Love in the Time of COVID-19: A Slightly Objective Guide to Online Dating Apps
By Derick Stevens-Jones
If you can find love in the midst of a pandemic, the world is truly your oyster. Online dating? Welcome to the thunder dome — thot photos are the new selfie and video chats are a must. We’re quarantined and looking for a good time, but is this a match made in heaven, or are you living in Dante’s Inferno? Falling for Mx. Right or Mx. Right Now may seem like fate, but the real question is this: When this is all over, will they actually spend the night or will no one swipe right?
I feel like Carrie Bradshaw most definitely would have written that in an apocalyptic, COVID-19 version of her Sex and the City column. That is if she ever wrote about the multi-faceted queer relationships her friends and acquaintances were having (no shade Lady Bradshaw, but come the fuck on). No, I'm talking about online dating as we're homebound. As a 30-something who's spent the better half of their life navigating the very charted waters of photo swapping and being “left on read,” this is the time to be swiping. This is the time to find your match.
But what if you're queer?
As a previously identifying gay man (gasp, shock!), my understanding of online dating teetered somewhere between hardcore AOL chatrooms I found in the late 90s and the casual swiping left of undesirables on my iPhone. To be quite honest, up until I came out as non-binary four years ago (and even recently), the thought of genderqueer, trans, or other queer folk dating or meeting online seemed reserved to Tumblr or Reddit threads. I have to say, I was a fool.
But here I am, your queer AF girlboi, happy to report that yes queen, there may indeed be a dating platform for you.
A little PSA: NOT ALL ONLINE DATING PLATFORMS WERE CREATED EQUAL.
Pre-pandemic, I met my partner via Facebook. We’ve been together for seven years. I was no stranger to dating apps, and the like. In fact, I pretty much figured that's how I'd meet anyone because like, duh.
But when I started internet dating, I was gay, and honey OH HOW THE WORLD IS DIFFERENT (literally, we’re quarantined now, thanks). As a non-binary person who often presents as masculine, it’s easy to default to go-to apps like Grindr or Scruff (because those are the apps I always used). Since coming out an NB and attempting to embrace my gender(s), this has caused me, and I’m sure countless others, mass amounts of dysphoria and confusion. When on apps like Grindr, even though they're more "inclusive" than ever, it’s often a let down because I’m not as "desirable” as other alpha male folks may be. Being "feminine" is still looked at as a negative because misogyny is alive and well within the LGBTQ+ community.
I’m here to break it down for y’all, though, because it’s 2020 — there are ways to meet folks like myself. I'm a fat, femme, queer non-binary AMAB. Though I am not single, I'm still mingling, and I'm still trying to connect with people. It's time to re-evaluate where I spend my time online, if and when I choose to. Check out this list I’ve compiled of apps (and more) that are made for YOU (loosely ranked from super queer-friendly to maybe-kinda-sorta — just think of them all like a Goosebumps, choose your own adventure book):
“For lesbian, bisexual, asexual, & queer people. For womxn & trans, genderqueer, intersex, two spirit, & non-binary people. For meeting lovers and friends.” OK. Right off the bat, I’m sold. Though different from most apps, instead of being photo-driven, it’s all about your words. Lex grew out of a queer missed-connections Instagram page and the app debuted late last year. While there’s little to no activity in northwest Louisiana, it is doted as a safe space to meet other individuals. One user said she liked it because of the inclusivity of their advertisements and just the overall layout. This could be a great space to start a new community!
Created by and for queer women, I’ve heard good things about HER. Although it's known as a lesbian app (and "her" implies women), HER is for both cisgender and non-binary folks looking to meet other queer women or non-binary people, and the chances of a finding a cis-gender dude here are pretty slim to none. HER is "similar" to Facebook where users can create a profile and "network" with others to attend IRL events happening in their area. There are currently 18 sexuality options, 17 gender identities, space for your pronouns, and zodiac sign. I did not download this app, but did chat with a few folks who had mixed feelings (mainly that there weren't as many users here, and they generally had easier times meeting women offline).
This app is specific for queer women. Lesly is similar to Tinder where you have to have swipe for a connection. I have yet to meet anyone who has used this, which makes me believe there aren’t a lot of folks in our area who are users. That’s another issue with dating apps — folks in smaller cities will less likely use non-mainstream apps. Though it does have a 4.1 star rating in app store! This app, like so many others, offers premium packages so you can see more potentials, interact with more people, and explore the app further.
No boys allowed! Or something. Well, you won’t exactly be running into any cis-gendered males here, that’s for sure. This is a dating app "geared for lesbians and people who are interested in meeting lesbians." The language on their homepage isn’t super inclusive, but I’ve been reassured (by the reviews!) that this app is for queer women of all sexual orientations (and gender identities, so you don't have to be femme). The basis of this app is video dating, so prepare to create one (though it’s not mandatory). You can still make a profile with photos. I haven’t yet to try this as I’m not so much interested in meeting lesbians romantically, so if you have, let me know if anyone in the area uses it.
