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. . .
Hooking up. Staying the night. Having a one-night stand. Whatever you want to call it, tech has revolutionized the way people meet up and make out. For most people, hookup apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Grindr are just another part of life.
Or so it seems. While straight and cisgender users might get annoyed with online dating, it’s still easy for them to take these apps for granted. Queer transgender women, however, have a different story to tell. For us, finding an affirming, respectful, and loving date can prove difficult at best—and downright impossible at worst.
I know this all too well. Ever since I transitioned three years ago, I’ve spent plenty of time on the internet searching for dates and hookups. Is it really as bad as it sounds? Well, it takes a lot of work to find the right match.
Before I get into the chaos, let me start with my favorite online connection: my girlfriend Zoë. We met on OkCupid in October 2016, just half a year after I graduated from college. She checked out my profile first, so I gave hers a look. She was cute, nerdy, and looked amazing in a red dress, so I decided to reach out. We chatted over IM and texted for a few weeks, but it was tough for me to decide if I wanted to actually go out with her or not. I was 22, fresh out of college, and I hadn’t been in a relationship since I was in high school. Being intimate with another person—let alone another trans woman—seemed so scary.
But life is about taking chances, so why not? We met in Manhattan. I asked her how her week was while we walked to K-town, and I’ll never forget what she told me: She had just finished partitioning her hard drive for her virtual machine. For a nerdy trans girl like me, that was one of the cutest things another girl could tell me. We spent the next eight hours together, and it was the beginning of one of the best relationships of my life.
While Zoë and I have a happy ending to our story, there’s another side to my online dating life.
You see, Zoë and I are in an open relationship. We can hook up with other people, but we remain romantically tied to each other. It’s a fun setup, and I’ve had plenty of good hookups over the past two years. But ironically enough, my worst experiences all involve dating over the internet.
One time, I signed up for a Grindr account just to check out the scene, tagged myself as a queer trans girl searching for other women, and minutes after my account was approved, cis dudes swarmed my inbox. One after another, they slid into my DMs, asking me what’s up, how I was doing, if I was free, and why I am so pretty. They sent me message after message that simply read, “New picture received.” You can probably imagine what was hidden inside those DMs. It was like an atomic bomb hit my phone, except instead of radiation, it was dicks from every angle.
But it’s not just men that give me a headache. Sometimes it’s other women.
One time, I met up with another trans girl in Tribeca that I matched with on Tinder. Like my girlfriend, she was dorky, into video games, and friendly enough. But unlike Zoë, there was no chemistry between the two of us, and I felt bored immediately.
I was still willing to give her a chance, though—until she told me she didn’t need to worry about life after college; she was lined up to work for her parents’ legal firm in midtown. I was blown away. Like, shit, I survived off ramen and mac and cheese for nine months straight after graduation while trying to build a career in journalism from the ground up. We obviously weren’t a match, and it stung. Finding another trans girl on Tinder is already difficult, but when match after match just doesn’t get you, it can leave you feeling lonely and alienated from other trans women.
Most of all, though, my experiences online are just dull. I rarely meet girls on Tinder who really click for me, Ana, not just any trans girl, and OkCupid’s intense profile system asks for way too much information, from my sex life to my religious beliefs. Look, all I really want is to grab drinks with cute girls; I don’t need to go to Easter services with them. So instead of toughing it out with online dating, I hook up with friends and friends of friends and call it a day.
It’s not just me. Finding trans-friendly dating apps is a crapshoot for other trans women, too. Abbey Pieri, who lives in a relatively big town outside of Chicago, has used Grindr, Tinder, and OkCupid in the past, but said that each service has its problems.
“[Grindr and OkCupid] both suffer because being a woman online opens you up to abuse more than being a man,” Pieri told me. “Now throw in being trans, and it’s garbage from the skies suddenly.”
When you’re a trans woman looking for relationships with other women, even cis lesbians can be discriminatory or simply insensitive. Jamie, a trans woman from New York City, says she mainly uses OkCupid. Early in her transition, she went on a date with a cis lesbian who repeatedly stressed that being gay “is just so great” because “you have the same genitals” as the person you’re dating and testicles “are so gross.” Jamie had previously disclosed her trans status in her dating profile, but this didn’t seem to register with her date.
“At this point, I am definitely making a face and am thinking, ‘She’s definitely gonna notice I’m making a face and figure it out,'” Jamie told me. “But she doesn’t stop—’I just… love vaginas so much!'”
At first blush, you might suggest we queer trans folk find new trans dating apps if our experiences on OkCupid, Tinder, and Grindr are garbage. But where are we supposed to go? Dating and trans hookup apps geared toward trans women “scream chaser havens” (aka people there to fetishize trans people), lesbian-oriented dating apps “kinda pass you by ’cause you’re not seen as a ‘woman,'” and across the board, “the transmisogyny in dating is real,” as Pieri told me. Like Facebook and Twitter, these big-name apps control online dating and the hookup world, so we’re ultimately stuck with whatever services have the most people.
Of course, trans women can still have amazing online dating experiences. If it wasn’t for OkCupid, I never would have met Zoë. They can also find something other than romance. Antoinette, a trans woman who used to live in New York City before coming out and moving to a “rural Midwest college town,” told me that she used Craigslist and Grindr to meet trans women as friends after she moved.
“I’m no longer on these looking for hookups as much as for community and friends. There aren’t many queer spaces out here, and none for lesbians and trans people,” Antoinette explained to me. “I’ve met a lot of friends through Grindr.”
She’s right: While sites like OkCupid and Grindr may suck at finding us partners or decent hook-ups, they play a major role in how we create a sense of community. Trans women don’t just hang out with other trans women because we all undergo gender transitioning. We’re attracted to each other. We love each other. And we feel a fundamental connection that goes beyond words.
Trans sisterhood isn’t just bonding over trauma: It’s about the romantic and sexual experiences we share together that interlink our lives, whether it’s kiss by kiss or a long intimate chat while watching Sailor Moon together in bed.
Perhaps the idea is to not place too much romantic hope into apps, and just roll with it. You may luck out, you may not, but you never know who you’ll meet until you try it.
“At the end of the day, [dating apps are] basically just a machine that puts me in front of random people,” Jamie explained. “When [hooking up with friends] runs dry it’s like, ‘Damn, it’s good that I have a thing to put random single transsexuals in front of me.'”
And if Zoë and I are any proof, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
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.