What’s the best queer dating app today? Many people, tired of swiping through profiles with discriminatory language and frustrated with safety and privacy concerns, say it isn’t a dating app at all. It’s Instagram.
This is hardly a queer seal of approval for the social media platform. Instead, it’s a sign that, in the eyes of many LGBTQ people, big dating apps are failing us. I know that sentiment well, from both reporting on dating technology and my experience as a gender non-binary single swiping through app after app. In true early-21st-century style, I met my current partner after we matched on multiple apps before agreeing to a first date.
Sure, the present state of dating looks fine if you’re a white, young, cisgender gay man searching for an easy hookup. Even if Grindr’s many troubles have turned you off, there are several competing options, including, Scruff, Jack’d and Hornet and relative newcomers such as Chappy, Bumble’s gay sibling.
But if you’re not a white, young, cisgender man on a male-centric app, you may get a nagging sense that the queer dating platforms simply were not designed for you.
Mainstream dating apps “aren’t built to meet queer needs,” journalist Mary Emily O’Hara tells me. O’Hara returned to Tinder in February when her last relationship ended. In an experience other lesbians have noted, she encountered a lot of straight men and couples slipping into her results, so she investigated what many queer women say is an issue that’s pushing them away from the most widely used dating app in America. It’s one of many reasons keeping O’Hara from logging on, too.
“I’m basically not using mobile dating apps anymore,” she says, preferring instead to meet potential matches on Instagram, where a growing number of people, regardless of gender identity or sexuality, turn to find and interact with potential partners.
An Instagram account can serve as a photo gallery for admirers, a way to appeal to romantic interests with “thirst pics” and a low-stakes venue to interact with crushes by repeatedly responding to their “story” posts with heart-eye emoji. Some see it as a tool to supplement dating apps, many of which enable users to connect their social media accounts to their profiles. Others keenly search accounts such as @_personals_, which have turned a corner of Instagram into a matchmaking service centring on queer women and transgender and non-binary people.
“Everyone I know obsessively reads Personals on Instagram,” O’Hara says. “I’ve dated a couple of people that I met after they posted ads there, and the experience has felt more intimate.”
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This trend is partially prompted by a widespread sense of dating app fatigue, something Instagram’s parent company has sought to capitalize on by rolling out a new service called Facebook Dating, which — surprise, surprise — integrates with Instagram. But for many queer people, Instagram merely seems like the least terrible option when compared with dating apps where they report experiencing harassment, racism and, for trans users, the possibility of getting automatically banned for no reason other than who they are. Even with the small steps Tinder has taken to make its app more gender-inclusive, trans users still report getting banned arbitrarily.
“Dating apps aren’t even capable of properly accommodating non-binary genders, let alone capturing all the nuance and negotiation that goes into trans attraction/sex/relationships,” says “Gender Reveal” podcast host Molly Woodstock, who uses singular “they” pronouns.
It’s unfortunate given that the queer community helped pioneer online dating out of necessity, from the analog days of personal ads to the first geosocial chat apps that enabled easy hookups. Only in the past few years has online dating emerged as the No. 1 way heterosexual couples meet. Since the advent of dating apps, same-sex couples have overwhelmingly met in the virtual world.
“That’s why we tend to migrate to personal ads or social media apps like Instagram,” Woodstock says. “There are no filters by gender or orientation or literally any filters at all, so there’s no chance that said filters will misgender us or limit our ability to see people we might be attracted to.”
The future of queer dating may look something like Personals, which raised nearly $50,000 in a crowdfunding campaign last summer and plans to launch a “lo-fi, text-based” app of its own this fall. Founder Kelly Rakowski drew inspiration for the throwback approach to dating from personal ads in On Our Backs, a lesbian erotica magazine that printed from the 1980s to the early 2000s.
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That doesn’t mean all the existing matchmaking services are worthless, though; some cater to LGBTQ needs more than others. Here are the better queer dating apps, depending on what you’re looking for.
- For a (slightly) more trans-inclusive space, try OkCupid.
Far from a glowing endorsement, OkCupid sometimes seems like the only palatable option.The few trans-centric apps that have launched in recent years have either failed to earn the community’s trust or been described as a “hot mess.” Of mainstream platforms, OkCupid has gone further than many of its competitors in giving users options for gender identities and sexualities as well as creating a designated profile area for defining pronouns, the first app of its calibre to do so. “The worlds of trans (and queer) dating and sex are more complicated than their straight, cisgender counterparts,” Woodstock says. “We don’t sort our partners into one or two easy categories (man or woman), but describe them in a variety of terms that touch on gender (non-binary), presentation (femme) and sexual preferences.” Clearly, a void still exists in this category.
- For the largest LGBTQ women-centric app, try Her.
Until Personals launches its own app, queer women have few options other than Her, what one reviewer on the iOS App Store describes as “the only decent dating app.” Launched in 2013 as Dattch, the app was renamed Her in 2015 and rebranded in 2018 to appear more welcoming to trans and non-binary people. It now claims more than 4 million users. Its core functionality resembles Tinder’s, with a “stack” of potential matches you can swipe through. But Her also aims to create a sense of community, with a range of niche message boards — a new feature added last year — as well as branded events in a few major cities. One drawback: Reviewers on the Apple App and Google Play stores repeatedly complain that Her’s functionality is limited … unless you hand over around $15 a month for a premium subscription.
- For casual chats with queer men, try Scruff.
An early pioneer of geosocial dating, Grindr is well known as a facilitator of hookups, but a string of recent controversies has soured its reputation. Grindr “has taken a cavalier approach to our privacy,” says Ari Ezra Waldman, director of the Innovation Center for Law and Technology at New York Law School. Waldman, who has studied the design of queer-centric dating apps, suggests alternatives such as Scruff or Hinge, which do not have histories of sharing user information with third parties. Recently, Scruff has taken a clearer stance against racism by making its “ethnicity” field optional, a move that follows eight years of defending its filters or declining to comment on the issue. It’s a commendable, if largely symbolic, acknowledgment of what trans and queer people of colour continue to endure on dating apps.
- For queer men and zero unsolicited nudes, try Chappy.
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Receiving unsolicited nudes is so widespread on gay male-focused dating apps that Grindr even has a profile field to let users indicate if they wish to receive NSFW pics. Chappy, on the other hand, restricts messaging to matches only, so it’s a good bet if you want to avoid unwanted intimate photos. Chappy was launched in 2017 and became one of the fastest-growing apps in its native Britain before its acquisition by Bumble. Chappy offers a few refreshing features, including a user code of conduct everyone must agree to and the ability to easily toggle between guys looking for “casual,” “commitment” and “friends.” Earlier this year, the app moved its headquarters to join Bumble in Austin, with its eyes set on growth in the United States. Current user reviews suggest it works best in the nation’s largest metro areas.
- For friends without benefits, try Bumble or Chappy.
Need a break on your search for Ms., Mx. or Mr. Right? In hopes of keeping you swiping forever, some apps have created designated friend modes, notably Bumble and Chappy. But maybe try skipping the apps first — join an LGBTQ book club or a hiking Meetup group, or grab a drink at your local queer bar (if you have one left). Or, if you’re in Los Angeles, hang out at Cuties, the city’s only queer coffee shop. This reporter has done all these things and enjoyed all of them — except the hiking.