Dating is hard for everyone, but it’s been made easier with online dating. Websites like OKCupid, Tinder and Bumble are all great, free apps that allow singles to connect locally, and even internationally with each other. With technology, we’re no longer limited to the people in our communities, and for better or worse, online dating has changed romance forever. However, for transgender people, dating on or offline can still be quite complex. While there are several websites dedicated to transgender dating, these websites are not without their issues. These issues lead many transgender people to use dating apps that aren’t explicitly geared towards trans folks and those who date them.
In recent years, websites like OKCupid and Tinder have become more inclusive of transgender people by allowing users to self-identify and determine how they’re listed on dating apps. On OKCupid, you can list yourself as transgender and other members can select if they’d like to see transgender folks in their suggested matches. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s further along than other free websites like Plenty of Fish, which regularly bans its transgender users. Tinder allows for you to list your gender, but it’s more of a badge on your profile than a way of filtering matches. The website has a questionable history when it comes to removing the profiles of transgender women. I myself am currently banned on Tinder after having several of my profiles reported by men who matched with me, and were upset that they matched with a transgender woman. People who do not want to see transgender people in their suggested matches may ask themselves why transgender users aren’t using websites dedicated to them. Wouldn’t that be more productive? It may surprise you to hear that, at least for me, I’ve had more success with online dating on websites like Okcupid and Tinder than with sites dedicated to transgender dating, like TSDating. I figured that I would write about why that is; and why you’re probably seeing more transgender folks in your suggested matches.
I feel like it would be inappropriate for me not to acknowledge that I am a transgender woman who exclusively dates men and this very much informs my general perspective with dating. Dating predominately cis men means that there are certain dynamics at play that make dating complex. Dating in a culture that is actively antagonistic towards you can be quite daunting. I have defaulted to online dating through most of my romantic life because it’s usually safer for me and it allows me to explain everything about myself before getting too involved. As a trans woman who is often read as cis, I’m frequently in uncomfortable situations where men express attraction to me without knowing that I’m transgender. Those situations can be dangerous so most of the men I’ve dating in my life were men I met online. It’s worth noting that transgender dating apps almost exclusively cater to cis men and transgender women and not transgender men or non binary individuals.
While I’m experienced with using dating apps, it took me a while to understand the economics of them. Most of the users on dating apps are men who want to find women for romance or, more commonly, a casual sexual connection. While these apps are free, they all have membership options that allow you to see who’s liked you so that you can connect with them faster. This is particularly appealing to people who get very few matches and would like to see exactly who first expressed interest in them by swiping right on their profile. I didn’t understand for quite some time that men tend not to get very many matches on these websites. Most men I’ve spoken to get no more than 10 matches a week on apps like Tinder; and that’s a good week. In contrast, even as a transgender woman, I get hundreds of matches on these websites every few days. This disparity frustrates men to the point where many of them start mindlessly swiping right on every profile just hoping that they’d get a match. Even more frustrating is that many of the “women” on these dating apps are scammers using stolen photos. While everyone can buy an “A-list” or “Gold” membership, the primary consumers of these subscriptions will be frustrated men who just want the app to work as its intended, but these apps are often constructed to be just frustrating enough to purchase a subscription. That’s how these “free” dating apps make their money. Most online dating apps are geared towards satisfying the needs and desires of men and that takes on a very particular nuance when it comes to transgender dating apps.
When you start a new Tinder account, you’re greeted with a collage of people of various different genders and racial backgrounds smiling on their profiles. Nothing is overtly sexual and if you’ve ever tried to upload a bikini picture to Tinder, you know that even when you try to be a little cheeky, they tend to promptly shut that down. On the flipside, for years when you visited TSDating.com, you were greeted with a photo of a blonde trans woman, kneeling down, holding a rope with her legs spread revealing her erect penis. In recent years, they’ve cropped that image, but you still see the nature of the website from the newly created profiles that populate their front page. One headline reads “Submissive Bimbo Girly Girl”; another very humorously says “make me your toy…I like that”. As I write this post, the only men’s profile I see on the top of the page has the headline “I’m looking for fun…not love”. If you were a single transgender woman looking for romance, this certainly wasn’t the website for that, and you can probably make the same argument for Tinder. However, the stark difference in these websites shows the main problem I, and many transgender folks have had with transgender dating websites. By in large, they exist to cater to men who fetishize transgender women and are only seeking a sexual connection with them. These are men we commonly refer to as “chasers”.
Chasers come hand in hand with transgender specific dating apps because that’s usually the only kind of person who wants to be on a transgender specific dating app. I have a particular definition of “chaser”, but generally, chasers are people who fetishize transgender women and struggle to see them beyond that fetish. These men get off on the taboo nature of the relationship; and it’s society’s discomfort with transgender women that excites them. It’s positioned in the mind the way other taboos often are. It’s something they secretly desire and part of what excites them about it is that no one knows, and can ever find out. Most of these men are already in relationships and they enjoy sneaking around behind their partner’s back and sleeping with someone so taboo. These men usually never want to be seen with you, and they don’t want anyone to ever know that they have a history with you. I wouldn’t describe every man who’s curious about transgender women as a “chaser”, but generally when men are “curious” about transgender women, they are seeking a very specific experience with a very particular kind of transgender woman. They’re trying to use your body to discover something about themselves. The vast majority of these men are only looking for transgender women with functional penises that they eagerly use. Transgender woman using these websites, can expect most of the messages they receive to be from men trying to figure out if they’re that girl who can give them that experience. Most of these men only care about having that experience and couldn’t care who you are beyond what they want you to do for them sexually. They’re too busy holding their dicks in their other hand to even ask your name.
