Tinder Boy: “Do you confirm your gender?”
Me: “What does that mean?”
Tinder Boy: “It’s 2018. Some people don’t confirm their gender.”
As a non-binary identifying person assigned female at birth, heterosexual men on Tinder tend to typify me as ‘tomboy’ or a particular ‘type’ of girl- the one with short hair who they love to fetishize. Or they ask me whether being bi/pansexual means I will have sex with a pan, or a threesome with that One Other Bisexual Girl they know. Homosexual women are kinder but still looking for someone who fits in more neatly in one of the femme-butch categories. But in all of these daily Tinder negotiations, non-binary people (assigned female at birth) like me are still not recognised as valid, desirable and attractive just as ourselves, without having to match the expectations of normative binary gender standards.
For most people, Tinder is a series of negotiations, from different gender presentations to carefully selected bios. The online dating world is designed in a way that, inevitably, needs you to limit what you choose to show people online–a set of five pictures and the short bio. It doesn’t sum up who you are (that’s what messages are for!) but it makes connecting with someone quick, easy, and convenient. For me, claiming a non-binary identity on Tinder requires a certain amount of patience and candidness, having to sometimes explain the basics of gender and sexuality to someone within ten minutes of a conversation. But as more and more people in the queer community in Delhi become acquainted with and open to different transgender identities, it gets easier. As an upper-caste queer person from a middle-class background in Delhi, though, my voice is just one among many, and my experience with Tinder still fairly positive.
Gender is inextricably linked with desire, love and sexual attraction. And desire, love, attraction are linked with many other socio-economic considerations. Entering the economy of desire, as my friend A puts it, means to ‘perform’ a certain gender expectation that would attract the other person. As a bi/pansexual person, when I attract cisgender men I might perform feminine and when I attract homosexual women I might perform masculine depending on my own sense of their expectations. Meeting someone new from an online platform is also scary, which is exacerbated for trans, gender non-conforming and non-binary people because of the risk of violence or harassment. Whenever I meet someone new, I internally negotiate the decision of how soon I should be telling them about my identity. If it’s too soon, will I risk meeting someone transphobic? If it’s too late, will they feel lied to, and reject me? Unfortunately, most of us are familiar with the anxiety that comes with trying to impress a potential romantic or sexual partner or friend. But these anxieties are always layered with the extra risk of not just rejection but harassment or assault for those who come from different marginalised identities, whether externally visible or invisible. These could be anything from ethnicity, caste, gender to sexual orientation. In an unequal society like ours, desire and love are another playing field where these inequalities can play out.
Having a female-assigned body means to struggle with femininity and associated gendered expectations all the time. It means to constantly struggle with compulsory heterosexuality – being pushed by culture and society to only look at heterosexual men for sexual and romantic needs – and the often talked about constraints of femininity. But femininity and masculinity, beyond their constraints, are also interesting constructs to play around with, especially for transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary people. I want to see a world where people see non-binary as more than just a meme – as a valid identity and expression and as a way of seeing the world. Where people respect us not just through our pronouns or snazzy outfits (though not all trans people even want to wear fancy prints) but our needs as sexual beings – our desire to be desired without having to compromise our identities. Non-binary, transgender, gender non-conforming and genderfluid identities are more than just a fashion quirk or a fun piercing. For many people, it involves risking their jobs, families, friendships and lives in order to live their true selves. Socially constructed gender norms also affect whom we find attractive and who gets to enter the economy of desire as themselves.
Cisgender-passing non-binary people like me have it easier. At first look, I can pass easily as female. I can still cruise through tinder expectations by choosing to reveal my identity, pronouns and desires to a romantic interest over time, as I become comfortable enough to reveal certain behaviours and mannerisms or wear my preferred clothes. But for many non-binary people whose gender presentations refuse to easily conform to either masculine or feminine boxes, the online dating world is less kind. Even for famous American trans artists Alok Vaid-Menon and Jacob Tobia, finding Tinder dates has been a struggle, something they have talked about in their art and writing over the years. Transgender and non-binary people who do not fit neatly in one binary gender box are at risk of facing transphobic violence simply for being themselves.
So to make our dating world less heteronormative, less toxic and more queer-friendly, it is imperative for us to be open to different gender presentations and ideas of gender norms. To allow non-binary people the space to be honest without demanding an explanation of them at every step of the way. And to make our queer-feminist online and offline spaces more open and accessible to transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary people of different intersecting identities, caste and class backgrounds, tribal backgrounds and sexualities.