I haven’t been single for 6 years. The dating scene was very different back then. Not to age myself, but online dating was just starting to break through at the start of this decade. Sites like Match and OKCupid were becoming accepted dating resources to use for heterosexual people. A year before that, Grindr was just starting to become popular for the gay male scene. Fast forward to today there are a number of sites and apps geared towards specific audiences.
However, for lesbians there are only a handful of apps, and not many people are that active on them. There is the app called HER which according to their website is for “Queer, Bisexual, and Gay Women”. Wapa is another lesbian app that even has an informative popup when you download the app that states, “Wapa is a dating app for women who are attracted to women. Our goal is to build a safe and friendly environment where you can make friends, find a girlfriend, or just have a chat…” These are the expectations to create a safe space, but like most things involving people, someone is bound to break those expectations.
Recently there has been an update to apps like Tinder or Plenty of Fish (POF) where they were originally created for heterosexual couples, but are now including the LGBTQ community, and allow you to choose your gender identity as well as sexual preferences.
Back to our story. I am 28 and single in an unfamiliar territory of the lesbian virtual dating world. I’ve noticed so far it’s an extremely small community in whichever California city I have traveled through. I live in the Bay Area, but I often travel to Los Angeles and San Diego so I try to use the app wherever I am to get a vibe for the differences within the cities, and in hopes to get a vibe for when I relocate outside of my hometown. I swipe left and occasionally swipe right, until very quickly the app tells me there’s no more new people in the area. Just another reminder how compact the lesbian community really is.
Perhaps you are thinking, “Oh, Nic, you’re just being picky and maybe you should broaden your horizon”. But I’ve gained some insight from my personal experience using these apps that makes me question their purpose as a safe space. Let’s now take a walk through what a lesbian of color can experience in these apps.
COMMODIFICATION OF THE LESBIAN BODY: There is a prevalence of bi-curious women and heterosexual couples that aren’t looking for a lesbian relationship that use these apps. They are looking for a woman to either experience a one time same-sex sexual encounter, to be a third person in their threesome, or to be the couple’s “unicorn”.
A unicorn is usually a bisexual person who becomes part of an existing heterosexual couple in which they equally have sexual encounters with both the man and woman. There is an agreement that the unicorn will not interfere with the couple’s relationship. In some of these relationships, the unicorn may even end up living with the couple and even help take care of the couple’s children, but are not allowed to have any other relationships or sexual encounters outside of the couple’s relationship.
There was one profile I came across where the woman stated she was in an open relationship with her boyfriend and in her description stated, “Perhaps you can be our 5th year anniversary present”. Newsflash: this is a dating app for human beings not Amazon to buy a product as a gift to be someone’s property for the night. So many of them don’t desire my person so much as my body.
PREDATORY CIS HETERO MEN: There are also many heterosexual, cisgender male profiles that end up on Tinder and HER, and I am not sure if it’s by mistake or one of those “I can make you straight again” type of deals. Some men even catfish as females on the app HER, hoping for sexting, pictures, and otherwise preying on the built-in trust we are supposed to have in these apps. What’s a safe space, right?
Within the HER app there is a newsfeed section where anyone can post a status or upload a picture similar to Facebook but with the entire network, both globally and locally. I’ve seen many posts from different women complaining about men posing as women, or the large amount of hetero couples looking for threesomes.
There are also many complaints about people posing as US military, soldiers living overseas that engage in these apps to only ask people to send them money in the form of iTunes cards or other gift cards.
INTERNALIZED HOMOPHOBIA AND PROBLEMATIC GENDER NORMS: I once came across a profile where a femme woman wrote in her description, “I don’t like women who lead with their gayness”. She’s implying (not so subtly) that she only likes femme women. Instead of just saying that, she went on to point out that she would like to appear straight in public, so if you have a hint of “gayness”, she’d prefer that you swipe left.
This is evidence of how society views many butch and stud lesbians. Basically, if you have any masculine qualities and go against social norms, you’re not attractive. I’ve found more and more of these profiles that read, “No butches or studs!” At first I found this offensive because although I dress somewhat masculine, I am fortunate to be very comfortable in my body and being a woman. Its confusing to have feminine women almost shaming cis gender studs and butches purely because they don’t meet a certain dress code or identity.
I understand people have their preferences, but where is the line drawn between preference on one end, and internalized homophobia and upholding problematic gender norms on the other? Too often, women on these apps crossed the invisible line.
WTF IS GOING ON HERE: The most bizarre profiles are both ridiculous and hilarious. I’ve come across one woman on the POF app who put on her profile description asking people to bring her weed. In her section for keywords (to help the algorithm find her matches) she put, “weed to smoke right now please”. In her first ideal first date column read, “you bringing me some tree.” Last time I checked this was not Eaze or any other marijuana delivery app. There have been other women also using the app purely to recruit for their escorting business. I’ve also come across someone who made a Tinder profile for their cat. Yes, you read that right. (And apparently the job description the cat had was labeled “Pooping in the litter box”.) One woman even posted “add me on myspace” which confused me because I could have sworn we were in 2017 and not 2005.
On more than one occasion, I’ve gotten matches to women and I was excited to get to know them. I message them “Hi, how are you?” in hopes of having a nice conversation and their reply is “Horny”, literally that’s all they said. Perhaps this is the lesbian equivalence to a dick pic? I just roll my eyes and unmatch because to quote my favorite rapper Tupac, “Hate to sound sleazy, but tease me, I don’t want it if it’s that easy...”
Let’s be real, online dating as a whole is a scary, vulnerable space full of our insecurities. You can have deep and meaningful conversations with people, but there is always that thought of “is this person really who they say they are?” More and more, I notice the captions under women’s profiles usually stating, “NO MEN. NO COUPLES.” It frustrates me that women of the LGBTQ community have to state this out loud in order to go to what was intended to be a safe space for us to meet and communicate.
Do I think online dating as a whole is a safe space for lesbians? No, not at all. There is still a Hollywood or porn movie fantasy that two femme women is considered beautiful and anyone other than that is unattractive. You can call me traditional or old school, but I do not want to be someone’s experiment nor do I identify being a present for a couple’s fantasy.
That said, I have had some meaningful conversations with some people on the app, so it’s not entirely negative. (I’ve actually come across many WoC wanting to learn more about EFNIKS when I tell them I write essays for the site.) Perhaps online dating is not for me, but I’ll continue to swipe to see who else is out there. After all, you never really know if there is a “fish” in this small tank of lesbians that I might end up really connecting with, whether it be friendship or romantically.
Send questions and comments on this story to email@example.com