Hooking up in an American theme park is almost disappointingly easy if you are gay, and the reason for that is Grindr. That is this story’s fuel, Grindr. You now have the gist of it: Push buttons and you get laid. We are connected via GPS and our iPhones, and interested parties have embraced doing naughty and queer things with them. There’s more to being gay than Grindr (thank god), but for some of us, Grindr plays a key role in being gay.
Many theme park attractions have last-chance/turn-back points. Those who’ve stupidly waited on long lines can render that time spent utterly wasteful by taking those exits and effectively bypassing that cheap thrill that brought about this empty moment in your life in the first place. This is especially true of the cuddly ones with loin-grabbing drops like Splash Mountain, the Song of the South-themed log flume in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.
There is no cuddling in this story, but if you turn back now, know this, at least:
Grindr offers the kind of rides that theme parks don’t. What I experienced was an entirely different kind of 4D.
The gay hook-up app Grindr is as much of a drug as anything whose end result is pleasure. It is time-wasting and addictive, and I think about quitting it often. I do quit it sometimes, going as far as deleting it from my iPhone, sometimes from my iPad, once from both. But I always come back. I’d blame last week’s particularly compulsive bout of Grinding on my job for which I am writing this piece, but then that is me making addict excuses.
The receiving and, to a lesser extent, giving of compliments between strangers is intoxicating. The promise of easy sex may never lose its novelty. Grindr is something you can pick up and put down, providing the distraction of an iPhone game without requiring any of the concentration. Why do anything when you could be checking Grindr? It’ll only take a minute, and looking at people is fun.
In short, it’s the perfect distraction. I spent last week, from early Monday to earlyish Sunday, in a rented house in Davenport, Fla., with 11 members of my family: My (divorced but friendly) parents, my four younger sisters, three of their significant others (all are men, but only one’s a husband), my one sister’s two children. I have not had that long of a stay with all of the people in my immediate family since I was in sixth grade (back before my parents split), and I have never stayed that long with my sisters’ men factored in. It was fine. I brought no significant other on this trip, even though I did invite my man down. I also wasn’t designated as a driver of anyone’s rental car, the consequences of which only later dawned on me when it became clear that my apathy had effectively sentenced me to house arrest. I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without my family.
I love my family, but I desperately needed a distraction.
I’m gay, I’m horny, but the version of me that was stuck in a house with my family was this Ken-doll-crotched person who had to behave in a way that substantially deviated from how I’ve come to live my life (which, by the way, is not constantly fucking, but is not inhibited in that realm either). People amplify and tone down aspects of our personalities to fit situations all the time, and for me this is especially prickly and bizarre. I share so much about my life in a public sphere, but manners and a general nausea regarding discussing sex life with my family have me basically pretending like I don’t do what I do when I am with them. The result of this is that last week, I was not fully myself for the sake of the people who made me what I am. If that isn’t fucking queer, nothing is.
Of course, there was family time in which to partake, and I did so happily. There was so much, though, that I needed a vacation from my vacation and an iPhone game (which, make no mistake, is what Grindr primarily is) is the working, technologically-inclined man’s vacation. I regularly tapped away throughout my post-amusement park downtime, taking breaks from reading articles and catching up on TV to amuse myself with something less taxing and, especially given my virtual imprisonment and inability to get anywhere without someone else driving, something that required even less of a commitment. Something that kept my hands busy and took my mind off of whatever nothings were happening in exchange for nothings that weren’t even happening.
I was begging to be distracted, and I had the perfect outlet for it.
When it isn’t administering your adoration fix or just plain titillating, Grindr is straight up fascinating in a cultural cross-section kind of way. It can be hilarious:
And boring enough to illustrate its tendency for pointlessness as it unfurls:
And so, so sad. Here are some personal messages from profiles:
And here’s part of a chat that I had with someone who’d never meet me:
Grindr provides a imprecise microcosm of your surrounding area. In Williamsburg, this means I see a lot of lanky guys with specific hairstyles on my screen. When I visited Atlanta in September, a large percentage of the guys filling out the grid were black. In Orlando, I noticed a lot more couples looking for group play than I normally do. Some guys use pictures of themselves posing with theme-park characters as their profile pics or famous landmarks:
In a sharp contrast to my personal experiences so far, bareback sex with Grindr strangers seems particularly acceptable in the Orlando area. I noticed this only from my conversations: Out of curiosity, if someone asked me to fuck him, I asked if he would like to do that bareback. Each of the five or so dudes that I had this conversation with were totally amenable. One described himself as “fine” with bareback. “Fine,” like it’s pistachio ice cream after they ran out of vanilla. “Fine,” like it’s a hand massage. “Fine,” like a week-long vacation with every member of your immediate family and your family members’ immediate families at age 34. “Fine.”
I cannot be certain if guys in the Orlando area are generally more likely to have bare sex with strangers than they are in New York. Instead, it could be that the impossibility of these encounters ever actually happening liberated me to say things I normally wouldn’t. In an actual potential hook-up situation that I want to make happen, I don’t often say things that could subvert it. If I ask some hot dude if he’s into bareback sex and he says no and then I explain that I was just asking to make sure that he’s not the type who would be (an imperfect test to weed out guys so risky that their health status absolutely cannot be trusted), he could suspect that my test wasn’t actually a test and that I actually did want to fuck raw, then judging me as unsafe and unfuckable in the same way I was attempting to judge him. If you actually want a hook-up to happen, it’s best not to complicate it with mind games. These hookups were not going to happen (as much as I wanted some to), so I could just say whatever. Of course, the same goes for all of the guys I was talking to. They could have been talking shit, too. I didn’t end up putting my raw dick in any of them, but at the same time, nor did any of them take my raw dick.
