I tried queer dating apps for the first time—here's what happened
I stared down at my phone screen, drafting and redrafting the perfect bio that would help me land my one true love—or at least a coffee date. Nothing so long that a potential match might swipe past, but nothing too short that would make it seem like I didn’t care. After all, I spent almost an hour curating six photos of myself that were both cute and conversation starters: vintages dresses, bookstores, me in a ball pit—typical artsy girl. There was a lot I could put in my bio that would highlight who I am: Writer, Hufflepuff, Virgo, Pumpkin Spice Connoisseur and, oh yeah, queer AF.
Dating in a small rural town is hard; dating in a small rural town as a queer person is its own level of difficult. When I returned to my small conservative town as a liberal queer woman, it was a bit of a readjustment period. How do I tell people? Do I tell people? How out is too out and, more importantly, how do I date?
Enter: Dating apps.
I’ve never done any dating via apps before or after I came out as bisexual. I had lived and worked on college campuses and could always find my people. But now that I’m in an isolated area and working from home, meeting new people—new queer people—was a struggle. I was worried about outing myself in public to people who might harm me if I flirted with the wrong person, in front of the wrong people. Dating apps, while still far from being the perfect safe haven, could allow me the luxury of meeting new people in a relatively safe space.
So I plunged headfirst into the realm of online dating.
In 2019, there’s an app for everything, so that means there’s a dating app for just about anybody (looking at you Farmers Only). Unsurprisingly, what I could not find were dating apps that exclusively catered to LGBTQ+ people. The few I found were buggy, hard to navigate, featured too many ads, or wanted you to purchase a subscription in order to use it. Swipe left.
I downloaded about 10 popular apps at once (RIP my iPhone storage) to test out each app and see which would be “the one.” Each app had its own setup, from Tinder’s easy set up of logging into Facebook and choosing some photo’s to OkCupid’s almost hour-long questionnaire that I thought was going to ask for my mother’s maiden name and social security number. I understand the purpose of asking a lot of questions to get a good understanding of someone’s personality, but some questions were pretty invasive. I ended up deleting Plenty of Fish immediately after the question, “What is your body type?” popped up while creating my account. As an eating disorder survivor, it’s a swipe left.
These questions were also interesting examine through an LGBTQ+ perspective. Dating apps have been accused of catering to white, heteronormative people looking for love, and that’s a pretty fair accusation. Some apps only let you choose men or women as potential matches, not both (or they lacked any other gender identity options beyond the binary). OkCupid had a variety of gender identities you can choose from, but continued to match me with straight women and gay men (the ONLY two people I can’t date). Swipe left.
After a lot of installing and deleting apps, I settled on four I could tolerate: Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel, Facebook Dating, and Hinge (because if it’s good enough for Mayor Pete, it’s good enough for this chaotic bisexual).
Now it was time to get matching! Because I’m not the type of person to make the first move in any situation, I put “Send me your best puns”in my bio as both a conversation starter and a test to see who could follow directions. Spoiler alert: not many people.
This clearly wasn’t going to be easy, so I came up with rules for myself to decide who is a swipe right and who is a swipe hell no: Anyone holding a fish or dead deer (because welcome to upstate New York)? Swipe left. Clever bio? Swipe right. Anyone camping? Swipe left. Dog photos? Smash that like button. And so on.
As I was swiping, I started to learn what I was looking for in a relationship. I hadn’t dated in a year and was still a little rusty, but the simple act of going through different profiles within the comfort of my own home gave me the confidence to put myself out there. I re-discovered what I wanted out of a potential relationship: great conversation, kindness, passion. This discovery made me want to reach out to people to form those connections, and I finally started coming out of my shell—but queer online dating is not without its issues.
As I continued using the dating apps, I noticed that the apps were sending me more male-identifying matches than female-identifying matches, even though I put two genders on my interests. This wasn’t corrected until I put “only females” as my interest. As a bisexual person who is genuinely attracted to all gender identities, this rubbed me the wrong way. I ended up deleting Tinder and Coffee meets Bagel who were the biggest offenders, while Hinge seemed very balanced.
There was also a lot of other issues I encountered during my first attempts at queer online dating: Men who tried sending me dick pics, women who were only there to arrange three ways with their sketchy boyfriends (there are apps for this!), people who called me a fake lesbian, or that one guy who told me I was going “straight to hell” because of my “urges.” However, I could easily block those people and never think about them again, and enjoy the people of all different gender identities and sexualities that I matched with and had great chemistry with.
So, what became of my dating adventure? Did I find the love of my life?
No, I’m still very much single—but I no longer feel the isolation I experienced before I got on the apps. When you’re queer in a place that doesn’t feel welcoming, it’s a lonely experience. For a long time, I felt afraid to express who I was. But just knowing there are other people around me who are like me and who accept me was a powerful experience. To get coffee with someone and not feel like I have to hide my sexuality was so freeing. Dating apps are not perfect, and there should be more options for queer people, but dating apps do allow folks to explore their sexuality. And whether it’s love, friendship, or something in between, I’ll be swiping right on this feeling for a long time.