Last year, after teeter-tottering between being fetishized for my size and fending off more than my fair share of nasty fatphobic messages, I finally hit my limit. I declared dating app bankruptcy and deleted them all in one fell swoop. During this time, I was dealing with a lot of internal turmoil, too — coming to terms with being queer and feeling unsure of my gender.
After a healthy bout of soul searching and working through my gender dysphoria with my therapist and friends, I came to the conclusion that I was a non-binary femme — not identifying with either gender, but enjoying presenting femme outwardly. My newfound comfort in my identity coupled with my ever-present libido had me feeling ready to step into my main character arc as an enby baddie. So, I gamely decided to give online dating another go, only to be pretty disappointed with what I found.
Many Dating Apps Have Added Gender & Orientation Options, But Their Filters Don’t Always Work As Intended
I re-downloaded a handful of apps — Feeld, OkCupid, BLK, and Tinder — to get a full breadth of experiences. Although Feeld isn’t the most racially diverse platform that I’ve used, I will say that it was the first to make me feel comfortable with identifying as Non-Binary on apps, as the platform was already fairly inclusive and offers a range of gender options.
On OkCupid, I was able to properly identify myself as enby and also choose to be shown only queer men, non-men, and non-cisgendered people — folks who would have a better understanding of my identity and experience. However, straight men were still being put on my radar left and right as potential matches, a filter issue that other users have reported as well.
The BLK app allowed me to properly select my gender, but I couldn’t select who I wanted to be seen by. As a result, I had an influx of likes from cishet men in Nike tech suits and Timb boots whose profiles announced they were looking for “real women”’ followed by other transphobic comments and an alarmingly large amount of emojis in their bios.
Most apps had clearly taken steps to improve their gender options and orientation filters since I’d last been on them a year ago, but in my experience, making those selections didn’t radically affect who I was seeing or who was seeing me.
“Being able to filter out partners by sexual orientation and gender is literally the bare minimum,” says 26-year-old educator and basketball coach Sonya G. “If I only want to be shown to women or non-binary folx, why would I want cis men to be able message me?”
Some dating apps, such as Tinder, seemingly have a visible presence of non-cis folks, but it comes with a catch. Bianca L., a 24-year-old grad student, feels that the app is reductive in how it displays someone’s gender.
“Tinder has a lot of gender and sexuality options, but in the end, the situation is like, ‘We know you said you’re trans, but do you want to be in the woman category or the men category?’ You have to make that choice, and it pigeonholes you,” Bianca says.
Emotional Toll Of Being Othered on Dating Apps
For 30-year-old program facilitator Lauren D., being openly non-binary on dating apps has lead to some vile interactions with other users. “I’ve received a handful of messages that were …….