When I downloaded this back in 2010 or so, I thought Scruff was more about body hair than it was attitude. Flash forward ten years later and Scruff has a pretty good plethora of queer, trans and non-binary folks who don’t adhere to a “typical” scruffy look, and some of them are just looking for those types of folks. Daddy like? Yes, please. Scruff does tend to cater more to men and masculine-presenting folks, but they've recently added a wide range of gender identity options including femme, genderqueer, pangender, and cisgender (72 total!). You can also now choose your pronouns (includes Ze/Hir and Xi/Xem). Thanks, Scruff! That's queer AF. Better late than never?
I have never personally used Tinder, but for the sake of this story, I downloaded it. It’s one of the most popular dating apps to date and has been around probably the longest. This is where swiping originated (I think?). I was able to choose non-binary as my gender and multiple sexual orientations. Once you finish the initial set-up, you’re thrust into the mix with a whole deck of folks to look through. And that’s it. From what I can tell there are no real search options, and you can’t do an overview look at folks profiles. I choose “queer" as my sexuality and found it to be a lot of cis dudes at first glance. I thought by not choosing “gay" it would give me those types of profiles, and it does, just dispersed. I've matched with a few folks, but my first match (after he initiated conversation) blocked me. So there's that. More than 50 gender options are available, but I happened to run across this story that didn't make me feel like the app was too trans-inclusive (something VERY common among almost all apps).
With a name like Grindr, the emphasis is clearly put on physical contact and action. Though Grindr has rebranded over the last few years as being “inclusive” and more active as a social media brand, it still falls short if you’re a queer user navigating the waters of “Nearby” and “Taps.” You don’t have to have a profile photo, and for many men (and other users), this is a goldmine. While the app is primarily for men, I’ve seen a number of trans women and men using the app, as well as non-binary folks. Their experiences (from conversations I’ve had) have been less than stellar. I can concur. I can sometimes be overeager to chat (usually because I’m bored), and often I won’t even get a returned “hello.” I see a lot of “no fats, no femmes,” and quite honestly, it is a BLESSING to know this info upfront. Why? So I can screenshot and block. There are 10 options for gender identity and three pre-set pronouns (and a custom field). They've even added a nice little note to users. Hopefully, they take it seriously.
Also, side note: When you don't have a profile picture on Grindr, people are thirsty. And it's kind of gross.
This is like some OG shit here. OkCupid arrived in 2004. I never used this app because, for nearly 10 years, it wasn’t for queer people. Hell, it wasn’t for L-G-B-or-T people. Things have changed a little bit, and they do have an “I don’t want to be seen by straight people” option (which, I mean, IS CONVENIENT). Their gender identity options are lacking, but maybe they’ve had an update since then. Let’s hope. I know of a lot of people who use this (and Tinder) to connect with others, but even with the update, many women (or femme presenting folks) who I talked to about this app said it wasn't for them. The odds of finding another queer woman felt slim, and many profiles seemed to be "looking for a third."
TRADITIONAL SOCIAL MEDIA
(Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, YouTube, etc.)
We take most of these for granite since we’re on them 24/7, but we really shouldn’t discredit our traditional avenues of meeting and greeting. With over 2 billion folks on Facebook and 7.8 billion in the world, that’s a lot of people to potentially connect with! Dedicated groups, fan pages, and other FB amenities can help make those connections, or if you’re like my partner, you just send someone a message, say they’re cute, and then marry them. Piece of cake. Any of the above platforms are great for connecting with others, especially if you’re queer. Since none of these sites or apps are TRULY geared towards sex or dating (I say this loosely because of Snapchat and Twitter, ahem), it’s easier to meet folks in an almost IRL type way. Maybe that’s just my senile, hopeful millennial self, but I feel like it’s true. Unless they've gone to supreme lengths to create a catfish profile. And it CAN happen.
So there you have it. Comprehensive? Sort of. Accurate? Eh. This is just my point of view, and how I interpret it. But I do know one thing, and that's called being safe. Connecting with new people online is amazing but there can be negative and even abusive connections. If you feel like you are being bullied or assaulted, please report your interaction to the platform. If you do plan to meet someone in person whom you've never met, let a friend know and meet them in a public space. Do not give out your address. Use your discretion, but if you don't feel the person you're chatting with is the person they say they are, go with your gut. Trans, gender non-conforming folks, and women are more likely to face danger online than anyone else. We shouldn't be afraid to date, but we should be aware.
Derick Stevens-Jones is a co-creator of Queerport. You can usually find them at their vintage shop or out and about documenting Shreveport's queer history in the making.