Grindr in Berlin

Trigger warnings: Holocaust, xenophobia, gendered violence

For my this post I thought it was appropriate to discuss situated queerness. I will specifically be looking at Berlin, Germany which was the second stop of our trip. As many of you know, Germany was home to the National Socialist Party (Nazis) during WWII which meant the country’s intentional extermination of Jewish people across Europe/German-occupied territories. Since the end of WWII, the country, along with other European countries, developed the theoretical framework of color-blind societies. In order for events like the Holocaust to never happen again, Germany set out on campaigns to remove discourses of difference and adopt “progressive” politics. These discourses are rather unfamiliar to people living in the US, as many of our social issues relate directly to politics of identity. One particular group that gained support through Germany’s liberal afflictions was the LGBT+ community, a community I am both a part of and engage with on a critical level. One mode of critique towards the LGBT+ group can be understood through Jasbir Puar’s coining of the term “homonationalism.” A national identity that becomes so consumed with protecting the queer population that it simultaneously adopts racist/islamaphobic legislation to preserve anti-immigration policy and xenophobia. Berlin is one location that has received such criticism with LGBT+ organizations like LSVD historically invested in “re-educating” backwards people (brown/black) from certain countries. To be clear, this is not my language, but actually comes from old LSVD initiative write-ups. And to provide a fair picture, I will add that during our visit to LSVD they stated their efforts to step away from homonationalist projects and towards helping immigrant communities. One such step is a project called “Miles” which provides transitional resources for queer immigrants new to Berlin/Germany. Additionally, through my interactions with German students, there have been great strides to discuss the circumstances of immigrants, POC, and to move away from the rhetoric of color-blindness once used. So why is this worth mentioning? You can hopefully assume that being a queer POC in Berlin is better than being a queer POC in any city in the US. Or at least I just feel that way.

For many of the queer students at Colby, you might already know that I am member of a popular gay dating site called Grindr. This digital platform has actually provided me with an interesting approach at examining the racial and gendered overtones of queer communities in these countries. Not only during my stay in my program’s four countries, but I actually re-download the app in every city I visit hoping to understand a little more about what is like to be queer in a given area.

Before beginning my anecdote, I will start with a short self-reflection of my own identity. Before this program, I was always uncertain about how my gender presentation and sexual orientation would affect my interactions with people around me. Of course I can still not foresee the future, but this uncertainty kept me sheltered and unwilling to explore my queerness. And not queer like I like to have sex with this group of people. But queer like what does it mean for your identity to transcend social norms or engage critically with structures around us (law, medicine, science, etc.). To me, queerness is to die and rebirth oneself. But even to be reborn does not mean being impervious to social reconfigurations and recalculations of this new, queer You.

Anyways, during this portion of our trip I decided to fully embrace my queer identity via Grindr seeing as though the city is extremely welcoming of nonconformists. Others might know that I also wear makeup at school, so embracing my identity (physically) basically just meant that I was going to have my profile picture be me with makeup (I will attach the photo for reference).

While I was pleasantly surprised by the increasing number of responses I received, I noticed a repeated trend. FYI: For anyone that isn’t queer, being a gay femme person in the gay community is pretty stigmatized; people want a “real man” and if they want you it’s either a) in an aggressive/fetishizing manner (this I will expand on later) or b) in a way they are ashamed to want you. Just ask around at Colby, I’m sure you can find someone that is too embarrassed to admit they like femme men. Check diverted eyes to confirm your suspicions.

Regardless, I was receiving so many messages from these hyper-masculine men. Not even asking me the simple “how are you” or “what are you looking for” but just sending me explicit photos and asking for me to perform things I had never even done. The thing with queer/trans folks is that we are often assumed to be the punching bag for people’s desires. As a result, I was in multiple situations in which I was objectified simply to fulfill someone else’s fantasies. Even a female friend! (yes, women can uphold toxic masculinity as well) used my body (to her, an object) for her own needs. This was a new experience for me as I am more accustomed to answering to “sexy Latin boy.” Again, what is the point of this story? To relate it to my earlier discussions of homonationalism; these protections primarily exist to shield normative cisgender gay people. For queer/trans folks it’s really a mixed bag of experiences. I want to be clear that I am not citing this as an issue representative of Germany (I believe this to exist in many parts of the world including the US). Also, I had countless of wonderful experiences being queer in Berlin. I felt comfortable to walk on the streets with makeup and in femme fashion. Or to hold hands and share intimate, romantic moments in public with another queer person. Berlin gave me the strength to want to explore my presentation and identity. In Berlin, being more is better and being yourself is the most fulfilling experience. My time in Berlin holds the memories I smile about when I let my mind wander to happy places.

Until next time.