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Trans Dating Apps: What Happened When I Decided to Give Apps One Last Try

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Every month, I write a column for StyleCaster. For two months straight, I’ve dedicated my columns to discussing the same topic: my experience using dating apps as a trans woman. Last month, I wrote about what I’ve learned after using dating apps for years—and why I ultimately decided to delete them all. I’ve found that, since embarking on this dating app hiatus, I’ve developed a truer sense of self. I’ve enjoyed the increased independence I’ve had—I’ve learned more about myself, more thoroughly enjoyed my time as a single woman and even wanted a relationship less. I’ve also gained greater hope of finding a relationship organically (though nothing worthwhile has come from that, yet). However, after months of staying away from dating apps, I decided it might be time to give them one last shot.

With gender and sexuality more fluid than ever before, Tinder has realized it’s “time to provide a better experience that empowers all users to be themselves”—a discovery that’s recently resulted in a few changes. Earlier this summer, the app announced that, for the first time, users can share more information about their sexual orientation (a choice the app hopes will impact how potential matches are surfaced). Tinder also reported a handful of statistics about its users, which make the app experience seem both more inclusive and more positive. The app’s survey revealed that 80% of LGBTQ+ adults believe online dating/dating apps have benefitted their community in a positive way. Of those, 52% say online dating has made it easier for them to be themselves, and 45% say it has made it easier for them to explore their own identities. 57% would be interested in dating apps/sites that make it easy to express their sexual orientations. Tinder has, once again, worked closely with GLAAD to introduce its Orientation feature to the U.S., U.K., Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand (which it did in June).

These steps were promising, and I see why companies would view these measures as important for the LGBTQ+ community. However, sexuality is different than gender; while these actions clearly help the LGBQ in LGBTQ+, I’m not sure they protect trans and non-binary people.

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It’s worth mentioning that there are several apps that specifically cater to transgender people, but I’m not sure this is beneficial to the overall transgender liberation movement. It feels, to me, more like keeping transgender people at an arm’s length—as if potential partners need a warning that we’re not like everyone else. I understand these specialized apps are simply trying to accommodate our community in a world that seems, at times, apt to reject us, but I don’t want to feel separated from everyone else. I don’t want to feel so stigmatized that I can only possibly find success on an app that’s “made for me” and the community I belong to. (It’s also important to note the immense potential for harm that exists within these spaces. You never know who someone is or what their intentions may be. I caution everyone to be careful when online dating, but I especially caution my trans community.)

I don’t deny that dating apps can work—in fact, this is what’s made me to try them time and time again, even after the frustration I’ve experienced. For cis, hetero people, dating apps can be an incredibly effective way to find a perfect match. (I know my brother found his on Hinge.) For cis, homosexual people, the landscape seems increasingly friendly—with apps like Grindr and Her, and with new features on apps like Tinder. Knowing so many others have found success with apps often gives me hope, though that hope is tempered by my past experiences. People often assume I wouldn’t have any trouble getting dates, especially if I’m using apps, but that couldn’t be further from the truth now that I’m open about being transgender. Getting the match may be easy, but what follows is unlike anything my cisgender girlfriends experience.

Still, the knowledge that I should be in my primetime dating app days encouraged me to give online dating one more try. I redownloaded three—Tinder, Bumble and Hinge—and made the same choice I always have not to disclose in my bio that I’m transgender. I don’t want to run the risk of being targeted or fetishized. Plus, I’d rather form a more organic connection with someone and open up to them as things go along.

Unfortunately, my final dating app experiment went the way my previous experiences had. The basic, mundane conversations were too familiar—as were the swift un-matches, once men discovered my real identity. This affirmed the importance of in-person interactions for me, but even those haven’t necessarily panned out for me in the past. Men I previously matched and met with were quite literally instantaneously attracted to me—after all, they swiped right—but even when, in our time together, we have felt a strong connection, they’ve cut everything short after discovering I’m transgender. (This summer, I’ve been told twice that I’m before my time, and those were both men I met organically.)

After this week—and through all my past dating app experiences—I’ve realized that since being open about my transgender identity, I’ve felt alienated and like I’m not being given a real opportunity. I want someone who will at least meet me in person, who’s willing to explore our chemistry and who’s interested in seeing where it takes us, if we have it. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I’ve decided an organic meet-cute is likely my best option (and I feel I’ll save myself a lot of time and energy by, once again, deleting these apps, given where our society is with trans acceptance, visibility and equality).

Some people—trans or cis—will never have the opportunity to date, and I’m thankful for the experiences I’ve had, but I, too, want more. I may not find love—or even a fun date from an app anymore—but that’s OK. I wouldn’t change anything about my journey to finding love. Dating as an openly transgender woman has made me stronger and more appreciative of the man who will eventually steal my heart away, and I hope our society can move past this discriminatory era and begin to see transwomen as just that—women.

Dating, rejection, finding love, losing love—it’s all part of the path I’m on, and I’m grateful for that.

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