The Chappy Report: The State of Gay Dating and Friendship (2019 U.S. Edition)
A Letter From Our Founder
In 2019, it's clearer than ever that the digital and physical worlds are irreversibly, undeniably blended. We live trying to reach through screens, and the evolving effects of technology on human connection — positive and negative — are near impossible to capture. We've decided to try.
Since 2017, Chappy has existed as a digital first platform aimed at providing a connection experience for men seeking men that “raises the gay bar” from what has existed in the space. We've always understood that if we’re going to move the needle as a culture, we can’t do it alone. We need to make sure we understand the needs of our community.
This inaugural Chappy Report is so critical because it provides us with valuable insights into what it means to be a man seeking connection with another man today. The themes that came through are tied to really deep, often painful histories. We're digging into the toxic parts of gay life — racial and ethnic discrimination, body image, the pressures of masculinity, and loneliness — and that helps us build a better space for ourselves as a team and for others.
There's a lack of research conducted by queer brands, but with these survey results, Chappy is able to more accurately identify pain points within the gay dating space. We were founded as a social connection app on a mission to end the stereotyping of gay men and we’re so proud of our mission, but we’ve realized that gay dating apps as a whole need to do so much better. The more we understand about ourselves and our users, the better we can implement change.
We’re excited to present The Chappy Report: The State of Gay Dating and Friendship in 2019. And we want to hear from you! Our hope is that this starts a conversation led by the readers of this report and the community we serve. Please send your reflections, comments, and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Head of Brand and Co-founder, Chappy
1. Asking Simple Questions
2. Is The Online Gayborhood Possible?
Queer spaces are rapidly disappearing. We're asking how we maintain them.
3. Who Are We When Nothing Holds Us Back?
Our culture has really rigid ideas about what's desirable. We're looking beyond them.
4. What Are We Telling Each Other?
Screens have changed how we communicate. We're more interested in changing behavior.
5. The Way Forward-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
“Asking Simple Questions”
This process started by asking a simple question: What is it like to be gay in 2019? And thus, The Chappy Report was born. In collaboration with 4Media Group, we set out to survey 1,000 men, gender non-conforming people, and non-binary people seeking men for dating and friendship. The idea was to take 1,000 of the people who our platform is designed to serve, and again, to ask simple questions.
The insights we found ranged from where we find love and belonging to how the rise of technology has changed our lives and the challenges we’re still up against. What’s very clear from the findings is that who we are and how we connect, online and off, are intertwined. That has, in turn, greatly affected the conversation about dating apps: they’re designed to expand the available pool of partners available to us and simultaneously help us narrow that number of partners down. They’re supposed to give you more information about a potential match than you might have if you saw the person across a room, but they might also allow us to curate personas that don’t represent who we really are. The culture around dating apps and websites like Chappy is, in a word, complex.
But we’ve come a long way since online dating began its meteoric rise in 2000. The ever-growing number of available apps and websites has been helpful in connecting our communities together, whether for casual connections or long-term relationships, and they’ve been a welcome addition into our lives; in our survey, 93% of respondents say that dating apps have become an important way to meet like-minded people.
This number won’t come as any surprise to our community, though. Geolocation-based dating has its genesis both in gay cruising culture and in apps designed to serve the gay audience, initially in the pursuit of more immediate sex. It was our community that set the standard for what is now widely accepted as one of the best ways to find what you’re looking for, and over the last two decades apps designed to show you the people around you have become commonplace for finding both love and friendship. Queer people continue to be the cultural vanguard around the world, and when society has told us for so long that how we love is wrong, it only makes sense that we would keep rewriting the rules of sex, dating, and friendship.
In fact, research from 2017 revealed that 65% of same-gender couples met online (compared to 39% of straight couples) and 62% of respondents to our survey say dating apps make it easier to find love. Dating apps have, in many ways, become an integral part of our social and romantic lives, thanks in no small part to the immediacy, convenience and inherent match-making they provide.
