Our Friendly Debate With Dr. Timaree Schmit on Grindr, Open Relationships, and the Fuzzy Areas of Electronic Communication
A few weeks ago, I wrote an opinion piece on gay couples who go on Grindr for additional action. Needless to say, the reaction from our readers was pretty intense, everything from impassioned, angry disapproval to folks saying that I was single-handedly destroying the gay community, to threats of physical violence against me (I wish I was kidding about the last one, but, sadly, it is true).
Then, of course, there was the fabulous Dr. Timaree Schmit, sex educator and author, who thought it would be a swell move for the two of us to have a civil debate about the opinion piece and discuss where I may have offended folks. I gladly took her up on her offer, and our talk was truly productive and enlightening. We opened up our discussion to Twitter and asked for questions as we went along. What follows is a transcript of our chat.
BB: I honestly don’t think I’ve ever written anything that got this kind of a crazy response, from all sides. I’ve heard just about everything.
TS: I actually had my own reaction before seeing how much heat you got. It was surprising for me to see the vitriol. Were you surprised?
BB: Yes. Very much so. I’ve been writing this gay dating series for about a month now and I truly thought this was right on the same page as the other pieces. If anything, the discussions I’ve been having are opening up so many questions for me. What was your reaction?
TS: I read it and felt a mixture of feelings. From my professional perspective, I felt like it was one person’s opinion and that it was simply a matter of wanting the rest of the world to operate using the same lens you have. From a personal perspective, I felt quite judged. Even if it’s not intentional, it’s hard to discuss other people’s comparable sexual openness without sounding a little judgmental because our culture is so sex negative.
BB: Yes, and obviously everyone has their own lens. I’d never expect otherwise. It was never my intention to “offend,” so to speak, and I keep hearing things like I’m sex negative, which is as far from the truth as possible (go Google the number of other sex articles I’ve written). I’m surprised people read more into the sexual behavior parts of the piece instead of the questions I raised about hypocritical emotional behavior.
TS: It didn’t seem like being offensive for the sake of being offensive. But what was the intention behind drawing a direct correlation to marriage equality? Is it impossible for someone to be about marriage and also capable of handling an open relationship?
BB: I don’t think that it is impossible. However, this is where I think there might be a little bit of an ideological divide with folks, so hear me out.
TS: I’m cool with differing ideologies
BB: People have had open relationships for years and years, both gay and straight. That’s nothing new, and I would not ever condone it. I even state that in the piece. Where I think I tend to have some issues is when there’s a double mask, so to speak, of presenting as a monogamous couple in public and using the traditional mindset of monogamy as a tool to sell marriage equality when behind closed doors, you’re not monogamous.
TS: So you support both marriage equality and the right to open relationships, but have a problem with people opting to only be out about one to some folks? Certainly you see the utility of scaling back one’s full personality and interests for the purposes of being palatable for the masses? Is it problematic to be private about one’s kink, for instance?
BB: Yes, clearly there are boundaries and privacy matters that are totally and completely appropriate, and it is up to the individual to decide. My question is this: Is publically posting a profile on Grindr or Scruff then really make those relationship decisions “private”? I think a huge part of this discussion is a question that we haven’t really answered yet with these new ways of technological communication. When you create a profile on Scruff or Grindr or whatever app, and you openy disclose your face, does that become public?
TS: I think it’s fair to say that is public, but it’s public in the same way it’s public to be on Fetlife or another niche site where presumably, the only people who will come across it are similarly oriented. A hookup site is not a standard social media platform.
BB: Would that be the case then for people who log into Grindr who say they are “just looking for friends”?
TS: So are you suspecting that they aren’t being genuine or that their definition of friends might be broader than some folks? Some people have no problem compartmentalizing friendship that includes sex without it becoming traditionally romantic.
BB: I think it’s a question of defining the medium. Are Grindr and Scruff hook-up apps or are they social media? Or are they something in between?
TS: There’s the intention behind the medium’s invention (hookup) and then there’s how users actually interact on there. Which one is the real one?
