Swiping Rights: How Tinder is Failing Queer Femmes

From relentless fetishisation to unsolicited threesome requests, queer femmes have a tough time of it when it comes to using Tinder. Here's how things need to change...

Feature by Megan Wallace | 03 May 2017

T-I-N-D-E-R. Those six letters are sure to conjure up mixed feelings for many – as well as memories of a whole barrage of unwanted dick pics – but we have a lot to thank dating apps for. Certainly, it’s never been easier to experiment sexually or expand your dating roster.

However, while apps are increasingly integral to our romantic lives they’ve only been A Thing for a few years, meaning they’ve still got a few glitches needing straightened out. Beyond poorly worded one-liners and the subsequent awkward bar dates, there’s an ongoing problem with how queer women experience these digital spaces, and it’s something which we need to address.

Queer dating is tricky, particularly for femmes (i.e. someone who identifies with femininity or presents in a feminine way) as they don’t necessarily have the same dating culture as male-identifying members of the community. While apps like Grindr have in excess of five million active users, the leading female equivalents (Her, anyone?) have only a fifth of that… not to mention the fact that Tinder, in contrast, has fifty million users.

To add insult to injury, femmes don’t have as strong a presence in alternative LGBTQI+ spaces, leaving them stranded to face the crashing waves of queer-erasure and heteronormativity. Due to the scarcity of spaces which are both LGBTQI+ and femme-friendly, we don’t really have much choice but to integrate into spaces which aren’t designed to cater for us.

And this is precisely the reason why Tinder can be a bit problematic – it functions on a heterosexual bias, with all the gay stuff tagged on at the end. And while it might help us connect with other queer femmes, it doesn’t necessarily constitute a safe space.

When an essentially heterosexual space tries to stretch to be more LGBTQI+ inclusive, without undergoing some radical changes, it’s always going to fall short. Admittedly, Tinder made a massive step forward by introducing more representative gender options last November. However, this doesn’t rewrite its pretty rocky history – namely, trans users having their accounts reported and deleted for being ‘fake’. And besides, the very fact that Tinder had to add more than two gender options just reinforces the fact that it was conceived with cis individuals in mind.

Furthermore, the absence of instantaneous feedback and the emotional distance present in phone-to-phone dating can create an aggressively sexual atmosphere, leading to uncomfortable or inappropriate situations. While sex is a lot more available, it doesn’t yet come without judgement or – as is definitely the case with many queer femmes – fetishisation.

When femmes try to use apps like Tinder to date more than one gender, they form the intersection between the heterosexual and queer virtual communities and, because there isn’t exactly a ‘not a homophobic asshole’ filter, they have to put up with a lot of inappropriate behaviour from the people who don’t necessarily ‘get’ their sexuality.

However, contrary to what you might be expecting, it isn’t really straight guys who are the problem. Rather, it’s the couples – namely, the relentless unsolicited invitations to participate in threesomes. Most individuals who present in a feminine way will experience various forms of sexual harassment in every walk of life, but it’s only on Tinder that they will encounter a specific category of male and female duo with their wink-face messages and pursuit of ‘fun with an adventurous lady’. This sort of request tends to end up objectifying queer women (yep, treating someone as an accessory to your sex life, to pick up and put down when it’s convenient for you, is objectification).

Now, this is not to say that sexual experimentation with your partner is a bad thing – on the contrary; it’s healthy and it’s great. I’m not about to go on some kind of poly-bashing rant. Furthermore, some queer women are genuinely interested in these propositions and that’s good for everyone involved. However, so many people fail to recognise that being into more than one gender does not automatically make you any more down for threesomes than straight people.

So where does this perplexing misconception comes from? Most probably the hyper-sexualisation and fetishisation of bisexual women. Due to the way that bisexual women are represented in the media and in porn, queer femmes are associated with heightened sexuality created and performed for the male gaze. Also, just by differing from the hetero norm, femmes attracted to more than one gender are bracketed with the taboo, the forbidden, the provocative and accordingly looked down upon.

And it doesn’t stop there. Even from within the queer community, polysexuality (i.e. being attracted to more than one gender) is associated with promiscuity, duplicity and an inability to commit. However, polysexuals don’t necessarily have more sex than anyone else and it’s pretty nonsensical that the idea of a healthy, non-monogamous sex life is met with hatred and disgust.

Couples on Tinder will often say that they’re looking for a ‘fun, open-minded girl’ which is shudder-worthy for a couple of different reasons. Firstly, why the focus on ‘girls’? This actively excludes the many non-binary individuals who make up the queer community online and IRL and betrays a pretty selective understanding of what it is to be LGBTQI+. It really isn’t all cisgender, sex-positive, bisexual women – despite what porn makes you want to believe. Furthermore, the way that these propositions are made implicitly suggests that if you don’t want to have a threesome, you’re automatically prudish, obstinate, backwards.

Herein lies a big problem. You shouldn’t be made to feel bad or lesser for rejecting sexual advances, no matter who they come from. But sadly, a large proportion of society has been brainwashed to view queer and bisexual femmes not as real people with their own feelings and sexual needs, but as sexual deviants there to satisfy the emotional and sexual needs of others.

It’s worth pointing out that if you want someone to have sex with you and your partner and don’t want to employ a professional, there’s a lot to bear in mind. Similarly to sleeping with a person one-on-one, you need to make sure that they have a good time, you need to respect their boundaries and, above all, you need to remember that you are in no way entitled to their body. It’s also a good idea to be using the right apps – you wouldn’t go on Grindr if you were a hetero woman looking for a hook-up, would you? Check out Feeld (formerly 3nder), an increasingly popular dating app specifically aimed at enabling threesomes – that way you can find people who won’t instantly unmatch.

Everyone is comfortable with different things. Each case is different; one day someone might want to join you in the bedroom, and another day they might not. However, no matter what their sexual orientation, or their sexual interests, they deserve your respect.