With its recent announcement of introducing 23 new gender identity options, Tinder has really opened up the playing field for LGBTQIA+ Indians. With a list of words like “agender”, “transgender”, “pangender”, “transfeminine”, “non-binary” and many more, there is likely to be a shift in how people, especially those on dating apps, view the queer community. And here’s why:
So far, there has been very little gender inclusion online. But the change begins now.
If my gender is male, and I’m straight, and I’m using Tinder for the first time and I see all these options that I’ve been unaware of, it will generate curiosity. I’d say, “Oye, wait. I’ve heard of just ‘male’ and ‘female’. What is all of this?” That’s the first thing we want – for people to know we exist. With all these options out there, some people will at least research about it.
For queer users going online, too, seeing all these different options will make an impact. How? Let me give you a little example. As a gay man, I’ve known about my sexuality for a long time. As a young drag queen, I’ve gotten to know more. But awareness doesn’t fall out of the sky. Earlier, when I had just begun as a dance teacher and choreographer, I was in a very small environment – mainly home, dance studio, home, dance studio. I hadn’t socialised with a lot of people. But when I started doing drag, I met a lot of other people, and I benefited from the awareness and education that the whole community offered me. In the same way, queer users going to Tinder might actually find themselves in those new gender options! The people who have so far fallen in the “Other” category are finally getting to express themselves in the most honest way possible, and I think it’s a very powerful step.
Alright. Now we have 23 new gender identities that we know about. But how do we make sure we are respectful of them all? The number one step is to keep an open mind. Don’t restrict yourself to the education you got in school. They say learning never stops, and that’s not just a creative writing prompt. It’s actually true. As a dance teacher, I interact with people of various age groups, and from them I learn things that are as small as how to tag someone on Instagram, and how photographs of Pluto have evolved since the first one was taken in the hazy ‘90s (and you bet I went home to research its history!) Just accept the fact that your brain is not capable of containing all the knowledge in the world.
I want to see an inclusive Tinder! And we’re heading there. It’s sad that a lot of places don’t have water connections, but they will have TV, and they will have internet-enabled mobile phones, and they’ll even be using Tinder. At these places, you’re creating awareness and letting people know that there are these options as well, that there are other people who are not like you, and that’s not a threat when you learn about them.
Like I said, for me, learning about the community through drag happened only recently, but it’s never too late to learn!
With the recent Supreme Court judgement on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the law is finally backing up queer people in India, giving them the right to express themselves as they are. And this carries over to online dating, since it’s a great way to get to know other people.
On dating websites, a lot of people like to put a lot of things about themselves out there. The whole things is to find someone compatible to you, right? How will you find someone like that if what you’ve written in your bio isn’t enough?
Even with the law backing us up, there are still societal pressures and stigmas that prevent you from taking a full step forward. But safer spaces will allow people to be themselves and then find what they’re looking for.
The problem with limited spaces and limited identities is the way in which prejudice grows here. For example, “No fats, no femmes, no Asians”. Maybe you’ve heard this about the gay dating scene in other countries, but its true of India as well! Body-shaming is a big problem. People will not go out with someone who’s a little skinny, or feminine, or doesn’t fit the usual idea of ‘a fit man’. Even within the community there’s this idea that ‘feminine’ is equal to ‘submissive’. Further to that, there is a lot of prejudice against ‘Asian’ men, who many men think are feminine (whatever their idea of femininity is, it’s obviously negative).
And if body-shaming wasn’t enough, there’s colourism too! It’s not even funny how people will stop talking to you the moment they think you’re slightly darker. I get it, there are preferences, but there is also being ‘phobic’ of certain things. There’s a fine line between these things, and it all depends on how people put that information out there. Yes, something may be a sexual preference, but honey, wake up call, not everyone wants to sleep with you!
The third thing that I often see is prejudice against trans people. The most common misconception people have is that trans people online are sex workers, and I know from personal experience where this leads. While I am not a trans person myself, I am a drag queen, and a lot of people don’t make the distinction. Once, I uploaded my drag pictures along with my boy pictures, and I got a sudden influx of people swiping right, and people asking uncomfortable questions.
These are three among many prejudices that we can begin undoing, now that we have more representation of trans and gender non-conforming people on Tinder, using their own voices, and claiming their own space!
Now, this won’t be advice from the master himself, just a few reminders, user to user.
First of all, keep everything out in the open. If you’re looking for a one-night stand, mention it. If you’re looking for a friendship, mention it. If you’re looking for a long-term relationship, mention it. Just for one night of pleasure, don’t play around with someone else’s feelings.
Second, always have your own picture on! A lot of people use fake pictures; and I don’t mean fake like celebrities, where it’s so obvious, I mean fake like using pictures of other users! I mean, how is that even beneficial to you, when you go to meet someone and don’t even look like you’re picture?
And third, do not be afraid to be yourself online. Tinder is an application used by so many people,not just for straight and cisgender couples. So have fun!