What’s it like to travel with the world’s largest gay social network app.
Kyle and I lived in a legendary LGBTQIA+ cooperative together during university. He was always an active member of the house’s management and was the first person I talked to when I moved in. We quickly became friends because he’s whip smart, sassy, sweet and lovely. He’s now a software engineer in California.
Kyle is also incredibly well traveled; one will often find him absconding to a Spanish-speaking country randomly and then hear wonderful stories about the adventures he’s had with the people he came across. In this beautiful piece, Kyle shares his experiences meeting queer individuals in other countries and the bond that connects them no matter where they go.
“Wait…so we can just drink here in the streets?” I asked the guy I had just met on Grindr. We were sitting at a bus stop drinking the beer we had just bought minutes before in the dark Brazilian streets of the outskirts of São Paulo. Just as I said that, a police car sped by and, very naturally, I took my can of beer and shifted it behind me. He noticed what had just happened and laughed it off. “Of course you can drink out here, this is Brazil!” he replied. I quickly returned my beer to my lap and joined in on the laughing.
As fleeting as this moment was, it would be the first of many cultural-exchanges with a new friend, a friend whom I had met hours before on Grindr. Brazil is a land that suffers immense amounts of poverty, sexism, and racism. When planning my trip, I knew it was vital to always acknowledge my privilege as a white male. Rather than exploit Brazil through insensitive tours, exotification of tradition, or commodification of a foreign people, it’s pertinent to explore Brazil with at least two goals in mind: to learn and to connect. Connect with the culture. Connect with the land. Connect with the people.
I decided it would probably be best to not buy tickets to tours, but to spend the next few months reading up on current Brazilian events, politics, & culture and only purchase an Airbnb reservation and a two-way plane-ticket.
Three months later, I arrived at the Airbnb apartment in São Paulo. I set my things on the floor, connected to the Wi-Fi & jumped into the shower. When in the shower I hear this all-so familiar sound … to the untrained ear it’s just a notification, something that comes and goes. To the queer ear, however, it’s the sound of glorious Grindr calling.
I hop out of the shower & reply to all of the ‘Óla’s from faceless torsos. One of those torsos I now know as Guilherme, a student at the University of São Paulo (USP). After chatting for a few minutes and establishing a sense of trust, I sent him my location and we met within a few minutes.
We walked down the streets and chatted. The conversations entertained a range of topics: light ones such as Portuguese slang to rather profound ones, such as what it is like to be gay in Brazil and how dangerous would it be if I were to hold his hand there in that street. He also laid his burning questions on me: ‘What do Americans think of Brazil?’, ‘Who’s voting for Trump? Do you think he will win?’, and ‘Do the high schools really have cheerleaders?’
Our brains’ curiosity ran rampant and a true cultural exchange formed. We spent the rest of the weekend together and established a connection, a connection that felt so foreign to me. It was not a romantic connection, yet it was more than just a friendly connection. It was a connection between two individuals from completely different cultures mounted upon a perfect mix of curiosity, open minds, and trust.
Trust. Trust mounted on the fact that we were both gay. Our sexuality has caused both of us to endure many trials and tribulations throughout our lives. Even though we were brought up in entirely different cultures, we shared oppressors, we shared memories of closeted-ness and we shared moments of fear and moments of pride stemming from our sexuality.
We are kin. We are family and with family comes trust. This trust is something that I optimistically believe runs through all queer folk’s blood across the globe and is the concrete base that allows for a solid connection to be formed. Grindr visualizes this kin-network with preference to locality in real-time. Granted, not all folks on Grindr should be trusted, and let’s be real, a lot are probably just looking for sex and nothing more. Nonetheless, it provides a bunch of potential connections that can change both myself and person X for a lifetime.
Me and my person X, Guilherme, met-up in front of my Airbnb and we said our goodbyes. I handed him a Christmas ornament from my university, UC Berkeley, and he gave me his Brazilian Capoeira shirt as a memento to remember our new friendship. However, the cultural exchange didn’t end there. We’ve continued chatting, speaking in the other’s native tongue and discussing the current events in our communities.
I’ve made several more connections since meeting Guilherme. These connections I made through an app known for hook-ups are real and they are deep. Streams of tears fill my eyes every time I say goodbye to these new-found connections. What gets me through those tough goodbyes though is to think about how we said ‘hello’ in the first place: Our queer-identity. Our common yet very different experiences stemming from our sexualities laid a common ground. This common ground allowed for a cultural exchange to become a deep connection that I will take with me to my grave.
Let’s see an invasive tour or picture that exotifies local tradition provide that.