to remember that phone service can sometimes be dodgy and some people are just not good with texting and virtual communication. Things happen. People forget to respond. Some people may just be shy and introverted, and may not know how to communicate effectively in certain situations or hold conversation with someone they just met virtually. They may be learning. For some, it’s a process. Try not to take things too personal all the time. 

#8 – In some cases, Blocking and Reporting Is a Viable Option 

I like to use this as a last resort, but if someone is extremely rude to you or way too pushy after you’ve told them you aren’t interested, that is grounds for you to block them. You must protect your space and mental health, and that’s why the blocking option is there on apps such as GROWLr

If someone is outright racist, transphobic or making threats to you, then reporting them is an option as well. You don’t have to take abuse from others. 

#9 – Remember To Also Get Out 

Yes, apps are a way to connect with people. But it’s just one more way to connect, not the only way. People still go out to bars, clubs, theatre, amusement parks, festivals, conferences, etc. Get out and meet people in person too! Don’t rely solely on apps, though apps may be a good starting point. On GROWLr, there’s even an option for you to request to meet someone for a date, dinner, coffee, a concert, a hike, or even a cuddle! If the conversation is going well, then why not invite them out? 

As always, exercise precaution and stay safe when going to meet someone you spoke to online. There are dangerous people out there, but just as with any other social setting, you just have to protect yourself as much as you can and have fun.

If you are not already a member, get signed up to GROWLr, today for FREE!  Simply click “Live” at the time of the shows and you will see these amazing streamers first! Or feel free to follow any of these streamers for more updates.

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Kyle Jackson

Kyle Jackson (He/Him) is Senior Staff Writer at Gray Jones Media, and additionally works as a writer, editor and theatre artist/actor. A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, he studied at Dillard University, received a BA in Theatre from Morgan State University, an MS in Arts Administration from Drexel University, and completed the British American Drama Academy’s Midsummer in Oxford Programme in 2017. Having lived in Baltimore, the Washington, DC area, Philadelphia and New York City, he now resides and works in London, United Kingdom.