My first foray into Tinder was way back in 2014. I was in the final year of my undergraduate degree, and after years of struggling with internalised homophobia and a conservative upbringing, had only recently began coming out – both to myself and to a select bunch of trusted friends. A lot about the coming out process was difficult, but one thing that I often craved while going through its various ups and downs was a kindred spirit – someone to talk to, who’d truly understand my experiences, would be able to offer companionship and solidarity in a way a straight ally couldn’t. But of course, this was only a year after Section 377 was upheld by the Supreme Court, and openly queer people in my vicinity were not just rare, but pretty much non-existent. Hence, Tinder.
My very first match was R*, a fellow 20-year-old student looking to “experiment” and “learn about the lesbian experience.” At the time, I was overjoyed. Not only was she one of the first queer people I met, but she was one of the first queer people I ever spoke to one on one, and I was thrilled at the possibility of making a new friend, if nothing more.
At first, it was nice. We shared basic facts about ourselves, though nothing veering into personal territory (this was the internet, of course, and one had to be cautious). She seemed like-minded. a humanities major, a music lover. Our interests very much aligned. But then came the question—and a recurring one, at that. “Your place, or mine?”
For a lot of people, online dating is a means to an end. Sex and hookups – both casual and serious – are the often expected outcome. I knew some of that going in, but I had hoped for something more meaningful, more long-lasting than just a stray sexual encounter. It was only much, much later that I came to the realisation that alongside being queer, I’m also on the asexual spectrum. And with that realisation, my thwarted expectations from that Tinder encounter began making a lot more sense.
One might ask, what’s wrong with using the internet to find sex? After all, Indian LGBTQ youth hardly have offline spaces to mingle, interact, form connections, find sexual or romantic partners, and the online space seems like an easier, more accessible option. It’s not only downloadable at the click of a button, but offers you more anonymity, with which can come a sense of security. The answer to that question is simple: there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! Dating apps are indeed an excellent way to explore one’s sexuality, especially if one’s in the closet, or “experimenting” and “questioning” their sexuality – for which sex is the commonplace approach for a lot of people, and that is completely okay.
But sex-positivity also means being cognisant of the people who might not want sex, for whom dating and sex may be completely mutually exclusive, for whom a simple platonic companionship, or a romantic relationship with only the emotional intimacy present, may be the be-all and end-all.
A lot of LGBTQ spaces, events, and even discourses often revolve around sex, making it seem like the only way one can reach a realisation of one’s queerness, or the only way one can legitimise one’s queerness. Two years ago, I met P*, a bisexual woman, who very bluntly asked me – “Have you ever gone down on a woman?” When I replied in the negative, she’d countered with an incredulous, “Then how did you know you were gay?” As if, being gay meant only the presence of a sexual attraction, a sexual thought, a sexual encounter. As if without going down on a woman, I couldn’t know I was gay.
Queer Pride marches, queer parties, queer gatherings all often celebrate sex as one of the major sources of identity reclamation and challenging of the heteronormative. In fact, a few months ago, I was at an ‘exclusively gay’ party where, if you had arrived single, the common presumption was that you were “looking” for sex. Again, there’s nothing wrong with celebrating sex, or putting it in the forefront of the movement, even. But by doing so, one can’t afford to erase the fact that asexual LGBTQ people exist, that sex isn’t the only manifestation of one’s sexuality, that romantic relationships or even platonic relationships between queer people can be as meaningful as pure physical intimacy.
The problem, however, is that this mainstream queer celebration of sex often translates into dating apps. Because sex – or rather, the questioning of sexual norms – have so long been associated with queerness, when queer people think of dating (or even mingling) online, sex seems to become the crux of it all. It is here that the online space becomes a double-edged sword – both a way in which one can de-stigmatise harmful notions around queer sex or make queer sex more accessible and a way in which the association of sex with queerness is furthered.
Does online dating only have to be about “hookups” apps, or can it advocate for companionship too? After all, there’s a great need to decentralise that idea if asexual LGBTQ people were to feel wholly, unabashedly comfortable using a dating app to find a partner – whether romantic or platonic.