That immediacy has obviously come with its downsides; it’s like screens get in the way of kindness and authenticity. In our survey, 60% of respondents say someone has made a hurtful remark about their physical appearance in the last year, over half of respondents had experienced racism on dating apps and of those who no longer use dating apps, 32% cite being judged on their appearance as a deterrent. Two-thirds of respondents say that their least favorite thing about dating apps is catfishing, or the use of fake profile photos or information to fabricate an online identity and mislead others. In one of the most illuminating statistics of our report, more than half of the respondents to our survey say they feel pressure to present themselves as more masculine online than they are in real life. These findings beg another question: Where do we go from here?
As a team of queer men, this year’s survey findings struck a chord with all of us at Chappy HQ, and it started some real discussions about how to keep improving as we develop a space for gay dating and friendship. Some of what we found in the data reaffirmed what those of us at Chappy have experienced ourselves, and some of it reminded us that, to keep building this the right way, we have to listen to experiences outside of our own. All together, the findings reveal that queer communities are continuing to carve out space in the digital and physical worlds, and platforms like Chappy have a responsibility to make our users safer from racism and discrimination — 70% of people said so. We’ve approached these subjects from a place of vulnerability, and now we’re sharing what we’ve heard.
As the world rages around us, the LGBTQ community is still divided from within and threatened from without. In a time of such division, we wanted to understand how queer men are forging intimate relationships, how we claim space, and how we support one another. We’ve always found new and novel ways to surmount the obstacles before us, and whether we meet online across borders or IRL, our community continues to show that it is love, understanding and friendship that keep us moving towards better futures.
Is The Online Gayborhood Possible?
To have a discussion about standing our ground in 2019, we have to acknowledge that we stand on the legacy of trans women of color at Stonewall. 50 years later, we remember The Stonewall Riots of 1969 as the events that thrust LGBTQ liberation onto a national and global stage. In fighting back, though, they weren’t only claiming their rights to live and love freely; they were protecting the physical community and spaces where so many of them found refuge and kinship. Since long before the first major turning point of queer liberation, gay neighborhoods or ‘gayborhoods,’ like Stonewall’s home in New York City’s Greenwich Village, were teeming with communities of people who fell beyond the limits of societal acceptance. As far back as the Harlem Renaissance, neighborhoods like Harlem and port cities around the country had become queer enclaves, spaces where we were more free to convene, let our hair down, find work, and look out for each other. The communities that frequented (or were forced onto) the streets of these neighborhoods knew better than most that having the support of a community of people like you can be a life-saving intervention in a world that doesn’t think you deserve to live.
In the 50 years since Stonewall, however, much has changed about queer life, and in many cities, the gayborhood is quickly becoming a safety of the past. In January 2018, journalist Zach Stafford wanted to understand what was happening to Chicago’s historically-LGBTQ neighborhood Boystown. It had long been a meeting ground and safe space for Chicago’s vibrant LGBTQ communities, but as he describes in his article’s title, “Gentrification Takes Its Toll On Nightlife in America’s Oldest Gay Neighborhood.” As in other LGBTQ neighborhoods — The Castro in San Francisco, The West Village in New York City — rising rent prices and the forced displacement of queer gathering spots meant the neighborhood was vastly becoming inhospitable for the queer people who made it so vibrant in the first place.
For many in the modern LGBTQ liberation movement, integration of queer people out into the open has been one of the main goals. In this way, integration can be seen as a product of equality, and so the closure of LGBTQ venues — or the transforming of LGBTQ neighborhoods — can be viewed by some as progress. “The rapid rate at which sexual minorities are blending into American society represents the most impressive civil rights triumph of our generation,” says Amin Ghaziani, an associate professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia, and author of the book There Goes the Gayborhood?
But the gayborhood, as important as it is for our community, still implements an often dangerous hierarchy, with more affluent, cisgender, white gay men at the top and the trans people of color and the homeless at the bottom. In this way, we can see how ‘integration’ comes first to those who resemble people in power on the other side of queerness. But for those among us yet to be welcomed by mainstream society, for those among us who live without access to these queer enclaves, LGBTQ spaces still have a chance to be vital for community and safety. Does a shift toward online platforms offer an opportunity for safer spaces to more people? What if everyone could feel the robust sense of connection that people find in Boystown? Is the online gayborhood possible?
