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What’s the best way to celebrate Transgender Awareness Week on one of the most popular lesbian dating apps around? By putting a transgender man front and center, of course.
Activists quickly criticized the move, saying Dowling’s appearance is somewhat insulting considering that Her advertises itself as “the most popular lesbian app” as well as “the biggest (and best!) app for lesbian, bisexual, and queer people worldwide” on places like the iOS App Store. To many in the trans community, Her’s focus on a transgender man over a transgender woman or femme shows that the app doesn’t understand its audience or trans people in general.
and, to the surprise of absolutely no one, a trans bro named aiden is heading up lesbian dating app HER's trans...Posted by Leylâ Çolpan on Wednesday, November 15, 2017
they don’t want to upset their largely twef user base so they’re advertising a trans man lmao i hate that fucking app pic.twitter.com/G3zSSqGKBT— Dahlia Shoshanna Zahava St. Knives (@saintknives) November 16, 2017
I am really curious about the judgement here.— April Arcus (@aprilarcus) November 16, 2017
Why would you use a male model (trans or otherwise) to promote a lesbian dating app?
Wouldn’t featuring a trans feminine or gender non-conforming person be more in keeping with the spirit of the app and its community?
"a woman-only space? hmm.... how about...... a man?"— funny halloween pun (@a_wild_queer) November 16, 2017
Some saw the move as Her implying that trans men are more like cis women than cis men—i.e., that a trans man is not a man; he is “femmy” and therefore can be grouped in with women and lesbians.
what does a guy have to do with an app for women?— Julie, Tranarchist #WouldPreferYouBanNazis (@XYcyberjulie) November 16, 2017
unless you're being hella transmisist and saying he's a girl cos he's trans?
This guy is fucking hot but he's a guy. His face deserves to be seen everywhere but makes no sense as the face of your app for women. This reeks of misgendering and I'm not okay with it.— Kav P (@RealKav_P) November 16, 2017
So basically it's cuz you see trans men as Basically Women and trans women as Basically Men and you're gonna respond to any question about it with this canned response?— Abby Loretta Rage (@oviposipuppy) November 16, 2017
Because it’s not that hard to find a trans woman.
Do u just not know any trans women?— oppai (@SailorKail) November 16, 2017
But part of the “controversy” seems to be over miscommunication in branding. Apparently, Her isn’t just for women anymore. The app’s founder, Robyn Exton, told the Daily Dot that Her has since moved on to embrace people across gender identities and sexualities beyond bi and lesbian women.
“For over a year, Her has been a platform for LGBTQ+ women, trans, non-binary, gender nonconforming, and queer folk,” Exton explained to the Daily Dot. “The name Her reflects where the company started and our commitment to make a safe and inclusive space for women, but we opened up to a much larger range of identities from the community a year and a half ago, to what we think is reflective of our community and supporting the identities that are part of it.”
Exton says Her was always inclusive to marginalized genders and has been trying to reflect that.
“We’ve had nonbinary people and gender nonconforming people in our community since day one and opened to trans men 18 months ago,” she said. “We fully acknowledge our Facebook page is titled ‘Her—The App for LGBTQ Women’ and apologize for the confusion this has caused. This is something we have asked Facebook to change multiple times to accurately reflect our business and we continue to be rejected for.”
Exton also explained that Her has transgender women Melody Maia and Eli Erlick setup for similar takeovers during the coming days ahead, along with Mason Leigh. So it’s not like Her isn’t calling on trans women to promote the app.
However, the controversy shows that brands still need to be sensitive and clear in their marketing, lest they lose their original base. For some trans women, the “takeover” was a reminder that inclusion can be hard to come by—even in the queer community.
Ana Valens is a reporter specializing in online queer communities, marginalized identities, and adult content creation. She is Daily Dot's Trans/Sex columnist. Her work has appeared at Vice, Vox, Truthout, Bitch Media, Kill Screen, Rolling Stone, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and spends her free time developing queer adult games.