"I've been on Tinder for over a year and I've only ever gotten four matches," I once proclaimed to a table full of people. "And only one of those has ever responded to a message." Upon hearing this information, a gay male friend cheerfully snatched my phone out of my hands and opened the app.
"What? That can't be right. Your settings must be wrong." And then he actually proceeded to double check whether or not I had been doing Tinder correctly. I don't know if you've ever had a dating app with the difficulty of Candyland mansplained to you at a bar, but I can assure you, it's not cute. Of course, I hadn't been doing anything wrong; Tinder is just an atrocious app for queer women.
It occurred to me that most people don't take the numbers game into account when it comes to dating queerly. The CDC estimates that around 4 percent of the population is LGB- or "something else"-identified. Of course, the estimate depends on self-reporting, and queer folks are not always great at coming forward, for reasons we can't possibly imagine. But even so, the non-hetero dating pool is significantly smaller, and many so-called "LGBT" spaces only cater to gay men.
Because of that, LGBTQIA folks have known for approximately two decades what Tinder is just beginning to monetize: the Internet is a spectacular tool for meeting people with whom you'd otherwise never cross paths. But for dating apps to be fun to use, they need a wide userbase. And to have a wide userbase, they need straight people. And once straight people become their majority market, the app becomes myopically geared towards straight people, thereby diluting its usefulness to the people who arguably have a greater need for it in the first place.
Even gay-geared apps, in the hopes of finding success like heavy hitters Match and OKCupid, design their gender and sexuality options to mimic their straight counterparts. What's the point of catering to niche markets if you're not even going to bother researching their actual needs?
Check out Bustle's 'Save The Date' and other videos on Facebook and the Bustle app across Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV.
But, in all honesty: people wanna grind. So in the spirit of swiping your way to success against all odds, I've heroically set up accounts on the most popular dating apps Google Play has to offer (plus some more obscure ones who are getting it right) to gauge their LGBTQ+ friendliness.
Match is like the network TV of dating apps: it's really big (5 million downloads on Google Play alone), really well-funded, and madly swarming with normcore people of privilege. Basically, it's soulless and without charm. It's impossible to root for an app like this because it already has everything going for it; there's nothing remotely unique to champion here.
Unsurprisingly, the extent of its self-identifying options are "man" or "woman" seeking "men," "women," or "both." There's literally more nuance available in the options for how to describe your smoking habit ("cigar aficionado" anyone?) than in the options to describe your gender or sexuality. In other words, if you identify as queer, don't waste your data plan surfing Match.
OKCupid has a little more grit, and caters much more effortlessly to a younger audience. Also bestowed with the 5 million downloads badge on Google Play, its userbase is just as prolific as its predecessor Match, but with a refreshing We're Chill About All This Dating Nonsense And You Should Be Too bent. And realistically speaking, it's pretty much the Facebook of dating apps: everyone is on it, so how useful is it, really, to go to a smaller competitor who might have a few features you like better?
For a mainstream, mostly hetero dating app, OKCupid made one important protection when it was first acquired by Match back in 2011: the "I don't want to see or be seen by straight people" option. This does a ton of the leg work in eliminating creepy messages from bros trying to convince lesbians that they "just haven't had it good yet." This past November, OKCupid also expanded its gender and sexuality options to offer 22 possible gender identities and 12 sexual orientations.
Gone are the days of skimming for the obligatory "*queer not bi...**sexual anarchist not queer" footnotes in the profiles of folks who couldn't be summed up by the app's surprisingly limited self-identifiers, given its millennial-heavy user base. But don't get too trigger-happy deleting that tedious paragraph where you're forced to queersplain what a special snowflake you are. There's still one glaring area of OKCupid's pro-queer/gender options cause in which it continues to suck: the "seeking" portion, which is arguably the entire point.
The options for "I'm looking for" are still limited to "women," "men," and "everybody." Shit's not helpful when I'm looking for a FAAB transmasculine cutie to smooch and/or fix my broken dresser drawer. If OKCupid is going to go through the trouble of helping users self-identify in more authentic ways, then why not finish the job and help them actually attract and match with the sorts of partners in whom they're interested?
Look, not everyone is searching for "personality" in a match. Enter Tinder: the sleek dopamine rush your brain has been craving. As pretty much every queer woman knows: Tinder is god-awful. The "interested in" mechanism doesn't care if you're looking for women; your feed will be flooded with dudes. The women it does show you then, ostensibly, might not even be looking for women, so your gaydar has to be super on-point. Plus, as much as I would love to while away my time in the Trader Joe's line swiping, I inevitably get a "no more matches found near you" time-out after just a few minutes. If you're not straight, Tinder doesn't care about you. Tinder is not sorry.