In our recent survey to better understand the dating and relationship landscape in 2019, 65% of respondents say the rise of technology has made it easier for them to connect to likeminded men. Some suggest that the community is leaning into technology as a response to the closure of LGBTQ venues, and others posit that LGBTQ venues are closing in response to people finding community online, but we find it hard to draw one correlation. What we do know, however is that 73% of respondents say that social media platforms are helping them build new friendships, with 42% saying they use dating apps to find new friends. What’s more, 51% of respondents say they find like-minded men for friendship through other friends. It would seem that men are recreating the offline spaces our communities once frequented in gayborhoods, or at the very least, using online spaces with the explicit intention of finding friends.
All of this presents an interesting use-case for dating apps and the potential that platforms like Chappy have to ensure that we meet the need to find friendship alongside opportunities for romance and short-term connection. In June, we introduced Chappy Friends as a vertical within the Chappy app devoted to platonic connection. It’s meant to untangle the mixed signals that come when we use dating or hookup apps to find friends, as many of us do. This year, Chappy Friends has been one of our largest accomplishments in carrying out our mission.
Perhaps with the rise of technology and the changing landscape of LGBTQ neighbourhoods, how and where people meet may be less important now; the key is finding others to connect with. In the same way, a snapshot of queer spaces in 2019 must mention that the recent rise in closures of LGBTQ publications has further reinforced the idea that we are in desparate need of platforms to share our ideas and experiences. Still, 65% of respondents say that LGBTQ-only venues are important to them, suggesting there is — and will continue to be — a demand for LGBTQ spaces, synergy between our on- and offline selves, and a persistent desire to find people like us with whom we can build our lives. We’ve got to stand our ground.
“Who Are We When Nothing Holds Us Back?”
As we reorganize and build online spaces in response to the closure of physical spaces for queer people, we may also be bringing into these spaces some of the more harmful behaviors experienced offline. In a viral 2017 article, “The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness”, writer and journalist Michael Hobbes addresses some of the long-standing issues gay men experience as a result of both extended periods of time ‘in the closet’ and the relatively negative experiences we can have when entering the gay scene, calling out the hierarchy of gayborhoods in an apt quote:
“You grow up with this loneliness, accumulating all this baggage, and then you arrive in the Castro or Chelsea or Boystown thinking you’ll finally be accepted for who you are. And then you realize that everyone else here has baggage, too. All of a sudden it’s not your gayness that gets you rejected. It’s your weight, or your income, or your race.”
This holds true in the data. In our survey, 60% of respondents say someone has made a hurtful remark about their physical appearance in the last year while using a dating app or site and 57% of respondents say their lack of self-esteem and confidence hold them back from being themselves when making connections online. Hobbes points to “several studies [that] have found living in gay neighborhoods predicts higher rates of risky sex and less time spent on community activities like volunteering and playing sports.” If dating apps are the new gayborhoods, are they also providing easy access to harmful methods of dealing with rejection? Are we building each other up or breaking each other down?
Because the gay scene has been in large part focused on sexual connection, and sex is so intimately associated with power, the move to finding partners online might naturally bring with it some of the behaviors we’ve come to understand as par for the course, including a desire for men who present as more masculine. 52% of our survey respondents say they feel pressure to present themselves as more masculine online than they are in real life and 72% think online dating over-emphasises physical traits. One-quarter of respondents say they’ve lied about their body build or stature online in order to impress a connection.But the hypermasculine sexual and body standards in our community have been said to be rooted in damaging ideas about what it takes to be both desired and accepted. A growing number of studies reveal not only the emotional and mental cost of living our adolescence in the closet, but the price men pay for trying to reach or maintain the ‘gay masculine ideal.’
In short, these statistics point to the persistence of our shame and trauma. So much of our aspiration to conventional masculinity and our internalized homophobia comes from society’s association queerness with femininity and with femininity as weakness. Historically, the hypermasculine ideal became widely imprinted on gay men and gay culture at the height of the AIDS crisis. Masculinity, muscles and gym-fit bodies were a way of showing that we were not ill — we were virile, healthy, and stronger than HIV/AIDS. Further, in our bid to separate ourselves from women, the ways we express queerness as men have long been cited as expressions of misogyny, from well-worn tropes about bottoms as effeminate to a general distaste towards femme expressions of our sexuality.
