There aren’t many ways to ask the question discreetly: “How tall are you?” It’s one that clutters my Tinder chats and makes me debate adding a few extra inches to the height listed in my profile, because it’d just be easier that way. When the question hits, my chest tightens and my stomach lurches with the dread of responding. I know how the rest of this conversation will unfold. As it is, I almost gag whenever the thought of online dating pops into my head, and the constant cross-examination about my stature never helps. “How tall are you?” makes me wonder if I’m even worth somebody’s time.
Listen—people have types. Who am I to deny that? But the aversion to shorter men is ridiculously common in the gay community, and especially noticeable when you so frequently have to let a match know how tall you are before meeting them. “5’5”, I respond, dissociating as I watch my fingers punch in the numbers. I hate how fast I’ve learned to hit those keys. It’s a meaningless figure that manifests itself in being literally overlooked at bars every Saturday night. For something that seems so minuscule to those not in the know, short-shaming still has the power to induce a towering amount of anxiety. This literal numbers game, and the psychological ripples it’s caused for a score of gay men under 5’10”, is a curse. And it’s confusing.
It’s easy to point to the apps themselves as the root of the problem. Grindr is notorious for breaking down the male body into parts—a meat market of weight, race, muscle mass, and height. As hard as it already is for gay men to meet other gay men in-person, now the process of scrolling, seeing a stomach with less than six abs on it or a height that doesn’t measure up, and rejecting accordingly, is worse. Some apps, like Chappy, are taking steps to banish those stigmas by pursuing safer, more inclusive spaces for gay men to connect. Putting less emphasis on the physical—like leaving out any ability to input your height—compounded with a zero-tolerance discrimination policy and a face-pic requirement is a step in the right direction. It helps foster connection by shared interests, without the sort of outdated labels and standards that often lead to feelings of rejection and isolation.
Remy Duran, a cast member on the current, gender-fluid season of MTV”s dating show Are You The One? recognizes the bias towards height within the gay dating scene. “I have seen people write things like a ‘certain height and up’ only, or, ‘taller guys preferred,’” he says. “It usually takes until the swapping of nude pictures on hook-up apps until shorter bottoms even consider me a viable option.”
Height-bias leans into inherent type-casting, which can cloud our dating judgment. If you lift more at the gym than the man you’re holding hands with, for instance, you’re often automatically assumed to be the top of the two. In turn, shorter tops are often dismissed as bottoms by height alone. Dwayne LaGrone, an incoming senior at Michigan State University, says men have assumed that he’s a top because he’s black and tall (6’2”). “It’s a stigma in the gay community that needs to be broken,” he says.
This makes it hard to grasp that someone might not swipe right on you simply because you’re further away from the sky than they are, or that your sexual position might not align with what they’re looking for. It’s a presumption that’s become second-nature as our culture’s grown more swipe-friendly, and can make us internalize and wonder if changing what we like or how we live would just make things less complicated. I’ve witnessed that reality for years and only experienced it more since coming out—especially on apps.
That app-rejection happens quickly, too—a “sorry, not my type” here, a full-on block there. Some people argue that social media has only improved our connectivity as we link our iPhones to coffee shop WiFi around the globe in hopes of landing a date. It’s certainly allowed things like dating to blossom and become more possible for LGBTQIA+ people who live in areas that lack thriving gay neighborhoods. But psychotherapist Austin Ekland, a graduate student at the University of Albany SUNY, says social media has also unintentionally helped to create and exacerbate unrealistic beauty, health, and fitness standards for gay men.
“Body dysmorphia is very real in queer communities,” Ekland says. “Many of us spend our younger years wishing to be someone else.” When we compare who we are to what we see, he says, it creates a “body anxiety” that can be induced by a picture on Instagram, a TV show’s conventionally hot male protagonist, or a ab-rippling dating profile.
Ekland says height is a frequent gripe in self-loathing—one that can be a very sensitive subject for some. He points to the correlation between power and dominance in the gay community, and the assumption that men who exhibit these qualities must then also be tops. That presupposition leads to near-instant dating app evaluations, making the process of letting someone down easier and faster, the epitome of an IRL head-shake.
Broadcasting my height to potential partners is especially tough because of how deeply I’ve been burned in past encounters. A first-date and I—he’s around 5’7”—once bonded about that identical frustration over two beers and a decent sunset. (Spoiler: We didn’t meet again.) But it was somewhat validating to know others like me existed out there; we’d both witnessed variations of that raised eyebrow, those awkwardly shocked reactions, and the minute-after “shitty feeling.”
John Hallman, 29, a white, queer man who stands at 6’7”, says that his height has caused “weird issues” to come up on the apps, too. He fears physical differences being “too vast to overcome,” he says, referencing a time when he was told he’d “misled” a date—a man shorter than him—because he didn’t explicitly let him know how tall he actually was. He often opts to use a standard throwaway line, in his bios or in real-life, that alludes to his height as “unnecessarily tall.”
But when Hallman combs through dating app profiles, he says, even he pays attention to height: “I saw someone who just listed 5'0" as their profile,” he says. “I had to ask myself if I really wanted to feel like I was taking a drink from a water fountain just to kiss them.” Even he isn't immune to a skewed (and, I'll admit, kind of jarring) height bias.
It makes me question: Can you really not be seen as desirable if you can’t clear 5’6”? Daniel Radcliffe is only 5’5”, yet a wave of a wand made his Harry Potter a hero. Zac Efron is 5’8” and a leading man; do people even notice his stature? Taking my personal experiences and into consideration, there’s a stigma that remains for gay men, on-or-off the apps. It goes beyond height; it goes beyond gender and identity. “You only get one body,” Austin Ekland says. “You should try to develop a loving relationship to it.”
The end for America, and the end for me.
GQ talks with LGBTQ players from all walks of life to find the answers.
For Pride month, GQ called up playwright Jeremy O. Harris to sit down with the young leader of the rap collective for a raw, far-ranging conversation about creating while queer, forgiveness, the trickiness of mining personal trauma, and Friday night therapy sessions with Hollywood friends.
Originally Appeared on GQ