I first joined Grindr when I was 16. My mother had just bought us the family phone, as she was set to travel out of the country once again for work-related reasons. I had begged her to let us come with her, but she refused, rightfully so. At the time I didn’t understand she was going to war, leaving Kenya to me meant paradise. I had just been dumped by my world, by my heaven, as I had previously referred to him. To be honest I had never pictured life without him, at least ever since we started dating. I didn’t even recall what life felt like before I could love. Life was a grey picture, with white noise playing in the background. My days held no meaning, and my nights were filled with a yearning for the future. Well, that was until I experienced him.
My first love left a hole where my heart used to be. Where joy used to be, he left misery. That was why at 16, I downloaded Grindr. Love at home, I had first thought, would be shielded from the bullying and physical violence that had prematurely terminated my first relationship. So I downloaded Grindr and put one of the best pictures on my profile. Soon enough, my inbox was flooded.
“Let me make you my baby”
”You’re so cute”
”You’re adorable, let me give you a shot
During those days when I had no one, I thought, ‘I’ll find love on Grindr’. I thought I could find love, stripping for men like my father. To be honest, I never really found someone to love me on Grindr, not at 16. However, my naivety was quickly eroded by all the men who wanted to have sex with me. It was something I had never really thought about before. I was just realizing that my body had power, that my sex appeal was a currency. Everything changed. After a while, I was the object of affection for other gay men. For the first time, I was experiencing what it meant to be desired, not just romantically, but also sexually. I went back to school full of confidence that was foreign to me.
At school, I started wearing more revealing clothing. I knew how to take it far, without going too far. I knew how to make all those closeted boys want me. Soon, I’d strut through the school, a new persona awakened in me. When I first came to boarding school, I was a little intimidated by how people would perceive me. I had a ‘big ass’, and as such, I used my untucked shirts to hide it. I was very insecure about how some of my features were perceived as ‘feminine’ and tried everything in my power to counteract them. It didn’t work however because my class nickname was changed to ‘Kim Kardashian’. I used baggy shirts to hide my engorged nipples and adopted a quietness that was foreign to me. However, Grindr had made me realize that even my insecurities could be weaponized. After a while, I was intentionally wearing skinny clothing to accentuate my ass. I would strut past class windows with my shirt tucked into my pants and my head held high. That’s what it felt like to be on top of the world, even while everything else in my life was crumbling down.
My mum was in hiding to escape a civil war that had just erupted, although I didn’t know at the time. I had stopped talking to her after she cut my allowance and my class teacher constantly begged me to speak to her. My mum would cry for hours because of how cold I had grown, and I’d cry for hours because of how distant she had grown. Had I known that she barely escaped being sold into slavery, may then things could have been different.
Maybe I would have gone back into the closet, driving myself into suffering to shield her from the pain that came with my identity. However selfish, I needed to be spared from that. Homophobia had no place in the future I was modeling for myself. Soon, the boys started noticing. It started with notes in my locker. They came in different sizes, bearing different messages. The short ones often included words like, ‘faggot’. They often accused me of trying to convert boys into homosexuality. Those were the unoriginal ones, the ones that made me cry every night. The ones that often preceded death threats or my name plastered on the latrine walls. The other ones though, the other ones made me feel wanted. They were long and full of want. They were often followed with stolen kisses and touch. The rough palms of a boy on my thighs, breath held in trying so hard not to moan. Desire, to touch, to please, to prove to the boys that there was a utopia in sin. To prove that my touch was honey. That even faggots could make bulls like them arch their loins in yearning. Desire, however flattering, grows dangerous.
It’s a picture I can’t shake. The memories of that one boy, the memories of what his touch did to me. I woke up quietly to the feeling of a hand on my dick. It was stroking it, and as my eyes adjusted, I was met by red wide pleading eyes. His skin was a deep blue against the moonlight, and his face conveyed a yearning that scared me. He stared at me as he went on, doing things I had yearned for, but that now made me feel so violated. I remember feeling scared, every night after that, my heart frozen still, hoping that the footsteps in the night would walk past my bed. They didn’t, and he wasn’t the last one after that. I begged my teacher though and was soon transferred into another dorm.
I was seeing 5 different people at the time, and somehow my grades were doing well. It wasn’t until a year later that it happened again. It was the day before my national exams were set to begin, and I was walking to the bathroom in the early morning. I didn’t even notice that I was being followed until the latrine door was closed behind me and his nails dug into my neck as I tried to turn my head. That night, I remember struggling to walk back to my dorm, checking whether there was still blood leaking into my pants. I don’t remember anything else from that night, just the sound of my muffled screams, and the rain beating against the latrine’s iron sheet roof.
