Although I have not used dating sites since years (I am currently in a relationship), from what I can remember it primarily catered to the straight/gay binary. However, the queer umbrella comes with a lot more identities and their complexities. Their inclusion in spaces matter since inclusivity serves for integration and over time, normalisation of those that are different from the rest.
When I made a proper profile on one of the most popular dating websites in India, I decided to mention that I was bisexual. Over the next few days, I was flooded with messages and all from men. I realised, the reason I was probably being flooded with messages was precisely that I mentioned “bisexual”. Most men I spoke to would eventually turn to questions on threesomes. I decided to mention in my profile description that as far as men were concerned, I would prefer those other than cis-het ones. I reckoned that changing my preference for dating non-cisgender or non-straight male persons would mean at least they knew where I was coming from. Or so I thought.
I was sent messages by the same cis-het men mocking “men who will get with men”. Many straight up asked me why a gay man date a woman, which was further confirmation of seeing bisexuality as a fetish would. When I finally did match with a woman and started talking to her, I soon found out she was married (not mentioned in her profile) and was looking for a ‘unicorn’; bisexual persons who get picked up by couples who otherwise do not want to have to do anything with the person.
Online dating has thus been difficult terrain for me. I had signed up for this particular dating site precisely because a friend of mine who was gay recommended it. However, I came to realise that, at least at that time, beyond providing the option for my identity, the search and match parameters did not exactly go in my favour. Lesser known queer identities such as those who are “asexual” did not even have an option. The gender non-binary population was not even addressed. My partner, (a white, demisexual-bisexual, nonbinary person) pointed out that- they once noticed that user population in certain queer dating apps were also skewed towards white, gay men, and subtle racism was rampant. The entire scenario felt as though we are acknowledged only via a perfunctory nod, or not identified at all, or that the specifications of what we wanted were completely disregarded, leaving us vulnerable to those looking to mock us.
In my opinion, the first thing any dating platform should do is obvious: make a rule framework that is effective against prejudice and guarantees safety for its users, and efficiently follow up with it. For example, when complained about misbehaviour from a man she met online, the offender in question was then removed. Something similar to the kind put in place for queer people goes a long way in making us feel welcome.
The next thing to address is obviously the parameters. When I made a profile on a dating app mentioning my identity, I need more options on what am I really looking for. Providing tabs such as “interested in” followed by options are not always sufficient. My experience would have been different if whatever software was used by the dating app actually picked up my preferences from the profile description box instead of merely matching me with the limited choices provided in options. For instance, after the constant receipt of hate or lewd messages, I was forced to change my orientation to ‘straight’ even if it meant that it restricts my dating pool. That automatically matches me with just men.
I figured the reason I was not getting matches with more women or others was that there probably were more women like me who had to hide their orientation for safety. The expectations from a dating app can also vary from user to user. For me, the primary goal was to form a serious commitment. But for many others, dating apps are for hooking up only, which is entirely valid. Some sail between the two. Description boxes and a process set to check for preferences mentioned there can help a great deal here so it can match like-minded person only.
The recent move by Tinder to include more than two genders is worth appreciating. While my partner and I are still of the opinion that description boxes make for more accurate results, having personally seen Tinder’s interface when I once used it, I can put down that it is user-friendly. We are expecting that this move will allow for more queer users to safely navigate dating apps and would help them match with people who are not queerphobic. Following from here, we would love to see Tinder make a move towards including more identities from the sexual minority especially with regard to ethnic minorities. Ethnic minorities of a region who are queer often face double the prejudice on dating apps. This has been me as a person of colour when I used the dating app in the UK. It was hard to say whether a person actually liked me, or, as one told me, they have never come across an Indian, bisexual woman before – fetishisation and exoticization. I hope that dating sites push for more inclusion and cater to individual needs.