Transgender women are heavily fetishized, and fetishism has a way of stripping you entirely of your personhood and projecting a narrative onto you that is purely for the satisfaction of the person fetishizing you. It can be an incredibly alienating thing to experience and it is overwhelmingly present in online spaces that cater to men who fantasize about having sex with trans women. As a black transgender woman, I have all sorts of alienating narratives projected onto me on these websites. I joined a transgender dating app as I was writing this story and described myself as I do on every dating app I join. Most of the men on transgender dating apps are seeking a “top”, meaning they are looking for a transgender woman who would like to penetrate them. Like most transgender women, I have fairly severe bottom dysphoria so I feel the need to make that clear in my profile on transgender dating sites. And yet, this never seems to stop these men. One of the first messages, I got on this new profile was a from a man said that he’d love to “suck my BBC”. Not to overshare, but no such “BBC” exists on me, but these men can usually only comprehend transgender women as porn stereotypes and black transgender women are rarely presented as feminine, submissive and as bottoms. When these men see me, they see a dominant, domineering black shemale who wants to ruin their (usually white) asshole. It doesn’t matter that I couldn’t and wouldn’t be able to perform that role for them, it’s what they want and that’s what excites them. The fantasy of who I am. The reality of who I am turns them off. Taking me on a date would be too much trouble for what they’re really looking for. They don’t want to speak to me or understand me as a person, they want to fulfill their fantasy. When I felt limited to these websites, it gave me the impression that these men were the only men who would ever be interested in me. It made me feel bitter and disillusioned to feel like the only thing men ever wanted from me was the exact definition of what made me feel disconnected from my body.
For most men, their attraction to trans women is an offshoot of their attraction to cis women. Society has more than enough examples of cis men dating cis women, but there are very few examples of them dating trans women. This makes it so that men often struggle to understand themselves and their interest in transgender women. Most of these men identify as heterosexual, and for that reason they don’t want to carry the burden of possibly being seen as queer. This is the driving force behind why many of these men want to hide their relationships with transgender women and it takes a very long time for these men to unpack these anxieties. Unfortunately, because of where we are in society, some men have to hurt a few trans women before they realize they exist beyond their private sexual curiosities. My observation is that many of these men truly struggle to even imagine that transgender women do more than just be transgender and seek male validation from private sexual encounters. At least that’s the impression I get from most of these men on transgender dating apps.
Part of what inspired this post was a man asking me “which website has the best transgenders”. I told him that by the nature of it being a transgender specific dating app, most of the trans women he meets are going to be escorts attempting to capitalize on his fetish and most of the men are probably going to be men I’d describe as “chasers”. That will always be the case when the only reason a website exists is to sell transgender women to men because they are transgender. It frustrates me that many cis people assume that everything a transgender person does somehow relates to their transness. We go to transgender stores, drink transgender coffee, work on our transgender work and live in our transgender homes. For many of these men, they have a hard time believing that we go to the places they go or do some of the things they do. I’ve never been a person who felt the need to isolate myself from the rest of society because of who I am. If someone asked me where they could find me, the individual, I’d say a goth club or maybe a place with live jazz during a weekday. Maybe a karaoke bar or thumbing through vinyl at Amoeba. Maybe a comedy club or an open mic. Those are places that I regularly exist in because I am a person with interests who socializes around those interests like most people do. While I’ve done a lot of online dating, most of my current partners are men I’ve met out and about. I’m a bit of a socialite and there are men in the various communities I’m part of who pursue me loudly, openly and without shame. In all reality, those men are far preferable to the men who troll transgender dating apps trying to find someone to fulfill their fetish. The ultimate disconnect with transgender dating apps is that most transgender women do not want for someone to pursue them because they are transgender. They simply want to date people who are open to them.
While Tinder and OKcupid aren’t perfect, I have more success on those websites than I do websites like TSDating. I’ve found that if I’m looking for a man who wants to take me out, show me a good time and connect with me in a more than just sexual way, OKCupid is probably where I’d go over TSDating. When I first moved to LA, I went on a ton of dates and each of these men knew I was transgender and were more than comfortable taking me on a date. It would be unreasonable for me to expect to find those men on TSDating. Frankly, men who aren’t interested in fetishizing transgender women tend to feel uncomfortable on those websites. However, because those men are generally also attracted to cis women, they likely already use “normal” dating apps like OKCupid. So if they see a transgender woman in their feed, they’re usually open to connecting with them. Appearing next to cis women helps men understand that trans women are not a specialized fetish, existing on a far corner of the internet. We are individuals, not a fantastic, hyper fetishized ideal. I respect that some people dislike seeing people outside of their preferences in their suggested matches, but the great thing about most of these apps is you can swipe left on people you don’t want to connect with and on most apps, this will prevent them from contacting you. I’d be dishonest if I said the occasional chaser still didn’t appear in my OKCupid DMs, but it’s incredibly uncommon. I cannot say the same for transgender dating apps where those messages clog my inbox.