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Dating apps need to do more for gender and sexuality awareness

Dating apps like Bumble and Tinder tend to work on gender and sexuality sensitisation projects for Pride Month, but the efforts ought to continue beyond June

Attempts to sensitise online spaces are more crucial than ever.
Attempts to sensitise online spaces are more crucial than ever. (iStockphoto; for representational purposes only)

The internet, and how safe we felt on it, has changed phenomenally since the early aughts. Attempts to sensitise online spaces, especially on social apps whose brief is to foster conversation, connection and community, are more crucial than ever. It was heartening, therefore, to see the dating app Bumble launch a Healthy Queer Dating Guide in an attempt to nurture healthy conversations on its network.

At first glance, it seemed this could help those still exploring their sexuality and gender identity, or, more generally, be a handy, live reference for anyone looking to sensitise themselves to dating outside the heteronormative sphere.

The need for this is clear. “Bumble’s State Of The Nation 2023 report revealed that 69% of LGBTQ+ respondents, compared to 56% heterosexual or straight daters, say being nervous talking to new people created friction for them when dating,” notes Samarpita Samaddar, India communications director at Bumble. She hopes the guide can “support the community to have a healthier dating experience.”

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Figures from Tinder, the other big dating app, revealed in early June, buttress the need: a “30% increase in gender identities other than male or female” on its app since 2021; a 104% jump in users who identified as “non binary” within a year. A study conducted for it by the market research firm OnePoll in April-May found that seven out of 10 daters aged 18-25 believed that “dating apps...have helped dismantle stereotypes and expectations surrounding gender, sex, and relationships”. Tinder also pointed out that its LGBTQ+ member base has grown at twice the rate of its overall base.

So, how useful is the guide? Released towards the end of Pride Month in June, it comes with great credentials, built in partnership with Social Media Matters, a non-profit working to create safe spaces online, and supported by three more organisations that work with women and queer communities: Rangeen Khidki, Sappho for Equality and Official Humans of Queer. It is structured in the form of an FAQ and is supplemented with a few anecdotal answers from queer people.

Sadly though, it doesn’t live up to the promise. For one, it’s yet to be integrated into the app, where its target demographic resides, and is only available on a static web page on the company’s global site. Two, it has only two sections directly in line with its brief: the first, on how to deal with being misgendered by a match and the second, on making connections when you are not ready to disclose your sexual orientation.

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The rest—how to show interest, start conversations and set boundaries, for example—is useful but needn’t have come at the cost of the more specific concerns of queer daters. It’s also too basic for a generation that is much clearer about how they see themselves vis-à-vis the world, what that might mean in terms of their identities, and what they can do to (at least try and) stay true to it.

Samaddar does note that Bumble will “continue to build on this the future”; hopefully, it will. Last year, also (of course) during Pride Month, Tinder had launched a microsite called Let’s Talk Gender. Relatively a lot more detailed during its launch, it was termed a “living document”, suggesting that it would be updated as research and collaborations yielded more insight into how Indians continue to contend with gender and sexual identities. Going by the content on the microsite today, that is yet to happen.

Well-intentioned starts that amount to little or fizzle away without continuous work to update it can easily be written off as mere marketing plots. Given their popularity, these apps ought to do better.

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