An Ethnography of Grindr, part 4: Coming out

Oct. 4, 2021, 10:24 p.m.

On Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, I came out to my parents as gay. I was also in the thick of a manic episode. In fact, I’d been avoiding drama for 21 years — just to have the most dramatic coming out I could have imagined. Even the cops were invited! Personally, that’s the gayest shit I’ve ever heard.

Wait, what?

To be honest, the idea for this project — using my experience to describe the literally insane behavior of Grindr users — came to me by surprise. I’d been reflecting on actor-network theory, a methodology that focuses on understanding reality through relationships. But in my awareness, my parents had nothing to do with it. I wasn’t out to them yet, but mostly because I didn’t feel like it was the right time. Either way, I wasn’t concerned about them finding out about this series, because they don’t usually Google my name.

When I came to Stanford, I hoped to meet more queer men than I had growing up in Texas. Still, the thought of joining Grindr never crossed my mind, let alone having a ton of gay sex, let alone disseminating it to the wider community. Since part 1 seemed to resonate with people, I set out to investigate where it had come from. In my head, I mapped out four total parts that I imagined would “close the objective distance” from myself, challenging the assumption that the further away you are from something, the better you understand it.

In part 2, I talked about the actions of seeing and hiding, locating myself among this project as an ethnographer. In part 3, I talked about locating myself among a multidirectional totem pole of categories on Grindr. For part 4, my plan was to investigate my own reality through uncertainties in my life. Even so, though I had no prior history of mental health issues, my “hot girl summer” quickly spiraled into my “hypomanic girl summer.” Oops!

Opening my manic episode

In early August, I was struck with an idea for how to scurry back to home base with part 4. (To be clear, I still don’t know anything about sports.) I took time off from seeing people to spend all of my time writing. I was holed up in my room in EVGR, the building where I was staffing. Since I didn’t have a roommate, and since only a small handful of my friends were on campus over the summer, it was easy for me to go unnoticed.

Over the next few days, I stopped feeling the need to sleep more than three hours a night. I also stopped feeling hunger, but I instinctively grabbed fluids like chocolate almond milk from the dining hall. If I tried opening social media, I couldn’t process what I was seeing. By the end of the week, I submitted a 7,000-word article to The Grind, entitled, “EVERYONE SHOULD GO TO THERAPY,” which was ironic and entirely unusable.

By Aug. 13, I was well-aware that something felt different. I wondered if while writing about uncertainty, I had deconstructed myself out of existence. In the middle of the afternoon, I messaged a friend that I was feeling disassociated. My friend, who has extensive research experience in neuroscience, replied that depression might be the culprit.

Am I depressed? thought my manic mind.

Fearing that I had unearthed a depression I was previously unaware of, I called 911 and explained what my friend had told me. The operator, a female voice, started to ask me a list of rapid-fire questions about myself. Presumably, she was gauging my relationship with reality. I answered them accurately, along the lines of “I’m a below-average-height brown male, and I’m gay!”

Then, she asked me if I was alone.

Should I not be? thought my manic mind.

Fearing that I shouldn’t be left unattended, I stepped out and locked myself out of my room, slipping my ID under the door. In retrospect, this symbolized leaving my ego behind for what I was about to do. At this point, the operator decided I didn’t need to be rushed to the hospital. She sent three cops, whom I peacefully met outside before hanging up. The cops and I gathered in a shady spot by the parking lot in front of EVGR. 

Around that time, I received a FaceTime call from my parents. After a short greeting, I got increasingly flustered and said,

“I’M GAY!” 

For the next few minutes, I almost involuntarily told them what I thought I needed to. I was moving so fast that I hardly gave them a chance to react.

“We love you very much…” they started.

“Love is an action!” I cut them off, referring to actor-network theory. The cops around me, who had heard the entire conversation, nodded in agreement.

“I’m happy to answer questions, but I think I said enough,” I said. After hanging up, I felt a buzz in my existence, and no fear.

“I really like what you told your parents,” one of the cops said. I met blue eyes staring at me in amazement. “I haven’t heard anything like that in 20 years.”

“Everyone helped me get here — even the cops!” I told them.

For the next 40 minutes, the cops hung out around me while I cracked jokes about campus life and asked them about their weekend plans. I’ve interacted with cops as an RA before. I’d seen them cause a resident to panic when trying to take over control of the situation, worsening the crisis she was already in. But I had no sense of rank while I was manic, so I behaved like a perfectly cheerful citizen.

In the following days, my episode didn’t cause any “community disturbance,” except among the community of healthcare professionals trying to evaluate me. I even continued working as an RA and had conversations with residents, including several from The Stanford Daily. On Sunday morning, I even shook my manic ass for my students at Zumba, and Stanford paid me for it!

By the summer, many residents had told me that EVGR feels like an asylum, especially with isolating rooms and automatic lights that follow you down the hall. I’d never minded the lights, since they made me feel important. I was also grateful to have the space, since I was on track to relocate across campus five times in nine months due to last-minute housing assignments. Still, I was so committed to my residents that I turned the building into my very own asylum.

Wrapping up

To be clear, my parents are open-minded, and we have a loving relationship. But like many queer people, I’d been living life on two sides. On the one hand, I was a visible gay person at Stanford turning my vulnerabilities into a public sport, and the disgraced court jester was the Grindr app logo. On the other hand, I was enjoying a home life where the disgraced court jester would be my future wife.

It’s no one’s fault that I didn’t come out to my parents sooner. Either way, perhaps the pressure in my psyche between my two lives increased until I was *boom* manic. I’ve also seen several health professionals, who were each convinced that another such event is very unlikely to happen again. How do I say that a manic episode fixed my problems, without saying that a manic episode fixed my problems?

In lofty terms, you could say that I got lost in uncertainty to the point of mania, and then iteratively found myself again (how’s that for commitment?). But maybe I’ve been iteratively finding myself outside the closet my whole life. After all, like many queer people, I’ve had to treat my gay identity as if it were a disease, shared on a “need to know” basis. Doesn’t that make us patients in the hospital of society?

I take responsibility for my episode. Still, by actor-network theory, it also emerged from every action around me, including the psychiatrists who eventually saw and named it “manic.” As for my own actions, I guess the cat’s out of the bag! But if I get any ideas for part 5, I’ll be sure to throw my laptop in the dumpster, because one manic episode was enough to get the job done.

I’m working on a book about the experiences of queer folks with family and the healthcare system. Please reach out if you’re interested in chatting!

Contact Vivek ('22) at vtanna ‘at’

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