“A lot of times, being transgender, people will want to have sex with you but there’s no promise of a future,” Jazmin Sutherlin, a 35-year-old Washingtonian, said of the challenges of dating as a transgender woman.
A nationwide study of LGBTQ singles this year echoed that sentiment. Forty-seven percent of the participants in a Match survey said they would date someone who’s transgender, but 44 percent said they would not. Perhaps online dating has added to that stigma, by offering singles limited ways to identify themselves.
Slowly, dating sites and apps are adapting to the growing glossary of sexual and gender identities. In 2014, for example, OkCupid added more than 50 gender options and a handful of additional sexual orientations beyond the usual gay, straight or bisexual. And now Tinder is expanding its gender options beyond male and female. The popular dating app announced Tuesday that users could choose male, female or “more”; that last option allows a person to write in their gender identity with whatever word fits best. Genderqueer, transgender, androgynous, gender-fluid and so on.
The change has been months in the making. “We were aware that the experience for trans users was not optimal,” says Jess Carbino, Tinder’s sociologist. So the company held a brainstorming event, and one of the ideas that came out of it was a feature that would allow transgender individuals to identify as trans within the app. Tinder partnered with GLAAD, an LGBTQ advocacy group, in redesigning its gender options. Before this change, users had to categorize themselves as male or female. Transgender individuals, or anyone who doesn’t identify in the male-female binary, could explain their identity only in their profile text. “But you might not see everything,” Carbino admits. “Individuals had to educate people about their gender while swiping.”
Carbino says this is just the first step for Tinder; the company is going to collect feedback and then adjust accordingly. Zackary Drucker, a trans woman who’s been working with Tinder on this change, hopes that upfront disclosure of a person’s gender lessens the stigma that transgender individuals face while dating.
“In my everyday life, I encounter people who are interested in me after meeting me. But they probably hadn’t considered dating a trans person,” Drucker said, who notes that she’s in a relationship now. Tinder’s change opens up that possibility for everybody, Drucker added. “It’s going to radically change the way that trans people have been isolated, separate and relegated to the margins. Many cisgender, heterosexual folks are going to consider and take a moment to ponder: This person is attractive, and they’re trans and they’re in my dating pool.”
Labeling gender is a first step, but can it really wipe out stigma? Though Sutherlin isn’t on Tinder now, if she were, she says she would still use woman as her gender category, no trans category needed.
“I don’t mind explaining what type of woman I am,” Sutherlin adds. “I wouldn’t want to be singled out as a trans woman. It opens up the door to being classified, and sometimes those classifications come with a different burden. Sometimes you just want to be a girl, and do your own explaining.”