At the beginning of June, dozens of Tinder users began tweeting that their profiles were being suspended because they are transgender or nonbinary. Other Tinder users were reporting these users, and their dating profiles were (at least temporarily) banned. Three months later, this is still happening.
Tanner Gilgen, a 20-year-old trans woman from Salt Lake City, was reported twice in August despite including in her Tinder profile that she’s transfeminine.
“A guy not only unmatched me, but they reported me for apparently inappropriate behavior, when in actuality they are reporting me for being trans,” she said. “And it doesn’t make sense because I am honest with it right up front! And they liked me anyway!”
Gilgen isn’t the only dating app user encountering difficulty.
“I got blocked before I even had said hi to a few people,” said Spike Davies, a 19-year-old nonbinary transfeminine dater from Plymouth, Devon, in England. “And then I received verbal harassment from a bunch of dudes.”
The Tinder problem seems to specifically affect nonbinary daters. Nonbinary.org defines nonbinary as “an umbrella term covering any gender identity that doesn’t fit within the gender binary” of male or female. This term includes but is not limited to genderqueer, transgender, agender and gender fluid.
Increased social awareness around nonmainstream LGBTQ issues has created an arms race among three of the biggest names in dating apps: OkCupid, Tinder and Grindr. With more and more users calling for freedom of gender and orientation expression, established dating apps are grappling with how to address the demand.
— Savannah Jo (@DressedinEgo) August 27, 2015
Grindr launched Grindr for Equality in 2009, a social initiative that has fundraised for overseas LGBT awareness in countries like Egypt, Russia and Uganda. The initiative also promotes STD prevention and education and is conducting a research survey in China.
In October 2013, Grindr also introduced the tribes feature, which allows users to describe themselves with categories such as bear, clean-cut, geek or poz. Still, Davies points out that for daters who aren’t predominantly masculine, Grindr still has its drawbacks because of the “virulent femmephobia.”
Mario Ashkar, a 27-year-old genderqueer dater from Pittsburgh, first used Tinder as female but after being reported and banned, began using Tinder as male.
“That’s when I realized that it wasn’t just heterosexual men that were reporting me but also the straight women and gay men that I was being matched with,” Ashkar said. “There needs to be a way for people who identify as part of the trans community to use this app without being harassed, reported, blocked and banned from the site.”
Following the backlash over the lack of inclusion, Rosette Pambakian, Tinder’s vice president of communications and brand partnerships, said in a written statement, “Tinder recognizes and believes in the importance of being inclusive of all gender identities and is working towards optimizing the experience for everyone.”
Tinder evaluates each banned account on an individual basis to consider lifting the ban on wrongfully reported accounts. However, the app does not currently allow users to identify as anything other than male or female, which contributed to trans and genderqueer users being reported. Tinder would not elaborate on any plans to change its features.
— Emily Ross (@eejc_ross) September 2, 2015
OkCupid, on the other hand, is setting a new standard for gender and orientation expression among dating apps. Last November, OkCupid expanded its gender options from two to 22 and its orientation options from three to 12. And in June, OkCupid launched Identity, a blog filled with dictionary definitions of all the app’s new terms, with entries submitted by actual users.
OkCupid’s updates, as Director of Marketing Lauren O’Reilly said, were less of a reaction to trending issues and more of a response to user feedback. Also, 20 percent of OkCupid’s staff is nonstraight or nonbinary, so O’Reilly said the decision to be more inclusive was equally a passion project for the staff.
“Users were just very frustrated when they would go to the site and see a dropdown that said gay straight or bisexual, because they really didn’t feel that they fit into any of those boxes,” O’Reilly said. “For a dating site to not be inclusive is just no longer acceptable.”
OkCupid spent six months after its November update gathering data and submissions for the Identity blog, as well as partnering with Nonbinary.org, a network for nonbinary gender visibility, education and advocacy. Feedback from OkCupid users inspired the app’s team to have users submit their own stories to the Identity blog as definitions for the terms. The Identity blog has had over 200 submissions, with about 50 stories currently being featured.
“We didn’t feel comfortable trying to write our own definitions for these terms,” said O’Reilly. “We felt, ‘Why not open this up to the community?’”
Out of 10 million worldwide users, 1 percent of OkCupid users are specifically using the expanded gender and orientation options. While 100,000 users might not sound like a lot, the demand from OkCupid users validated the team’s decision to become more inclusive.
“I think we felt almost that we were behind in doing so,” said O’Reilly. “Part of why it took us so long to do it is because we really wanted to make sure that we found the right group and we found the right definitions to start with.”
In October, the Identity blog and its submissions will be displayed more prominently as well as featured in OkCupid’s regular reporting on dating trends. O’Reilly said the plan is to integrate the inclusive features further into the OkCupid experience so that all daters can learn more about each other.
“We’re always trying to show that online dating isn’t this abstract thing,” said O’Reilly. “It’s something that real human beings are doing every day.”