BB: Well exactly. I think you’ve hit the nail right on the head.
TS: Look at tindr. There’s a bunch of dudes who get salty because girls aren’t trying to screw them right away and they’re like, “Stupid girls. Don’t know what tindr is for?,” but really, they just failed to get laid. We’re all looking for connection, ultimately. It’s like going to a restaurant with the intention of getting grilled cheese and then seeing something else on the menu that either makes more sense or just sounds so good I can’t turn it down. I might meet someone hot and think that if we have any real substantive connection beyond physical that we necessarily have to turn it into a dating situation to capitalize on that, but maybe our best relationship is actually being buddies who have sex sometimes.
BB: So here’s another thing that a lot of people have contacted me about: Is the open gay marriage/relationship becoming “the norm”? And is monogamy a sociological construct that doesn’t fit modern culture?
TS: Both are big questions. Queerness isn’t just about the gender of the people you want to have sex with. It’s also about being outside of heteronormative paradigms in general, including compulsory monogamy. There are some pretty “straight” gay couples and some super queer couples composed of a cis man and cis woman, and monogamy is a construct that has never fit any culture. We’ve never reeeeeeally done it. Most people are, at most, serial monogamers, obviously, but nearly nobody has one sexual partner for their entire lives, and what counts as monogamy is different to people too. Does it just mean you contain sexual contact within the relationship? What about emotional attraction? What about social time? Can you go to dinner with anyone else? People call themselves monogamous but assume it means the same thing to everyone else who uses that term.
BB: I agree with what you’ve said here. I think what we’ve established here in this discussion is that many of these questions are ones that there aren’t set answers to…and that’s okay. I am really quite surprised, to be frank, at the polarizing divide that I’ve seen throughout some of the notes and messages I’ve received. There’s been very little grey area explored, which, if anything, indicates that we need to keep talking about these things.
TS: I think the reaction comes from feeling judged, like i said. When the world is so sex negative, when the presumption in most of the world is that being nonmonogamous is less real or somehow freaky, being told that you recoil from seeing it expressed on a hookup site (of all places), it feels really shaming. Where am I supposed to let my freak flag fly if not a hookup app, right?
BB: Yes, and, again, I think this is where I wish folks looked a bit at my previous work. I am an advid believer of these sites, have promoted them big time before, and have talked extensively about sex positivity in my work. There are times, however, as a writer when you find that your intended message does not translate to the audience, or the translation is the opposite of what one would expect. I think a good deal of that happened here.
TS: If I only read that piece and knew nothing else about you, I definitely wouldn’t have inferred that you were a generally sex positive person, but knowing you and your work, I know you’re an open minded dude, and this piece was part of a series on your dating experiences, right?
BB: Indeed. That’s the other thing that I really want to touch on here: I’m coming from a place now as a writer, all of the sexuality stuff removed. I think we’ve got to keep an open venue for opinion and discourse. The internet has made that both so much easier and so much more deadly at the same time. I’m all about getting conflicting responses to my opinion because not everyone’s going to agree with me and of course they don’t have to. But I think we’ve got to have an honest discussion about how we give that feedback. Your reaction, to have this chat, was spot-on perfect and we need more of that. The only way we can come to a greater understanding is via discourse. Tagging me on Facebook with a quasi death-threat is no way to approach me about a disagreement. Actually, it’s downright freaky.
TS: Well, I come from an education/clinical perspective. Others come from a palce of attention drawing for their livelihoods. I’d appreciate if everyone was more into being collaborative, but I can see the utility for them in not going that route. So I guess, looking for a point/summation of our discourse we pulled away a few big takeaways: that we’re all entitled to look for different things in relationships; that we can be cool with other people’s different relationship styles as being ok for them and not for me; that we can’t assume other people use social media the same way we do; that we are actively creating meaning through the ways that we use various media; that nothing is really private when it’s online; and that there are grownup ways to debate…. and there are other ways…
You can check out the rest of Dr. Timaree’s work on her popular website, Sex with Timaree.