Justin Lehmiller, a psychologist at the Kinsey Institute, recently told them., “A big part of the reason people in the LGBT community have more mental health issues is not only because they experience high levels of marginalization from society at large, but also because of the intense pressure to be, look, and act in a masculine way.” In the same article, Ryon McDermott of the University of Southern Alabama, says research shows there is some freedom to be had in divorcing ourselves from rigid masculine norms and that “men who are more flexible in their gender roles tend to be healthier at nearly every level.”
In effect, racism, ‘femmephobia’ and ‘fatphobia’ have become the largest and most pressing criticisms of queer men’s dating culture. We must do better.
It is promising, then, that 32% of respondents to our survey say they find it easier to be themselves online. From blogs to dating apps, men are finding spaces full of people with whom they can be themselves, exploring parts of their identity and desires free from the internal and external pressures to conform to any ideals of what it means to be a ‘real’ or desirable man. And it appears that men are looking beyond the limits of dating apps and sites to find who they’re looking for. For those who remember Myspace and AOL chat rooms, this won’t be news; and for a younger generation forming and forging friendships with people across the globe via Snapchat, Instagram, and the cultural institution of ‘Gay Twitter,’ there are ever-increasing opportunities for self-expression in ways that both challenge dominant narratives about what it means to live and express ourselves as part of the LGBTQ community. We can see that social media, including dating apps and sites, in its myriad forms and all its documented flaws, can also have a positive and life-affirming place in our lives.
Discussions about the masculine ideal beg the question: Who am I when nothing holds me back? At Chappy, we’re focused on finding ways for our community to express itself beyond binaries and tribes, on finding substantive ways for our users to find what they’re looking for in an emotional connection beyond physical characteristics. Since we launched, every Chappy user has signed a pledge to speak with kindness, to see beyond the conventions of masculinity, no matter when and how we’re ‘looking.’
As a next step, we are excited to introduce profile badges this year! Badges will make it easier to signal things like your interests, hobbies, relationship goals, and sexual health information. From the beginning we’ve been devoted to creating a platform without headless torsos, and now we’re going even further, past smiling faces, to help more people spark conversation.
— What Are We Telling Each Other?
As the world shifted online, so did our romantic pursuits, but finding love online used to carry with it a real stigma. Alongside the concerns that people we met online and in chat rooms couldn’t be trusted, there was an implicit suggestion that searching for love online meant there was something wrong with a person, something that prevented them from meeting people ‘in real life.’ Attitudes have certainly shifted, and it’s clear that, with all its implications, good and bad, the Internet is real life.
With the obvious convenience of searching for potential partners in an increasingly digitized world, people and platforms alike are taking more steps to ensure that online communities are safe, that people are who they say they are and that these online meeting places can be incorporated seamlessly into a vast array of lives. In one of our most salient statistics, and one that speaks to us most as a platform dedicated to eliminating fake profiles, we know that two in three queer men name catfishing as their largest concern when dating online.
Perhaps a more unforeseen challenge, and one rearing its head in our polar political climate, was how our online behavior would shapeshift with the rise of technology. Social media platforms and dating apps alike are now rife with accounts of language that dehumanizes and excludes people, and it would seem that the rise of technology has impacted our interpersonal communication skills in ways that we could perhaps not have fully fathomed. 41% of respondents to our survey say that interactions on dating apps are not as polite as offline interactions, with 28% of respondents concerned about using dating apps because it would open them up to discriminatory language and 25% of respondents admitting they are less likely to worry about hurting someone’s feelings online; the screen clearly changes how we act.
But it’s worth considering that racism, femmephobia, fatphobia, and other forms of discrimination are not technology’s fault — it may just exacerbate problems rooted deeper in our society. Kai Cheng Tom, a therapist for queer and trans young people, is increasingly concerned with why people within the LGBTQ communities can be so mean to each other, both online and off. They ask, “What happens to a community of people who have been raised with the sensation of constant, looming danger, of being fundamentally wrong in the way we love and express ourselves? What impact might that collective trauma have upon our bodies and spirits?” Just as the rejection of ourselves and others who fall outside of our ideals has transferred into our online spaces along with us, so has unresolved trauma that prevents us from connecting with others in more generative and meaningful ways.