I downloaded Grindr again after high school. It was during my gap year, a few months after my mum came back. Our days together were filled with silence. How was I supposed to talk to her about anything? I barely even knew her. Each passing day brought with it feelings of pain and hopelessness. I didn’t understand who I was. The loneliness was driving me to insanity, and I found refuge in the new friends I was struggling to make. On Grindr, I flirted with everybody. My pictures became bolder, ‘I gotta show some skin, I’m not a disciple’, I remember thinking to myself. I searched for my identity in the want of men. My nights were often filled with conversations with men who looked like my father. ‘Straight’ men. We’d flirt, but something in me had changed. I couldn’t have sex, even when I was sure I wanted to. I didn’t understand how I could hate what I desired. To be honest, I never really enjoyed having sex initially, but now even sexual tension was foreign to me. How was I supposed to enjoy something I didn’t even understand?
I met this one boy once. He came to my house and bit my lips till they bled in the bedroom. He kissed me so hard, I could taste the garlic in his mouth. Afterward, we listened to music as I breathed into his neck, and his warmth replaced the deep longing I had felt before, if only temporarily Later in the evening, he asked me for some money. You see, he hadn’t eaten and didn’t have the money to go back home. He never contacted me again. My next boyfriend, however, came from Instagram.
18 year old me treated everything like a dating site. Lost on me, were the dangers of my actions, the dangers of private messaging random boys on Instagram. I was 18, horny, and searching for love in the streets of Nairobi. One man showed promise, and soon, it was only him making me smile in the middle of the night. Our love progressed past the confines of our phone screens. That first time, we met at his dorm room while his roommates were in church. I was so sure he could hear my heart beating. At night, I fell asleep in his arms, content for the first time in ages. After that, we struggled to make time despite our busy schedules, him with his pyramid scheme and me immersed in the depths of college applications. Every Friday night, he’d pick me up on Moi Avenue, and we’d spend two hours talking at Archives, as strangers passed us by. He’d often bring me food, and when the city was asleep and we were sure there was no one, he’d rub my hand lovingly and whisper, ‘I love you’ while releasing foggy breath.
That was the closest I’ve ever gotten to public affection.
Time heals, but time breaks too. It started with his calls. Actions that had filled my heart with warmth now seemed like nuisances. Did he really have to call me every morning? Did he really have to text me every time? Love was foreign to me, and it was scary that I had found the man I’d been praying to God about. Maybe it was my friends, who constantly made fun of him for being in a pyramid scheme, that made me grow cold towards him. Maybe my trauma was hindering me from committing to him because all the pain in my life had come from men. Nice things felt foreign when you were used to hating. Was loving supposed to be this hard? Our time together was spent dreading the time we’d leave each other. He had to provide grandchildren for his father, who saw himself in the man his son was becoming. I, personally, was tired of dating in secret. When your paths are worlds apart, how do you reconcile your differences?
I stopped replying to his messages. He grew worried, and would constantly try to contact me. He asked my sisters about me constantly and pleaded with my friends, but I just couldn’t go back. After that, I decided to take a break from dating until I went to college. I had now found a family in the friends I had applied to study abroad with It was during that time that I first realized I had a lot of trauma that I needed to understand before I could heal from it. I was changing, and for the first time, I actually understood how to navigate the part of the change. That’s why I held off from meeting random people on Grindr. I was conscious of my privacy. I met a boy who didn’t love me, although we later grew closer together. Now, I’ve met some of my friends on dating apps. I also learned to be cautious of underage gay teenagers on Grindr. Honestly, Tinder works better for me. I haven’t been on Grindr for a while now, and my life has been better for that.
If I’m going to find love, I’ve come to accept, it's going to happen naturally. He’s going to be the man I always dreamed of, but like, in real life. I’m not looking for Romeo, I’m not looking for an A-list celebrity with an 8 pack. I’m looking for a man to give my love to, and when he comes, I’ll be ready.
What I’d give to find love at 18. Back in those days, I didn’t understand that you can’t find yourself in someone else. You can’t find your identity in another person. However, dating apps are the only way I can interact with other queer Kenyans. It’s sad that on social media, I am a picture, not a poem. I am a title, not a person. My identity is ‘a top or a bottom’. That’s the problem.
Anonymous Submission by KoD