“I hope you are mentally okay. I pray for your recovery. Non-binary and all bull shit. Get well soon! Take care.”
It was one of the sweetest messages I received on a popular dating app this year. The queerphobic drivel was at least polite despite its violence and ignorance, unlike many other strange and discomfiting experiences this year.
For some of us, it is difficult to find prospective dates in everyday life. It’s not as if I can go out holding a placard saying, “Dates wanted!” and hope that I don’t get harassed in public (that naturally happens through our mere existence anyway).
Even asking friends does not work because I am sometimes the only queer person in their social circles. In the case of other queer friends, we often face the same issues, and it seems selfish to ask. So, we rely on the barrage of dating apps in the market. Whatever your taste and inclination, you have an app that will get you swiping through or clicking on hundreds of profiles.
As I started 2022 with an open mind to meet new people and try out dating after three years, I spent considerable time talking to or meeting different people. Many of them were similar—cis men with caste and class privileges in their 20s and 30s, in urban areas looking for anything from casual sex to an object of devotion, depending on how horny they are and how attractive they find you.
Here’s what I learned:
Entitlement to sex
I had been meaning to meet a gentleman, but our schedules and geographical locations never matched. When it did, and he invited me over to his place, I thought of clarifying to him that I was not interested in certain things in bed. I’d have understood if he was no longer interested and did not want to meet. But I hadn’t anticipated a text saying, “Don’t do this to me,” followed by recriminations and statements to convince me even when I said “no”. It seems the vociferous declarations of wokeness on social media are not practised. Many still do not know how to deal with the basics of consent.
In another curious scenario, I received lovely audio messages from a stranger with no display pic or info on their profile. After a brief exchange, the conversation reached a point where he wanted to meet me. Before I could decide or respond, he said he would be making this effort with some expectations. The actual message was rather violent, but in brief, they proposed (or threatened) sexual abuse.
I realise such behaviour stems from entitlement to sex and to the other person’s body. And it continues to persist in almost all forums. My short bio on a dating app specifically asks people not to share their dick pictures without consent. Does it work? No, I still receive dick pics on the regular. Their desire matters more than your bodily integrity and agency. I have learned to start the conversation about consent and agency at the onset and keep it ongoing, even with the seemingly woke ones.
Loneliness of the queer experience
Anything marked by the interface of dating apps turns people into caricatures of themselves. Swiping through the profiles, you can not distinguish one person from the other. Then, you will get subscription options to boost your profile to make it visible to more folks or buy plans to get infinite matches in a day. This consumerist culture of dating creates (and then exploits) your desire to be out there constantly on the lookout for the commodity i.e. love.
Some people I met or talked to this year felt a certain emptiness and thought that life would be better if they only had a romantic partner. I also fell into the trap for a while when I grew despondent that I won’t find anyone and thought I should spend more time and energy on it.
I realised that being queer is already a lonely experience for many of us. Many have to stay with queerphobic families in unsafe environments and deal with forms of violence daily, which further fuels that loneliness. To those who have the privacy accorded to them by their cell phones and mobile data, these dating apps provide a way out. With the constant messaging that love and sex are antidotes to all your problems, you will get caught up in it. It also reinforces and boosts your ego to have all these matches and people wanting you or showing interest in you. A date recently told me with some pride how easy it was for them to get people to sleep with them, followed by the proclamation that they were looking for more.
Queer dating is not very queer
I often see a quote from bell hooks floating around on social media:
“…queer as not about who you’re having sex with, that can be a dimension of it, but queer as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live.”
This beautiful phrasing views queerness as a way of life that frees you from the bounds of the restraining social systems governing love and relationships. So, I was disappointed to witness the persisting obsession with typical sexual roles defining your dating experience, even among queer folks.
I was also confused by the cis-heteronormative ideal based on stereotypical gender roles and attitudes towards your partners. A queer friend recently told me that it became more difficult to date when they enforced their non-binary identity and their disinterest in monogamous relationships.
Queer dating is not very queer or expansive that way. It creates similar structures of power and violence, quite prominently seen in the casual transphobia, casteism, and narrow beauty standards both on the apps and queer social circles.
So, my takeaway from 2022, is to continue exploring and being open to experiences while considering all these facets and safeguarding my own expression. Going into 2023, I seek belongingness and affirming spaces despite the limiting ideals and expectations of what queerness is and what it brings to the table.
Anmol is an independent journalist and writer. They report and write on gender and sexuality, health and wellness, and food and culture, among other things