This week on BBC Three, Thomas Gray explores what it means to be a modern British man in " The Ladventures of Thomas Gray".
As we all know, 'BRO' is American for 'LAD'. You may not have realised, however, that BRO is also the name of a new social app just for men. It’s the Yorkie of the social app world.
It's heavily branded with laddish imagery - like those red cups you see people chugging beer out of in frat films - and language too. It also appears a lot like a hook-up app. So is it a place for straight, manly men to date other straight, manly men?
On further investigation, I think it might be a bit more nuanced than that. Actually, this is the question I’m investigating here…
What's it all about?
Only one way to find out, I suppose. Let's get... er... knee deep.
This is when I decided to set up a brofile (sorry, the puns are a bit easy) and start meeting some bros! Well, actually, my editor sort of told me to – which did put me in mind of that episode of Nathan Barley, where comedy straight man (not like that) Dan Ashcroft gets sent out by his editor to investigate 'straying', i.e. straight/gay men, for a feature he's doing.
Anyway, I digress. Anyway, here’s what I found...
First of all, the 'about me' section is pretty straightforward, except there is one interesting section in there...
The app also lets you select a rough skin tone and you can even decide what kind of 'bro' you are – from brogrammer to lumber bro. I went for 'casual bro', because that one seemed to require the least thought.
Users can search for 'dates', 'chat', 'JUST Friends', 'Long-Term Bromance' or there’s an option called 'Whatever bro' and interactions include fist-bumping, which is hilariously macho.
Then there's the usual 'swipe right, swipe left', jury by thumb business that you normally get...
All in all, so far, it looks primarily like a dating app to me (not that I'd know, girlfriend who may be reading this).
Also, as mentioned, one thing that definitely does strike you is that the aesthetic, the logo and the language all seem a bit, well, 'straight', really...
Their mission statement is thus: “BRO goes beyond using labels, and is for men that are interested in meeting other men… It’s as simple as that.”
Is it simple?
As a straight man myself, I’m a bit wary of straightsplaining to y’all, so, instead, I spoke to some young chaps who are actually using the app (and not just for journalism), as well as the man behind the app, Scott Kutler.
Why did you develop the app?
"I know that certain news outlets have written about the app in terms of a straight-on-straight dating app, but that doesn’t really tell the whole story. Primarily, it was about creating a social network where men can make meaningful relationships with one another. One part of that may include straight men dating one another, but that was not the sole purpose.
"I've used other gay dating apps like Grindr and, when I used to say that I was looking for friendship, people would laugh at me. But I think, at the moment, in the US, most of the profiles you see on BRO, they're not just torsos. You see faces. Some of our users may be the same people on Grindr, but people behave differently in different spaces."
Did you set out to cater for straight men, then?
"Our demographic is primarily 'gay' and I think most of the users identify as 'gay' or 'bi', but, really, it doesn’t matter. It’s a safe space for men to meet. Some guys who identify as straight will meet up on there and maybe form romantic or sexual relationships, but that’s not the sole focus – that’s just one thing that the app does.
"Overall, it’s just important to move the conversation beyond labels about sexuality and gender, because these labels have been constructed by other people."
But is it hard to move away from labels completely? I mean, in the app, you choose what 'type' of bro you are – from 'jock' to 'fabulous'. How do you cater for all types of people when some may fall through the cracks between different 'types'?
"Well, the types are meant more in jest. In fact, that’s true of the whole app – it’s supposed to be fun. You don’t have to take it too seriously. It’s tongue-in-cheek.
"In fact, you don’t even have to choose a type, the app doesn’t default on that."
Do you think that the design and the marketing may look a bit, well, straight though?
"I’ve had people say to me that the design looks a little 'masc-on-masc' and people have called the logo and name hetero-normative. I’ve even had people say that it’s homophobic. I disagree. It just doesn’t look like something that you would associate with a traditional idea of being 'gay', but that’s just another idea that someone else has created.
"And, if that image does draw in men who have self-denial, then that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For me, this is supposed to be a safe space for men to meet up and make meaningful relationships. If this app is the thing that someone needs to open up about themselves, then great."
So why this perception that it’s primarily a straight-on-straight dating app for men?
"I think before we launched, most of the media was positive. We built up 32,000 Facebook fans before launch. Then, there were a few articles, like one in Queerty, which made the app into a place for straight men looking for other straight men to get oral sex in secret. Like I say, the majority of our demographic don’t identify as 'straight', so that perception is misleading and I think that some of these outlets were just looking for clickbait maybe.
"There has been a shift in opinion, with some people starting to realise what it’s actually about – a safe space to meet men."
There you go then. After listening to what Scott had to say and after speaking to some people on the app, I'm quite sure this is primarily an app for gay or bi men. Most of the people I chatted to on there said that they identified as gay.
People have called it an app for straight men because of the design, the logo, the name, the fact that interactions include 'fist-bumps'. But maybe that kind of behaviour doesn't have to be restricted to the 'straight' male community. After all, isn't that, in itself, just conforming to another socially-constructed idea of gender and sexuality?
This app has caused loads of media speculation because, in some ways, it all seems so confusing. People have taken it as an app for confused people. Maybe we're just thinking about it too much though. Maybe it's all pretty straightforward. Like BRO's mission statement puts it, a place, "for men that are interested in meeting other men… as simple as that".
To delve deep into the enigma of the British male, don't miss Thomas Gray's anthropological study, 'Ladventures - Essex' on BBC Three's Youtube channel.
Written by Ciaran Varley
*Just to qualify, I feel like, at this bit of the article, as, perhaps, in other places, I sound a bit embarrassed about my dalliance with BRO. Like I'm doing it all in secret. That's not because I'm a homophobe who doesn't want to be tarnished with homosexuality. It's because I'm in a happy relationship and I wouldn't want the missus or her mates catching me on there... I think that's all it is, anyway.
Originally published 29 January 2016.