I was 18. He was 45.
It all began on Grindr after he sent me a message. I was reluctant to reply to him at first, mainly because of his age, but also because his profile was a photo of his torso. He was just one of the many headless men that are a common sight on this app.
This was all new to me and the endless number of app users within feet of me was a bit overwhelming. For those of you that don’t know what Grindr is, it’s an app for gay, bi, trans and queer people to connect and meet with other singles (sometimes not) in their area. So basically, a hookup app.
In the masses of aggressive messages and sexual photos, his simple conversation stuck out. Although this will probably sound cliché, he had such a way with words and was very mysterious. He was also very private about his personal life, which is probably what intrigued me about him since I like to know everything about everyone.
I saw him as more of a friend than anything serious at first, mainly because of our age gap. He seemed to be looking out for me, always offering me advice.
He was close to my father’s age, which should have been a red flag. His passiveness toward meeting in person made me feel comfortable, particularly because every conversation I’ve ever had with other people on the app had died after I showed the slightest hesitation toward meeting up. I was a virgin, and the thought of having a sexual encounter with a stranger terrified me, especially when app users expect you to come to their house after exchanging messages for 20 minutes.
It is not uncommon for men to send unsolicited nude photos on Grindr, compliment your looks and express how “generous” they are. Basically, this is another way of saying they are willing to pay for sexual favors. Gay teens, especially those from communities where there are not a lot of other LGBTQ people around, often jump at the first person they receive continuous attention from. I know this because I was once in that situation, but something always held me back from accepting such advances — except for the time when I decided to meet with this man I had considered a friend.
He never offered me money, but he did not have to. He made me feel safe and I thought he liked me for who I was. He would always compliment my eyes, my lips and my tan skin. He was never too forward, at least not at first.
I became sexually involved with this man the summer before my freshman year of college and while I regret some of the things that I did with him, in the moment I believed everything that happened between us was consensual. He never pushed me to do anything I did not want to do, but like I mentioned before, he was good with his words; he would always persuade me to do more and I never resisted. I never said no, but I also never said yes.
This is where I get confused, because I’m not sure if what he did was okay. At the time, I trusted him and I did not realize that he was manipulating and using the trust that I had toward him as a way to guilt me into going further with our sexual relationship. I saw him a total of three times before disappearing on him completely.
He checked my ID through his cracked door the first time we met to make sure I wasn’t lying about my age. This should have been the second red flag. Not telling me his last name and checking if anyone had seen me enter his house should have been flags three and four.
Being a gay male person of color, it is not uncommon for me to be fetishized by men on Grindr and similar dating apps such as Scruff, Surge and even Tinder. What I didn’t expect was to be called racist slurs when I ignored or rejected advances from other men. It took me a few years to understand the difference between someone having actual interest in me and being seen as a sexual desire because of my ethnicity.
I never expected a Hasidic man to ask, “How much?” while pointing at his genitals during my run in the middle of the summer. I never expected to be catcalled and followed from Kips Bay to Penn Station by a man that could have been my grandfather in the middle of the night. I also never expected to have a sexual relationship with a man nearly three times my age, but I did.
Gay culture at times can be very unsafe, especially through dating apps like Grindr. You meet strangers in their homes, sometimes in the middle of the night. Drugs and alcohol are also often involved in such meetings, and you truly do not know if the person will stick to preconceived arrangements, if any were made.
Am I a victim of sexual harassment? I don’t like to think so, but I do feel taken advantage of. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was young and immature. I still am, but I’m learning.