4 min read

Basking in the psychic fireworks of Grindr

Nerve cells in a dog's olfactory bulb (detail), from Camillo Golgi's Sulla fina anatomia degli organi centrali del sistema nervoso (1885)

An Instagram infographic recently told me to STOP MENTAL MASTURBATION. Damn, I feel like I’m doing that all the time and an Instagram user with Canva told me to stop, so I probably should. According to them, mental masturbation is the act of “artificially” raising your dopamine levels by telling people your plans for a new project or new self-improvement goal and never following up on said plans. Your brain, evidently already satisfied by the positive stimuli, does not want to do the work to enact whatever it is you were planning to do – write a book, start a new exercise regimen, go vegan.

I don’t really do this kind of mental masturbation anymore. But, I definitely discussed ideas for new projects with friends and strangers before I really got going, only to lose steam before I finished anything. Now I can kind of trick my ADHD addled brain, so starved for dopamine, into doing work before I give it candy.

While this results in what is perhaps a more productive life, I find it hard to keep my brain satisfied. It hates working for days, weeks, months without gratification and it’s desperate for positive stimuli. I need fireworks, candy, bass booming on the dance floor and strangers rubbing against me.

This is the part where I tell you that I’ve been on a Mindful Separation from dating and hook up apps. No Grindr, Sniffies, Craigslist, Feeld, Hinge, Tinder, Pinder, Kinder, Lesbians4Now.com, or TrannyDate on my phone.

A series of bad hookups last year, combined with a bad habit of browsing Grindr for hours like it was TikTok prompted me to consider an app-cleanse. The thing about being a kinda hot trans girl on The Apps is that it is borderline hazardous for anyone with a dopamine-desperate brain.

Trans girls are popular on the apps but kind of an acquired taste like caviar or foie gras. Not everyone is sophisticated enough to appreciate our beauty. Especially compared to a normalized, palatable aesthetic like say, a white guy with a furry chest and abs or a pretty cis girl with a round forehead.

The responses you do get, however, range from adoration to obsession, fluctuating between idolatry and vitriol. Before my dating hiatus, I regularly received extreme sexual responses with an undercurrent of obsession. The term “love bomb” comes to mind. But, you see, transes have a fragile ego like a house of cards. Or at least, this trans does. If we’re being real, that felt like mental masturbation.

The problem is that I was kind of wasting my time and it did not feel good for my brain to open an app and receive that kind of feedback on the day-to-day. When sexting conversations seem to come to their apex and it was time to plan an IRL hookup my loins would cool off. The steamy machine of my heart suddenly gone cold. I don’t want to see this loser IRL! The last couple of times I met someone off of Grindr, it lead to a one sided sexual exchange. There are times when I can get off on giving someone head, but when I’m expected to be given the gift of pleasure and I’m only left with a sore jaw and the taste of testicles on my tongue, I feel a little unsatisfied. As you can imagine.

Worse - it felt bad to open the app and not receive that kind of feedback. Some days there would be no one online, or at least no one interested, and that's when I fall from grace. No longer a goddess in the heavens worshiped by chasers and bisexuals but instead a humble, ugly brick hurtling towards Earth.

I decided to stop riding the emotional turbulence of what bordered on toxic codependency. I quit cold turkey.

The problem now is that I miss mental masturbation. Physical masturbation is pretty important to my overall health and wellness and I can’t imagine going months without it.

My fragile transgender psyche is now forced to keep itself fed without the buffet of people on Feeld. It’s hunting down morsels of dopamine from wherever it can find. I have spent a good amount of time searching for the lingering gazes of strangers who think I’m beautiful, grasping for a flirtatious energy in a conversation with a random, trying to psychically instigate sexual encounters with friends-of-friends. The despo meter is high. Not cute, I know.

I’m still in the thick of my app-celibacy* and I deeply miss the psychic fireworks of Grindr notifications and the regular thrill of flirting-sometimes-fucking strangers over text but I don’t think I’ll be done with it anytime soon. For one thing, the tarot keeps telling me that I need to focus on myself and my art. Secondly, it feels lamer to title an essay “I Quit Dating Apps for 5.25 Months” instead of “I Quit Dating Apps for a Year”.

*Let it be known that I first wrote this draft 1 month ago. I will not comment on my current app celibacy status at this time.