Online dating needs to be friendlier for trans and GNC folks

Apps like Bumble and Tinder perpetuate binary standards and tolerate gender discrimination

Identities outside of the gender binary aren’t welcome on apps like Bumble and Tinder. ILLUSTRATION: Siloam Yeung / The Peak

by Ciara Reid, SFU Student

Not long after hitting download on both Bumble and Tinder, I was faced with a problem I had not encountered in my last downloading spree, not being fully out to myself or others at the time. After taking the extra step of setting my gender to “non-binary,” I was confronted with a choice: do I want to be found when people search for men, or women? It was a slap in the face, but it was only one of the multiple issues I encountered as a queer person navigating dating apps designed for cis-heterosexual people. This issue higlights the considerable amount of work to be done in making online dating truly accessible for trans and gender non-conforming (GNC) people.

As journalist Mary Emily O’Hara confirmed in the Washington Post, apps like Bumble and Tinder “aren’t built to meet queer needs.” There are certainly queer and trans-friendly apps out there, such as HER and OkCupid, but given that Bumble and Tinder are the heavy hitters of the online dating world, it is unacceptable that their design is so ignorant of trans and GNC users’ needs. 

Some may think the issue I encountered wasn’t such a big deal. But giving us the option of correctly defining ourselves as non-binary, gender queer, agender, or in anyway gender transgressive, and then immediately asking us to make ourselves “findable” as either men or women delegitimizes our experience. It asks us to reduce ourselves in order to fit back into boxes that we have already shown do not apply. It effectively conveys what bigots on the internet tell us every day: that no matter how deeply we know who we are, we will never be seen as who we are. This exclusion demonstrates that online dating apps continue to both perpetuate and tolerate discrimination towards many trans and GNC people. 

I greatly appreciate the queer-specific apps available to us, and we should maintain them just as we maintain our own queer spaces. But we should not tolerate the marginalization that still exists in the online dating world. As drag performer Continental Breakfast told the Georgia Straight, simply moving to more inclusive platforms suggests accepting displacement over dealing with intolerance, as they did after being censored on Facebook. Indeed, mainstream society has long dealt with their discomfort of queer and trans presence by displacing us. Resisting this displacement and loudly calling attention to it is the only way we’ll see change.

To enact this change, let’s start by removing gender limited searches from apps all together. I know that this could add a lot of swiping labour as we would have to sift through a lot of folks we really aren’t interested in. However, it would prevent those of us with gender identities outside of the binary from having to diminish ourselves in order to play the dating game. 

In this lonely pandemic, many of us have been forced online in our searches for love and connection. At the very least, apps like Bumble and Tinder should ensure that none of us have our identities challenged or delegitimized in the process.