In late 1999, I signed myself up for my first dating site, the now long defunct PlanetOut. I landed in New York City thinking I’d never meet anyone that I wanted to talk to at a bar or a club—primarily because I’d spent the last four years in a women’s college where I conveniently met all of my dates and girlfriends in our dorms. Within a few weeks on the site, I made a date with a queer femme who told me she was taken by my description of myself as a tall butch deeply obsessed with the poetry of Frank O’Hara. But the woman who met me out front of the Strand Book Store was not a match for me. Our politics worked; our cultural aesthetics were a fail. I was in management consultant-style non-iron Brooks Brothers (sigh, oh baby Jack); she wore mixed faux tiger-zebra-cheetah prints and had a mohawk-like ‘do to match her Williamsburg loft squat. After a first date to and from the New Jersey Ikea (no, really, I had no idea what I was doing), and a solid but not-spark-inducing make out session, I dropped her off with the idea that I would never do online dating again.
It’s 2023 and I’ve been sometimes off and mostly on dating apps for 24 years. Oof. And also huzzah because I am finally launching a large-scale LBQTS dating/hookup app and site study. I want to help better understand how these apps do or don’t work for us, and how we imagine they could work to better support our needs and desires.
This research is important and needed if we are to understand how LBQTS people find and sustain themselves and their communities. A 2022 article searched for online dating and dating app academic papers for qualitative interview studies that mentioned lesbian, bisexual, or sexual minority women and found 500 articles, of the thousands of dating app studies conducted overall. Even more shocking / not shocking, only 21 studies were focused specifically on queer women’s online dating experience! Purely not shocking: there is even less work on trans people’s experiences of dating/hookup apps and sites.
Who am I to do this study, besides someone who has dated a lot? I am an environmental psychologist and geographer interested in how lesbian, bi, queer, trans*, and sapphic (LBQTS) people find one another, create and share space, and come to understand themselves and one another. I wrote a book on the lesbian-queer role in the gentrification of New York City, how we gentrified and were gentrified out of the city and why. I’ve also spent these last two decades talking to thousands of LBQTS people about how dating and hookup apps and sites do or don’t work for them. Out of curiosity and self preservation, I’ve talked for accumulated weeks if not months of my life with random strangers, people next to me at Dyke March or Pride, gay bargoers, people I protested with, friends, acquaintances, and even dates (goddess bless you all) alike. I’ve listened to how they think and feel about those apps coded explicitly for certain parts of our population like HER or Lex. I’ve heard, used, and watched the apps some trans folx among us have adopted and adapted to work for them like Grindr or Scruff. And I’ve discussed for eons the primarily cis-straight apps that aim to include LGBTQIA2+ people in their design like Bumble, Hinge, and Tinder, and which LBQTS people often say they return to again and again because that’s where “everyone” can be found.
I’ll launch my LBQTS dating app survey within a week or two — so keep an eye on the menu above to learn more or head to @LBQTSDating on Instagram for updates. If you take the survey and care to share more, there is an option to share your contact info for interviews, group interviews, or further surveys. Please share this post with your friends, kin, sites, and networks to get the word out when the survey launches—and soon take the survey if you are or have used dating apps as a LBQTS-identified person.
And if anyone knows Devon, my hallos and thanks for the kisses under the Williamsburg Bridge. I didn’t get how cool you or your fashion was–or who I was!–yet. Here’s some Frank O’Hara for all the moments of queer-trans life that give us meaning, for which we don’t yet have words (or data):
Oh! kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas! You really are beautiful! Pearls, harmonicas, jujubes, aspirins! all the stuff they’ve always talked about still makes a poem a surprise! These things are with us every day even on beachheads and biers. They do have meaning. They’re strong as rocks. —Frank O’Hara