I spent the last 6 years researching dating app users. I received my Ph.D. in Sociology at University of Illinois Chicago, where I acquired a range of social science research skills, including research design, interviews, ethnography, surveys, and qualitative and quantitative data analysis. In addition to my own research projects, I worked for a year as a research assistant on two large projects on other topics.
My research focused on the relationship between sexualities and digital media in the U.S., paying particular attention to intersections of gender, race and sexual identity. My work lies at the convergences of sexualities studies and science and technology studies, contributing to fields such as LGBT studies, Race and Ethnic Relations, Queer and Feminist Theory, Critical Heterosexuality studies and Media Studies. I have published “Respectable Promiscuity: Digital Cruising in an Era of Queer Liberalism” in the journal Sexualities on the way sexual politics affect technology use.
My dissertation “Mediated Sexualities and the “Dating Apocalypse”: Gender, Race and Sexual Identity on Hookup Apps” intervenes in academic and popular debates about the social changes brought about by new technologies. Users of dating/hookup apps now number in the tens of millions and have received increasing attention in public discourse. They represent a significant touchstone in the ongoing debate about the effects of communication technology on social intimacy. Contrary to much popular and academic writing, I argue that the technology of these apps is not radically changing sexual practices or social norms.
My dissertation was funded by a Student Research Grant from the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, and by a Provost’s Award for Graduate Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The multi-method qualitative study combines data from 41 interviews with app users of varied sexual, gender and racial identities who are 25 to 40 years old, over 1500 user-profile screenshots, mainstream media coverage, and popular cultural productions such as widely circulated YouTube videos. I compare the experiences and meaning making of users of two different apps: Grindr, for men seeking men, and Tinder. Tinder, originally touted as the “straight Grindr,” is also popular with lesbian, bisexual and queer women.
My findings show that larger social forces drive changing expectations of intimacy, and that pre-existing racial hierarchies and gendered sexual scripts structure the experiences of hookup app users. These apps perpetuate gendered and racialized inequalities. For example, in my manuscript under review, “Whites to the Front of the Line: Colorblind Racism and Sexual Preferences on a Gay Hookup App,” I argue that the combination of essentialist cultural frames for explaining sexual desire and liberal framings of individual choice produce an environment where racially exclusionary statements are tolerated and critiques of racialized desires are inhibited.
My work brings in concepts from technology studies to explain how sexual subjects are embedded in existing social structures that open up potential practices while foreclosing others. One way I have done this is in my article, “Respectable Promiscuity: Digital Cruising in an Era of Queer Liberalism,” published in Sexualities and awarded the 2017 Best Graduate Student Paper for the Sexualities Section of the American Sociological Association.
This article is based on a digital ethnography of Grindr, conducted in 2013-2014 as a pilot project for my dissertation. Despite the potential the app offers to invigorate public sex culture by circumventing increased policing of public spaces, users overwhelmingly use the app to arrange for sex to take place in the privacy of a home. Contemporary respectability politics in gay and lesbian communities structures Grindr users’ reputation management practices as well as their perceptions of the purpose and potential uses of the technology.