For the few men on the reservation who have gay apps, there is some ambivalence about what role the apps should play in their lives. Jimmy has an on-and-off relationship with gay apps. In that regard, though, his feelings likely mirror those of many people outside the reservation — whether gay or straight — who might be reluctant to find romance online or who want to meet a life partner rather than just date casually. “I keep deleting (Grindr), because I don't want to just be easy or be sexual,” he said. “I don't picture myself meeting my partner on Grindr.”
The resentment some Navajo gay people have toward gay social media apps is also felt by some vis-a-vis gay bars. Stella Martin, 33, a Navajo transgender woman and student at the University of New Mexico, living in a border town off the reservation, Gallup, N.M., says gay bars are "oppressing our LGBT people and Navajo.” She cited the issue of widespread alcoholism on Native American reservations.
"(Gay bars) use (the LGBT community) to make money. There's a stigma around the drunken Indian already,” she said. Unlike on the reservation, liquor is available in Gallup, but Martin thinks a gay bar there would be a bad idea.
HIV/AIDS awareness advocate Jeremy Yazzie, who also lives in Gallup, agreed. "It'd add fuel to the fire — the high rise in HIV infections among Native Americans,” he said, arguing that intoxication can lower inhibitions and lead to unsafe sexual practices.
Off the reservation in Gallup, Yazzie, who is gay, uses Grindr not for dating but instead to spread information about testing for STDs on behalf of the Navajo AIDS Network.
But just as in many other parts of the U.S., gay people in the Navajo Nation also face genuine concerns over physical violence and prejudice. “At straight clubs, you have to be really careful who you talk to, because they might take you to the back and kick your ass,” said Tyson Benally, 24, a fine arts undergrad at Navajo's Diné College. Benally met his partner at a small gay pride function in Gallup.
There are no apparent plans to bring gay bars to the Navajo Nation, where opposition from a single prospective neighbor can block a commercial land lease. But Yazzie says gay apps are slowly rolling into Navajo country with greater connectivity, and they are facilitating hookups.
Nelson and Yonnie suggest there's an innocence lost if a community goes after a stereotypical big city gay experience of apps and bars — that the intimacy of first romantic encounters could disappear.
Gay Navajo contemporary artist and graphic designer Jolene Yazzie (no relation to Jeremy), 35, spoke with Al Jazeera just after returning from a getaway to San Francisco, where she said she would have liked to meet someone.
“I just wanted to meet new people,” she said. “It's just really hard to meet people.” Speaking with Al Jazeera at the Navajo Museum, where her art is being shown, Jolene Yazzie came with her sister, who has a husband and 5-year-old. “I'm jealous of her all the time,” she said, “I'm always telling her that.”