The inability to communicate with each other has effects far beyond blockading digital connections: it presents a disconnect between what we say we’re looking for and whether or not we’re acting like it. For example, 89% of respondents to our survey say they’re looking for a relationship, with 54% wanting a relationship that is committed and monogamous. Yet 50% of respondents name ghosting as what they like least about using dating apps and 1 in 4 respondents have cancelled a date in the last year because ‘something didn’t feel right’. If communication is the cornerstone of a healthy and fulfilling relationship, no matter its length, ‘ghosting’ — cutting off communication with a partner suddenly and completely — presents a unique and modern lens through which to examine the necessity of better communication. Maybe more than ever, we are leaving each other on “read.”
Esther Perel is a renowned couples therapist and relationship expert whose podcast, Where Do We Begin?, dives deep into the relationship problems plaguing our modern society. She says, “Ghosting, icing, and simmering are manifestations of the decline of empathy in our society — the promoting of one’s selfishness, without regard for the consequences of others. There is a person on the other end of our messages (or lack thereof), and the ability to communicate virtually doesn’t give us the right to treat others poorly.” Whether it’s ghosting, icing (coming up with excuses to dissolve a relationship), or simmering (reducing the frequency of your contact over time), all three terms point to a lack of care further enabled by technology. She suggests that an increased pool of potential partners at our fingertips, coupled with our inability to engage fully in intimacy building, has resulted in what she calls ‘stable ambiguity’ — “a holding pattern that affirms the undefined nature of the relationship, which has a mix of comforting consistency and the freedom of blurred lines.”
What we see playing out, in both anecdotal and quantitative data, is the confluence of miscommunication that may be preventing us from establishing the types of restorative, kind relationships we ultimately deserve. If we are searching for love and relationships in digital spaces where we feel less inclined to worry about the feelings of others and impose rigid ideals about what’s desirable, we’re only putting up more barriers to what we’re looking for. But each of us deserves happiness, kindness and love.
Each of us, across racial, gender and ideological lines (to name just a few) must be able to venture into digital spaces aware of who we are, what we need and what we’d like to give to others. A commitment to self-awareness might look like us stepping closer to real communication. Perel goes on to say that we deploy these forms of miscommunication (catfishing, ghosting, icing, simmering) at the expense of our emotional health. “Act with kindness and integrity,” says Perel.
In essence, dating apps and sites are tools for connection; they cannot, on their own, solve the wider societal ills discussed, including miscommunication. But they can be geared towards us communicating with each other in ways that amplify our humanity, and they can help facilitate us taking up space to explore who we are, what we want and to find people to reaffirm and love us when the dominant culture so often treats us like we don’t belong. On Chappy, we’ve got photo verification technology in place and 24/7 moderators to ensure that catfishing, miscommunication, discrimination, and racism can be dealt with, but our ability to create a safe, photo-verified platform requires the commitment of our users. All of what’s been described here points to a greater need than guardrails — we need a culture change.
The Way Forward
Chappy is designed by members of the queer community to be a better tool for the queer community. Across the company, there are people asking many of the simple questions we’ve laid out in this report, people who bring their lived experience to work and ask, “How can this digital world be better for us?”
We hope this report has provoked your thoughts and your sense that you deserve more love, more respect, and more kindness. So we’ll keep this part short.
We have grown to accept the toxic dynamics of gay culture as a way of life. All it takes is a quick search online to see that the phrase “Gay culture is -” is most often tied to ideas around inauthenticity, performative masculinity, and shame. These problems are nothing new, yet we treat them like they’re as undeniable as gravity. It doesn’t have to be this way.
It’s time we all started asking questions of ourselves — about what we hide, who we hurt, and how we heal — and trying to give better answers with our actions. Once we all ask these questions, of ourselves and of the many platforms we trust to preserve space for us, we might be able to move together toward building a community that walks arm in arm, step by step, to lift each other up on the mountains we have yet to climb.
We didn’t write this as a claim that Chappy has it all figured out; we wrote this as a continuation of our commitment to asking questions and to trying.
We’re going to keep building this ethos into our platform, and we’re going to keep peeling back the thick skin of shame that queer people have built up, and we’re going to stay the course toward change.
We hope you’ll come along.
From all of us at Chappy Mission Control