Plus, a few tips on how you can help
Photo: Aitor Diago/Getty Images
One night last fall, I attended a local open mic event for slam poetry. One person?s first poem was about receiving an Instagram DM that said, ?You are so handsome I almost forgot you were trans.?
He proceeded to speak about the struggles of finding love on dating apps and dealing with the fear that no one could ever love him due to his gender identity.
Not long after that night, I came across a Twitter thread by another transgender poet discussing dating. While some replies shared stories of relationship success, the majority of replies were heartbreaking and lacked hope.
Dating while transgender is not as simple as walking into a local bar and striking up a conversation. For many trans individuals, online dating is the best option, especially if they are early in their transitions and do not feel safe approaching people in real life.
I talked to Matt, a transmasculine nonbinary actor about their own dating experience. They?ve mostly used Tinder and Grindr but have also experimented with OkCupid. ?I?ve experienced so much transphobia by people, and when it?s been reported, nothing has happened,? Matt says. People ask inappropriate questions in a first message, such as, ?Do you really have a p**sy?? Matt has also been threatened with violence and comments like, ?Trans people don?t belong here.? Matt expressed how frightening this was because ?people on those apps know what you look like and how far away you are.?
Although many of the issues Matt faces are a matter of dating app users being ignorant and unkind, the apps themselves can play a role in creating a better environment for transgender users.
But is it a matter of simply allowing more gender identity options in their profile? I reached out to Grindr, Tinder, OkCupid, and Bumble to find out how they were helping transgender users of their apps.
When I reached out to Bumble for comment, the company pointed me to this blog post about its gender identity options. But even if another user can read information about a potential match?s identity, that does not solve the issue of transphobic comments; ignorant, hurtful questions; or even backhanded ?compliments? like the one the slam poet received in his Instagram DM.
In an ideal world, a transgender dating app user should be able to safely message anyone they would like to without fear of a negative response. But we don?t live in a utopia where everyone is an open-minded and decent human being. So, how can dating tech help?
Zero-tolerance policies for transphobia are a start. When an instance of transphobia is reported or seen by a moderator, it must be taken seriously, and the offending user should be banned from the app entirely.
Moderators should be properly educated in LGBTQ+ issues and understand microaggressions and appropriate language to use regarding transgender individuals.
But the process of weeding out transphobia doesn?t have to be dependent on reports of violations or the judgment of moderators alone. Artificial intelligence can also detect offensive language.
The Grammarly proofreading plug-in recently tested a sophisticated new technology in its premium version that detects language that is considered insensitive. I used the word ?queer? in an email the other day, and it was flagged. (To some, the term is still offensive, while others, like myself, use the word as a label and believe it has been reclaimed from its original, derogatory meaning.) A warning like this in dating apps could stop people from sending potentially offensive messages.
Another improvement could be the addition of a ?verified LGBTQ ally? badge for users to help trans users know who is safe to message. But how can you verify an ally? Harvard?s Project Implicit might have the answer: Project Implicit is a nonprofit site that currently features tests for race, sexuality, and gender biases. A representative from the project told me that a transgender implicit association test (IAT) is in the works but is currently awaiting approval from the Institutional Review Board. Such a test could be part of the dating app sign-up process. It would, however, be difficult to mandate and isn?t likely to be implemented.
So instead, users should be able to self-identify as allies who are open to meeting trans people by checking a box. Matt believed this idea would be helpful in figuring out who is safe on the app and who isn?t.
?My roommate, for example, is a cis gay male and puts in his bio on dating apps ?open to everyone on the masculine-identifying spectrum, whether it?s cis, trans, nonbinary, etc.,? and he?s gotten positive responses from that,? Matt says. ?So, to actually have something like that in the app would be lovely.?
However, it should be noted that the bias quiz and ally box-checking feature could be potentially harmful in the wrong hands. Transphobes may utilize the features to target and harass trans users.
While such features do not yet exist, many of the major dating apps are aware of the challenges that their transgender users face and have made notable improvements to help support the community.
OkCupid has rolled out more options and questions that are tailored to LGBTQ+ users. The app features a total of 22 gender and 13 orientation options that include trans feminine, transgender, trans man, trans masculine, transsexual, and trans woman. It also invites users to answer a series of questions in their profiles, including:
- When did you come out?