You know and I know that you can’t trust anything a stranger says in an online, but if someone says, “I work here,” and it’s a public place that you could check against without so much as signaling what you are doing or who you are or that you found this information out via Grindr, it seems believable enough. Working at Disney (or being a “cast member,” as the park calls it) or Universal Studios or Legoland wouldn’t normally strike me as something that would get anybody laid, so I believed it when I’d see it listed in people’s profiles, as I did a few times.
The irony is that it actually did help two people hook up early last week. One of them was me.
As the week wore on, it became clear that the only way I could possibly get off with another guy would be in a theme park I visited. No one in my development was on Grindr and there was no way for me to get to anyone who wasn’t in that gated development that seemed to have no pedestrian exit/entrance.
One morning, I chatted with some guys who’d be visiting the same parks as me about the possibility of hooking up – somewhere in the parks. I don’t like public sex, I don’t like the feeling that I could be arrested with my hard dick out, but I did like the novelty of hooking up in a forbidden place. The potential excitement superseded reasoning. But reasoning was key, too: The resulting story was motivation enough.
However, as one guy with a fairly adorable face pic pointed out, it would be hard to maneuver and just plain weird to do so with kids around. This levity parted the fog of horniness that took over my brain after several days of not getting off. (Jerking off in a house I was sharing with my family with virtually no privacy except for the bathroom also seemed just plain weird.) It would be fucked up to do it in the bathroom of a family resort, while kids screamed and cried and yelped and gleefully reported their No. 2s to their dads outside their stalls. A few years ago, I visited a water park in Wildwood, New Jersey. The urinals didn’t have dividers between them and a guy that was standing at one that was two down from mine leaned back, giving me an eyeful of his cock. “Weird, that’s really thick and looks hard,” I thought to myself after I had no other choice but to look.
And then: “Oh.”
And then: “That dick is about the same level as the head of the small children who are running around. Most terrifying, ‘You must be this tall to ride this ride’ marker ever.”
So: gross and fucked up. I could never.
The only other option was to find someone familiar enough with the park to know where we could go to be alone, away from anyone who might arrest us or be scarred by our momentary coupling.
That was easy enough.
To get a good sample of the Grindr scene at the parks I visited, I’d login when I arrived at a place and then again in intervals throughout the day. This was mostly just to collect messages/profiles (let’s call it “research”), not really to do much chatting. I had rides to go on and bickering with my sisters to accomplish. However, I did pay a bit more attention to Grindr early on, when I felt pent up and really eager to have someone help me take care of it. The first theme park we visited was Universal Studios Orlando, which was a bust in every way. It’s borderline run-down and several of the attractions, which are basically just 3D movies with a fourth D that mainly involves spitting water at you, are preceded by movies that are just as long and play off what looks like VHS. This was not the place to be technological. I was ready to pounce, though, to the point where my head was turning to any male (anyone) who seemed to signal gayness. Twinkiness, sculpted brows, a switch in a dude’s walk: all started looking really, really good to me. A youngish worker who clearly had theatrical ambitions of dressing up as a character one day camped his way around the boarding area of the Mummy roller coaster. I wanted to ask him to sit in my lap.
The next day, at Universal’s more thrill-oriented and far superior Islands of Adventure, I struck gold. Or, you know, dick. The day before, some cute kid in his early 20’s messaged me and when I opened up Grindr at Islands of Adventure, and I saw that he was close. In-the-park close. Here is how easy it was to coordinate the hookup that followed:
I had a few things to do before I’d make my way over to the place that he worked in the Toon Lagoon zone. I’d also have to shake my two sisters and one sister’s boyfriend, with whom I had attended the park. When my sister and her boyfriend stopped to play some carnival games, I slipped away, in search of a Coke Zero and that dude.
I entered his place of work, which I’m not going to mention specifically because I don’t want him to get in trouble. I saw him from afar and then he saw me and despite our very modern way of coordinating this, the cruising that took place for a few minutes felt vintage.
I bought what I bought, nodded at him and approached him. He apologized for his outlandish, clashing fluorescent Toon-y work wear, but I told him that I liked a man in uniform. I don’t know if he got it. He asked me if I came alone, and I told him no – that would be weird. Weirder than the current weird situation, at least, I thought. He told me I was cute, I returned the compliment and then he told me to follow him.
He took me outside, past an appropriately cartoonish fence, all bright colors and bold lines and angular edges. I thought it was weird that it led to a staff-only area, as it resembled an attraction or maybe the opening to a fun maze. Past the opening was a mostly empty paved plot with a few picnic benches and single-stall, gender-specific bathrooms. No one was around but us. We went into the men’s room and made out. We pulled our pants down. I was excited to a debilitating extent, so full of adrenaline that felt mainlined from a 15-year-old that I wasn’t even hard. Neither was he – his dick reminded me of a not-yet-inflated animal-balloon balloon.
It was fine. We got up, gave each other head and both came. I’m being generous if I say the entire thing lasted longer than three minutes. It was fucking great, though – a thrilling release that exceeded and, via post coital lightness, enhanced the insane roller coaster I went on immediately after with my sister after I met back up with her. The first thing she asked me is if I was high.
I felt lighter, at last able to enjoy my vacation. I didn’t hook up after that, but I did use Grindr to survey the area, soak in the fabricated culture and collect screen shots. Later that night, my mother arrived (she couldn’t travel with us to Florida because of work) and we sat on the couch tapping at our phones. She showed me some game she was playing and it looked like there was some kind of chat option there, so I asked her about it.
“I don’t do chat shit,” she told me. “There are a lot of perverts out there.”