In a world where the heterosexual matrix invisibilises the multiplicity of bodies, forces the alignment of gender expression, gender identity, and creates a gender binary, the erasure and invibilisation of queer people has been profound. Institutions are set up to uphold heteronormativity. The content we consume, advertisements we watch, books we read, movies we watch, churches we go to, families we have, and the dating apps we use are all founded on the norm that ideal relationships are between men and women. Heterosexual women and men can meet up in a bookstore for example, hit it off and begin a romantic relationship. It is as easy as walking up to someone, using one of those corny pick-up lines and getting a number. Queer people have never been accorded that same grace by the heteropatriarchy. Queer people instead, constantly have to wonder if the person they like is homophobic, is even gay too, will out them maliciously or otherwise. Queer people sometimes have difficulty with accepting their sexual orientation, coping with other people’s reactions to their sexual orientation, fear of experiencing violence in public spaces for simply holding hands with someone you like, and rejection by family members and friends for being queer. Whew! Dating for queer people has therefore been difficult…dangerous, even
Digital platforms have however revolutionized this in many ways. Online dating has become the most popular way for homosexual couples to meet. Queer relationships currently thrive and are visible because of digital platforms. The Initiative for Equality and Non-Discrimination (INEND) convened this tweet chat about dating in the digital age to provide a platform for queer people to speak about their experience(s) with online dating. The conversation was incredibly necessary, helpful and affirming. This blog post will talk about the insights that came up in the tweet chat.
The first question from the moderator, Afrika, was to have conversation around what it has been like for queer people to find or try to find love in digital spaces. The response to this was first, a general recognition that the internet has been a massive enabler of queer relationships and friendships and has offered alternative sites of community. One of the panelists further tweeted that it was in fact, a privilege to have access to these sites and the technologies that facilitate them. This speaks to the challenge of lack of accessibility to the internet. How then can we ensure that the internet is accessible to all queer people as an alternative site of community? There was also the recognition that online dating had worked out for some people because of dating sites’ tendency to centre certain physical features, for example light skin and certain hair textures. This speaks a lot to the erasure and invisibilisation of dark-skinned queer women on digital platforms, the hypersexualization of dark-skinned women and the perception that dark girls are unattractive.
The following valid concerns were raised regarding dating in the digital age; What does it mean to “know” someone in the online space? Can you ever truly know someone without meeting them in person?
Catfishing. People can perform for you or reinvent themselves around you because there is no one familiar to hold them accountable or provide helpful contexts. Online spaces have no real accountability frameworks. The fear of being ghosted particularly on Tinder has resulted in some queer people over performing versions of themselves to keep the conversation going. Intentional or unintentional outing, which can result in queer people losing family friends and jobs. People can unintentionally out you by saying in public spaces that they saw your profile on a dating app. Being out online does not mean you’re out everywhere, as Miss. Mumbz precisely tweeted. Many feminine presenting queer women find themselves gravitating towards masculine/androgynous people because then, they are ‘sure’ they are queer and not straight people queer baiting. This tweet explained much more about how conventional beauty norms play out in the LBQ Community! There is a need to stop typecasting people into narrow categories that reflect your own desires and not the individual’s actual reality.
When asked what their practise for digital safety was while manoeuvring dating apps and other digital platforms, the panelists recommended the following- Interact with your interest on the timeline first, particularly when you are too shy to reach out to them directly via inbox. This will help you gauge their interest in you so that when you do decide to reach out privately to them, it is founded on mutual flirting or interest. Vet the person for a while. Speak to them for a long time while withholding certain details about yourself until you feel safe around them. Be cautious about moving the conversation from the dating site to WhatsApp, for example. Try to do some due diligence before meeting up with someone; you can, look them up on social media, ask around about them, and arrange for the first meeting to be in public or in spaces where you are sure other queer people are, for example, Strictly Silk, or a Queer event at the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) Inform your friends who you are going to be with, where you are going to be, how long you are going to be away for and provide updates as the date proceeds.
Miss Mumbz then shared this link to an episode by Afro Queer Podcast on the difficulties of GBQ people dating online.
These are examples of dating apps that work in Kenya- Grindr, Tinder and Bumble. Good luck as you sign up, invoke one, two, or ALL of the tips on this blog post and be on your merry way to meet someone. As usual, here at INEND we loved convening this conversation and we look forward to so many more. Happy dating!
Initiative for Equality and Non Discrimination (INEND) is a local nonprofit organization that researches strategies for equality and acceptance in the coast region of Kenya and shares experiences with other stakeholders in an effort to contribute towards tolerance, non-discrimination and acceptance of gender and sexual minorities.