As a chubby bear, Grindr in Pakistan was a rollercoaster ride. It took me a few days to figure out how to use the app. I would always start conversations with ‘oh, um, I just go with the flow. Not really looking for anything in particular.’ If that worked, and they still wanted to, you know, then I’d really reel them in. If it wouldn’t, then I’d move down the ‘let’s be friends’ route, and let’s just say that my percentage of gay friends has really grown in the past few years.
Queer friendships are hard to come by in Pakistan, and the reason for that is no secret. We, Pakistani Queers, exist in secrecy entirely. We’re underground. It can be isolating, especially for people who don’t have access to people who have no way to get to that underground world. This was where Grindr came in. Fine, Grindr had a lot of problematic policies when it came to data protection, but it did a lot for the community here in Pakistan. It gave us an online platform to be, us. It gave us a space to find each other, whether it was for a blow job or long-lasting friendship.
In my experience and those of my friends, the app was really powerful to some gay guys, especially those who were way in the closet. Grindr didn’t only provide companionship but it was also therapy. Sometimes therapy would happen in bed, and sometimes it would happen after. People found comfort in speaking to someone who’s like them. They have questions, they have doubts and they have a lot of things they want to unpack, but really, who could they tell? For so many closeted queers, they live in homophobic and hostile households. So many people cave to heteronormative pressures and live out their lives without ever talking about it. Of course, the app didn’t solve their problems or change mindsets, but any queer person will tell you that just telling someone that you think you’re gay, and having that person NOT judge you, means the world.
For these reasons, when the Pakistani government banned Grindr, it really did set the community back. Let’s be real, we were all aware that day would come, but still, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. That too, during a pandemic, when meeting people in person is fraught with anxiety. The importance of the app was only amplified.
The great thing about technology is that no matter how much you try to block something, the more people find ways to still access it. Pakistanis were made experts in this task back when we had a YouTube ban in the country. Also, a lot of people had already begun the move out of Grindr and were on Instagram and Twitter. There’s a 21-year-old in my DMs who has only told me, in the entire world, that he’s gay. I don’t know what made him trust me, and me, him. Let’s just call it the ‘gay-dar’. While getting around blockages is great, it can be exhausting and it can be frustrating, especially when you consider that it’s only going to get worse.
The Pakistani government has recently been on a ban-happy streak, banning anything remotely fun, youthful, and innovative insight. Also this past week the government passed another problematic law that dictates what content online can be banned and removed. The government has hidden behind vague terminology, but the fact is that it will take one person to be offended for content to be questioned and possibly removed. Not only will this affect religious minorities, but it will affect sexual and gender minorities in the country. These communities face social media scrutiny on a daily, and these laws only give the trolls more power.
This all sounds bleak, and it is. I wish I could give you, the reader, some solace in knowing that things may get better. I and so many other queers are all clinging to hope that it does actually better. Till then, I’m going to keep the tab for Canadian immigration open on my laptop.