There is nothing worse for your self-esteem than having your existence consistently denied. Lack of visibility and acknowledgement of trans people leads to hardship in many aspects of life, dating being a big one. Gender dysphoria can be triggered by the perfect storm of factors that come up in dating situations. With the rise of internet dating sites and apps like Grindr and Tinder where you’re able to write a custom biography for yourself, you’d think that some of these problems would be alleviated. Someone has to look at your pictures and read what you’ve written before they decide whether to swipe left or right automatically weeding out transphobic people. Many contemporary writers of blogs and screen have documented how terrifying and dangerous the “I need to tell you something” conversation can be. There is no way to know when is the right time; as a young woman in Laverne Cox’s documentary The T Word describes, a public place or over a text is often the best option because it is the most emotionally and physically safe.
Unfortunately these apps do not solve all the problems that confront trans people when dating. Every app and site requires that you put your gender when creating an account. The problem is not with putting a gender, the problem comes with the gender options. Time and time again the options are “male” or “female”. These are the options on one of the most popular dating apps, Tinder. This is obviously reductive and blatantly transphobic because it assumes every male will have the same anatomy and the same with every female. It ignores the fact that many trans males are going to put male and many trans females are going to put female. These terms are not universally applied in the same way. I’m sure the app expects that people assigned female at birth (trans masculine people) and people assigned male at birth (trans feminine people) are going to put what their birth assignment was. And for that, I blame this ridiculous “gender and sex are different” myth that we’ve been teaching people. Sex is a social construct people, penises can be female if they belong to a woman and vaginas can be male if they belong to a man.
Some apps have the options “male”, “female”, and “transgender”. It’s very sad that these apps think they are being inclusive. First of all, gender liberation is not about changing a two gender system to a three gender system. There are literally hundreds of genders! Secondly, transgender is an umbrella term. It makes absolutely no sense to have every identity under the trans umbrella in the same category. If the creators of the app found it necessary to separate cis males and females, why did they not think they should probably also separate trans males and trans females, not to mention the hundreds of non-binary identities! There is likely more diversity of bodies in the category transgender than in male and female combined. Thirdly, transgender IS NOT A GENDER IDENTITY. I am trans because I am a man. My gender is man and male, not trans. Trans does not tell you anything about my gender other than the fact that it wasn’t what I was assigned. Lastly, I hate to break it to you dating apps, but when I am presented with the options “male”, “female”, “transgender”, I will put male over transgender any day. Maybe that is because I am a man and I identify within the binary and most non-binary people might pick transgender much more often, but my point in bringing this up is that making me choose between male and transgender is extremely invalidating to my gender. I am both male and trans and I should never have to pick between them because I cannot separate them out, they exist within one body, mine. It is cissexist and therefore transphobic to imply that I can either be male, or trans, but not both unless I was assigned male.
What’s extremely disappointing is that even apps that have clearly done their research on sexuality still fail when it comes to gender. Apps like 3nder, designed to set up threesomes for both couples and singles, offers nineteen different options for sexuality including traditionally erased categores like gynesexual and androsexual, and demisexual and gray-asexual. So you’d think this app would be better. But unfortunately their gender options are female, male, and then a category that says “TS/TV/TG”. They literally put transvestite, a fetish label usually claimed by heterosexual cisgender men and not a gender at all, in with transgender and transsexual (the latter being a term most people find to be outdated and offensive). I was extremely bummed and frustrated when I saw this. I can’t use these apps without worrying that someone is going to give me a hard time about the category I picked and accuse me of lying or triggering me by talking about my body parts in ways that invalidate my gender. Instead I’m stuck using Tinder where I have to pick male and be avoided by cis straight females who aren’t interested in a trans man, or pick female where I’m put in with a bunch of women who are attracted to women and are not interested in me and hope that one of them is bi/pan/poly/queer etc.
A lot of queer and trans people are fighting back by creating their own apps just for us. And I get that this is necessary since the mainstream ones seem to exclude us. But honestly I shouldn’t have to go on a separate app where people who have trans fetishes congregate because Tinder is pretending I don’t exist. Elliot DeLine, an author and activist who is trans, details the experiences and harassment he has faced on Grindr. His latest book, Show Trans, is largely about this and even its title was directly inspired by an actual comment made to him by a cis guy where he called him “an impressive trans” to which Elliot responded “I’m a Show Trans” obviously being facetious. The bottom line is that if dating apps want to be functional, they need to be for all people.
There are so many issues at play here. The specter of violence that trans people always have in the back of their minds, a cissexist system that insists that males/females have one type of body and those are the only bodies that exist, and a lack of visibility that allows it all to continue. But visibility could start in that very space and we need to start demanding that it does. You could bring trans people to the attention of the masses just by including more gender options in your dating profiles. So, please do.