DOWN, formerly Bang With Friends, boasts 500,000 downloads and connects with your Facebook to let you swipe on your Facebook friends, and also their friends. Your "looking for" options are — you guessed it — men and women. It automatically assumed I was looking for men, and when I changed it to women, it just displayed all my straight friends. It stands to reason, then, that, even when I expanded my search parameters to show me friends of friends, those women were also straight. A more effective friend-banging scenario might just be to send someone a flirty text saying come over and watch Netflix with the leaf emojii followed by the fire emojii.
Hinge is another one of the Facebook-linked apps designed to match you with friends of friends and friends of friends of friends. And, like all the other Facebook-based apps, its gender options are M/F and it's "interested in" options are men, women, or both. Its actual gaydar appears to have a slight edge on DOWN and Tinder, but not by much.
6. How About We...
Although a brief perusal of the activity-based dating app How About We... yielded someone who I'm pretty sure is my soulmate, the object of my affection hasn't been active in two years, and this app features the same tired M/F option, looking for men/women/both.
7. Plenty of Fish
Plenty of Fish is larger than both OKC and Match, with 10 million downloads, which is remarkable considering it forbids users from identifying as bisexual (you can only seek men or women, not both) and using "sexual language" in their profiles. I guess all gay fish just have to be switches?
8. Coffee Meets Bagel
Coffee Meets Bagel is super charming, because, when you set up your account, you can identify as either a mustache or a pair of kissy lips, seeking either other mustaches, or other kissy lips. (You cannot desire both mustaches and kissy lips, or, suffice to say, a mustache with kissy lips.) Then, for the rest of the time you use the app, your potential suitors are referred to as "bagels," you are referred to as coffee, and the mustache/kissy lips iconography never returns again. Actually going out and getting a bagel and coffee will be a more satisfying use of your time than trying to make Coffee Meets Bagel happen.
9. Dattch (aka Her)
We all had high hopes for Dattch when it rolled out nationwide. It generated a ton of media buzz as a "first of its kind" dating app exclusively ~*for women*~. It earned credibility by offering verified profiles, rescuing you from sneaky dudes popping up in your feed. It even has a cutesy blog you can peruse in-app. Although it's a neat little tool and definitely different from the catch-all apps that target straight users, it's also a little...lesbian-centric.
It definitely has its place in the world and will appeal to certain queer-identified folks, but Dattch doesn't allow users to select a gender identity, which means that its developers either assume all users identify as women or they don't think it matters, as long as you're looking for women. Neither of those scenarios seem particularly inclusive for an explicitly non-hetero app. The sexuality identity options are broader than the generic gay/bi framework, and wander into queer, pansexual, and the ever-curious "flexisexual" — but you can't search for mates by those same options. Users can't filter matches by gender (obvs) or sexuality, only by age and location. If an app straight up isn't going to offer typing by gender, then the least they can do is help users glean hints by filtering to appropriate sexuality markers.
10. Wing Ma'am
Literally, the only hope for the future is Wing Ma'am, which has a horrifically gendered name but is actually the most impressively inclusive option available to queer folks. It's set up to display not only people, but also events in your area, increasing your chances of meeting someone with whom you vibe. A bunch of the profile questions mimic OKCupid's, so it's an easy copy/paste, if you've already penned a flawless OKCupid profile with all the nuance and style of a Chuck Klostermann essay.
And finally, most importantly: the filters. Oh, the filters! There's only one master drop-down list from which users can select multiple options, and it includes markers across the gender, sexuality, and relationship preference spectrum: queer, questioning, genderqueer, trans, intersex, and polyamorous to name a few. It's also the only app of all 10 reviewed here that offers "asexual" as a self-identifier, which huge and important gesture of visibility for a vastly underrepresented community.
And unlike OKCupid, Wing Ma'am users can filter their matches by the exact same list of identifiers. In other words, this is where I screen for my broken dresser drawer-fixing heartthrob. Other unique features include the option of seeking "double dates," which, sure, might just mean finding new friends to do couple stuff with, or, as I prefer to believe, is a perfectly subtle invitation for group play.
The only gendered hiccup on Wing Ma'am's profile questionnaire is a fill-in-the-blank stating "I love my girlfriend because..." which I really wish said "partner" instead of "girlfriend," because it's a well-conceived question and totally sweet. The other problem with Wing Ma'am is that it's newly launched, and thus, teeny teeny tiny — only 10,000 downloads to speak of on Google Play. But it really is the best, most inclusive, most customizable queer dating app on the market. One of the reasons Grindr is great is because it understands how important sorting by "type" is for interacting with strangers. And when have you ever stood for gay men having more fun than you?