“Hey, I feel something very unusual after chatting with you. Guess I am in love. Do you feel the same?”
About 13 years ago, I sent this message to a guy with the id ‘lonely_heart’ on Yahoo! Messenger. The application has now become history, but back then, it was probably the only platform where people with alternative sexualities could meet. My conversation with him lasted for a few hours and included multiple moments of adrenalin rush. “Me 2 gay 1000000%” – he typed in. And thus taught me how multiple zeroes somehow reaffirmed our sexualities beyond doubt. This was also the first time I had those proverbial butterflies in my stomach you get on meeting someone you might like.
I narrated this story during my first informal conversation with the co-founders and volunteers of ‘Amour,’ an online dating project. Srini, one of the founders, added: “You see, our society uses this well-experimented template of marriage as a benchmark for a successful life – of course you try to look for ‘love’ in whoever you first interact with. The luxury to choose is not a reality for queer folks yet.”
But that has to change.
Which is why in May this year, Srini, along with Dolly and Karan launched their all-inclusive dating space for the queer community. Individuals need to fill up s form to create their profiles – each scanned by moderators Deepti, Andy and Shilok – before they can join Amour’s curated Facebook community. And in the spirit of inclusion there are five language options – English, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, and Telugu – and the translation work on Bengali and Tamil is in progress. “Guess that’s the reason Amour got several profiles from non-metro cities within just few months,” says my friend Prasenjit.
Amour essentially arranges physical gatherings in different cities for individuals across the gender and sexuality spectrum. In co-founder Karan’s words, “‘Amour’ is much more than a matrimonial or dating space. It’s a community driven platform to bring together queer individuals, from the whole spectrum, across India; thereby increasing the inclusivity coefficient of the community and empowering individuals with information and experience sharing.”
Co-Founder Dolly pointed out how not only different sexual and gender identities but various types of companionship have also been included in Amour’s form, “A cisgender homosexual man looking for a monogamous relationship must not be allowed to dictate the type of relationships maybe a transgender pansexual man or a genderqueer asexual person or even another cisgender homosexual man/woman are looking for.”
Struggling to understand how on earth it is even feasible to have a space for so many permutations and combination of identities, I said: “But if you try to name every possible type of partnership/relationship, the sky’s your limit!” Karan quickly added “And that’s why the form has a ‘Will work it out with my partner(s)’ option under the ‘type of partnership’ column.”
It’s all of this that makes Amour very different from other online dating spaces. Explains Karan: “What is startling about all those queer dating apps or sites out on the internet, from the gay-centric Grindr and PlanetRomeo, to a women-only app called ‘Dattch’, is that while rolling out the red carpet for one or more than one gender and/or sexual identities, they weed out various other identities.”
There is a global phenomenon of dating apps being highly selective – from “no Asian, no black, no Muslims” to “no fems, no fat, no oldies.” Andy, one of Amour’s moderators, also commented on keeping this space open: “It just felt wrong. Offensive profile write-ups like ‘Only North Indian fair dudes can message me for a long-term relationship’ are often confusing and allow inter-community hate to become commodities that we can proudly display, like we’re so advanced as a community that we can laugh about stuff like this. We can’t. We’re not even close to that point yet.”
“Look, we are not asking anyone to be pretentious about the type(s) of people they like,” said Shilok, the other moderator. “But we will stand up against every possible attempt to make Amour a homonormative space that encourages different shaming tactics.”
Moderators must monitor any discriminatory words against an individual and identity, “Keeping sanity is our only aim,” said Deepti. Her rejoinder made me understand how seriously team Amour takes bigotry.
Gina, who created her profile a month ago, also shared her experience. “One of the amazing things about Amour is you can see how more and more queer people are transcending boundaries without being invasive.” As an individual who had been transsexed at birth, Gina has always been very open about her gender identity and how she was brought up as boy, however she found that often people on other dating apps wanted to “experiment” with her. But on Amour, nothing like this has happened so far.
Indeed, many profiles on Amour are openly defying the “genitalization” of one’s sexual orientation, or “sexualization” of dating. This means individuals on Amour who identify as cisgender homosexual men are open to dating transgender men or an asexual person based on mutual understanding. Many profiles also chose “polyamory” over “monogamy” or “open relationship,” and this is bound to create ripples. Somewhere it will challenge the dominant version of ‘normativity.’
The queer dating space so far has been dominated by cisgender gay men, which can put off many other LGBTQ identities. So it’s important that Amour is trying to change that.
From those Yahoo! Messenger days where people were talked to a faceless profile from another hemisphere, to today’s Grindr or Tinder days where even a few blocks is quite a distance for many, dating in the time of GPS has led to a massive paradigm shift in what people are looking for.
In India, where the LGBTQIA+ movement is quite urban-centric and often dubbed as classist and Anglophonic, it leaves a vast queer population out of it. So Amour is indeed a revolution. It gives people options which can successfully break every boundary – class, caste, age, language, religion, gender, sexuality, ability. As Amour plans to launch an app a few months from now, we are now one-step closer to that bright future where individuals might have profile write-ups like “I am a self-constructed construction. Wanna reconstruct something together?”
Update: This line published originally as ‘”However,” Gina says, “we must prevent Amour from quickly becoming another cisgender gay male-dominated space”‘ has been edited to “The queer dating space so far has been dominated by cisgender gay men, which can put off many other LGBTQ identities. So it’s important that Amour is trying to change that” on the author’s request.