Image from New York Times.

Case Study

Dating Apps

Problem

Dating apps are behind the curve in the inclusion of transgender and gender nonconforming (GNC) users. Apps are often set up in a binary context, which prevents the inclusion of nonbinary folks both at a user level and a developer level. If there is an effort to be inclusive, many dating apps do not research the needs of users and overcomplicate design in an effort to be politically correct. Even if companies consulted with experts at one time, the fluidity of language in the LGBTQ+ community necessitates terminology updates as users socially evolve.


This case study aims to analyze multiple popular dating apps, find common problems, and create an inclusive dating app template for future designers to reference.

Users and Audience

According to Pew Research Center, 30% of Americans have used a dating site or app, with 12% finding long-time partners through online dating. This number only increases when filtering for LGB identifying users, 55% of which have used dating apps. Although there is no direct data on how many transgender people use dating apps, the Williams Institute estimates that 1.4 million adults identify as transgender or approximately 0.6% of the total population. Out of adults aged 18-24, 0.7% identified as transgender.

Process

This research used participant observation, observational analysis of current dating apps, and previously published work on surveys inclusive of transgender and GNC individuals. A full appendix of each dating app with its analysis can be seen at the end of this case study.

Common Problems

  1. Mixing of sex/gender terminology

  2. Nonbinary users forced to identify as woman or man for algorithm

  3. Limiting selection options for users

  4. Overcomplicating terminology

    • Differentiation between transmen and men

    • Obscure or offensive terminology (ex: allosexual, F2M)

I worked to rewrite the survey using updated definitions consistent within the queer community and major advocacy organization terminology (as seen in GLADD Media Reference Guide).

Recommended Self Identification Notation

The recommended options for gender are woman, man, nonbinary/genderqueer, different identity, and decline to state. Different identity should have the option to write in an identity if needed. It is also important that a user can choose multiple options for gender if they desire to do so. The answers to this question would be displayed on a user’s profile if they chose to do so. If a user has questions about gender, they can view the optional pop-up or be directed to more resources.

The terms nonbinary and genderqueer are put in the same category as they are often used interchangeably within the community. Data shows that “nonbinary” tends to be used more often by younger individuals, and “genderqueer” tends to be used by older members of the community.

Transgender identification should be optional to answer as well as publish on a profile. Some users on dating apps see publicly identifying as transgender as a precautionary measure to weed out bad matches, but others prefer to go “stealth” and not bring up their identity. In addition, self-identification as a transgender person is debated in the transgender community, as some believe that nonbinary individuals do not qualify under that label. In order to provide a safe and secure environment, allow transgender people the ability to self-identify to their own preference. It is also important that all users are asked this question, as that raises awareness of transgender users they may encounter. It is recommended to have additional resources, as well as the provided pop-up, for users to interact with if they have questions.

If a person marks “yes” to transgender, a popup should appear asking if they wish to provide more details about their sex and transition. The popup should note that all questions are optional and do not need to be displayed to other users. The following are examples of those questions.

Questions about sex and transition for transgender people are complicated. Although they are important for dating, they can invite transphobia and harassment if not handled properly. The best approach is to put the choice in the user’s hands. It should be up to the user whether or not they want to provide more details on their medical status, and whether or not they want to display that information publicly. This creates space for users who want to publicly talk about their transition to do so, while also protecting transgender users who do not want to talk about the details of their transition. Ensure this question is clearly marked as optional.

Medical transition can be important when discussing transition for transgender people. Although all transgender people are valid whether or not they choose to transition, some transgender people want to be upfront about what matches should expect when they meet up. Each person’s transition is different, but the above terms are the most often used when referring to medical transition. Ensure this question is clearly marked as optional.

Instead of marking specific sexual orientations, it is more inclusive (and efficient) for users to choose who they are attracted to. That way there is no bias in defining identity labels, and users are able to be specific on their preferences.

App Analysis Index

Grindr

Grindr has a bad reputation for being exclusionary, racist, and exclusively for gay men. However, the site is known for the moniker “no fats, no femmes, no Asians” has come a long way. Grindr has been developing their Kindr and Grindr for Equality (G4E) campaigns in order to create a more inclusive space for all their users. Overall, Grindr was more inclusive and thoughtful of the transgender and GNC community than many other apps. There is a clear effort to be inclusive of nonbinary identities, and the informational links and popups were well researched and educational. Although there were some areas that could be improved, overall Grinder received a higher score than anticipated.

Gender


Although there are many different options for gender on Grindr, there are some inconsistencies with how gender is presented. This can lead to confusion on the part of the user, as well as transphobia on the part of match selection. There is no clarification why there are three types of “man” or “woman,” or the differences between each label. This also creates an environment where trans men/women are seen as less than or not fully the gender they are. It is best to have the labels “man” and “woman” and have a trans label seperately.


Nonbinary is typically spelled without the hyphen in the community. Gender Non-Conforming is a better label than Non-Conforming. Similarly, Genderqueer is a full term, and should not be separated. Crossdresser is a gender expression, not a gender.

Pronouns


Grindr does a great job with pronouns. Their options are appropriate and they leave room for write in options. In addition, they have information about pronouns and their importance to transgender and gender non-conforming users.

“Tribes”


The terminology of tribes aside, it is inappropriate to put “Trans” in the same category as “Clean-Cut” or “Twink.” Although all of these words are descriptors, transgender is also an identity that involves more than self-expression. If the terminology was changed to “communities” or something similar, this may be more appropriate.