- Did your family support you coming out?
- Does your family understand your gender and sexual identity?
- Are gender and sexuality labels important to you?
- Have you faced discrimination within the LGBTQ+ community?
OkCupid was the first major dating app to create a field in profiles for users to share their pronouns. For guidance on this feature, the company worked with GLAAD, an organization that helps raise awareness about LGBTQ+ issues in the media.
Tinder also collaborated with GLAAD. When I spoke to Evan Bonnstetter, the company?s director of communications, he said that GLAAD believes ?dating is the next frontier in trans representation.?
Tinder has worked extensively with the organization to improve the dating world for trans users. After complaints that users were being reported just for being transgender (presumably because some users didn?t want to see them in the app), Tinder made a decision to not allow users to filter out transgender people.
Tinder?s blog, The Swipe Life, promotes inclusivity and provides content that is relevant to the LGBTQ+ community, which is an important component of the company?s movement to increase representation.
Like most apps, Tinder also features a wide variety of gender identity options for users. Since the launch of the ?More Genders? feature, more than 80 million matches have been made among users who activated it.
Grindr, an app geared toward LGBTQ+ users, is the most progressive in terms of its efforts to combat transphobia. When I reached out to ask how Grindr is creating an inclusive space on the app, the company sent a statement referring to the app?s identity fields that let users choose from a variety of options or enter a custom option. It also launched the Gender Identity Resource Center (GIRC), which is currently available in Spanish, Portuguese, Bahasa Indonesia, and English. The company also pointed me to the Grindr for Equality?s Holistic Security Resource Center.
Even if the apps themselves don?t implement more trans-friendly features, there are several ways to help make dating apps a better place for transgender users.
Here?s what you can do as an ally:
Let people know you are safe to message
Queer people who are trans allies can take it upon themselves to clearly indicate in their profiles that they are open to dating anyone and everyone. A trans pride flag emoji is coming, so take advantage of that and pop one into your bio.
No one is asking you to go out of your way to date someone, but if you match with someone, do not let your biases rule them out. There are many people who never considered themselves a part of the LGBTQ+ community in relationships with transgender partners. You don?t have to use a certain label for your sexuality to be open to dating a trans individual.
Reject people respectfully
If you are not interested in a person who happens to be transgender, don?t make it about their identity. Do not reinforce the harmful and false idea that their transgender identity makes them undateable.
Be respectful in your messaging
Do not ask any questions about birth names, surgeries, or genitalia.
Your conversation should not relate to their gender identity at all. How would you feel if someone only talked to you about what your life is like as a cisgender person?
Stay current on what?s happening in the community. Acquaint yourself with terms like TERF (a trans exclusionary radical ?feminist?) and be aware of the growing attempts by individuals and organizations to fracture the LGBTQIA community by throwing trans people under the bus. Make sure you know the transphobic dog whistles that are meant to invalidate and demonize trans people, like ?trap,? ?gender critical,? ?rapid-onset gender dysphoria,? and ?transmedicalism.?
Stand up against harassment
Report or even swipe right on the app users with transphobic language in their profiles to engage them in conversation.
Step in if you see harassment happening on social media or in person. Harassment may include purposeful misgendering, inappropriate questions, or other forms of verbal or physical abuse.
Still, even with new and improved features and kind allies using major dating apps, there is still no way to prevent transphobia entirely.
That?s why apps like Fiori, a dating app specifically ?for transgender people, their allies, and everyone else? exist. CEO Kyrylo Mykhaylenko believes that ?a good security measure is to require users to provide a phone number when opening an account. This way, if they get banned for improper conduct, it?s harder for them to open another account.?
The app has a team of moderators working to shut down the accounts of transphobic users and works hard to ensure that the app is as safe a place as possible.
Another app, Butterfly, automatically censors language that it deems transphobic.
But ultimately, the solution isn?t for transgender individuals to confine themselves to trans-specific apps. They deserve inclusion in every dating space, online and off.
The media, other users, and the apps themselves all play a role in making dating a better experience for transgender users.