love

The bisexual problem: When dating apps aren’t for you

By Kitty Knowles 16 February 2016
Bisexual men and women celebrate at San Francisco Pride Parade. Pic: CC/Flicker/Caitlin Childs.
Summary

Yes, dating apps are great - but not if you're excluded from them. Why are bisexual people overlooked?

It’s great being single. Nothing stands in the way of you hanging out with your amazing friends, doing whatever you want, and generally enjoying your independence.

If you do decide to embark upon a quest to find a significant other half – or even a quick hookup – there are also plenty of dating apps out there to help you.

Unless you’re bisexual, that is. 

Even though the majority of dating apps have diversified to accommodate gay or lesbian users, people who are attracted to both genders are still forcibly missing out.

Many apps simply don’t have a button that lets you browse “both” when it comes to gender, and other non-heteronormative groups, like people who identify as transgender, are even less catered for. It’s simply not on.

The bisexual problem

For straight people the biggest concern with online dating is often simply choosing the right bio, or the most flattering photo. A straight man or woman won’t ever have to give a second though to the idea that when they select ‘man seeks woman’, or ‘woman seeks man’, they are enjoying a privilege that many don’t.

“Despite being part of the very well-known acronym LGBT, the B is very frequently forgotten,” said Holly Brockwell, the editor of women’s tech publication Gadgette.

“Bisexual erasure is a real problem and one I’ve seen repeatedly in dating apps.”

“Usually they just leave us out entirely,” she told The Memo. “They know they’ll get in trouble if they don’t cater for gay people (as eHarmony found), but since they’re acting out of fear of reprisal and not out of a genuine desire to be inclusive, they don’t think of anyone else.”

Brockwell is far from the only bisexual person to feel overlooked.

“Some apps seem to forget that bisexuality and pansexuality exist at all,” says Elizabeth Varley, Founder and CEO of TechHub. “The biggest mistakes are having a binary choice of people or ‘matches’,” she adds.

“Sometimes you can choose men or women, but not both.”

New dogs can be as bad as old ones

It wasn’t until 2014 that Match.com created a ‘bisexual’ option (and even then it wasn’t that simple), while other sites like Plenty of Fish, still don’t have one. Last year, Tinder, known for its persistent threesome-seekers, even managed to ban Transgender users by default.

But it’s not just long-established apps that remain behind the times: new, up-and-coming services have resulted in some of the worst experiences.

“With Once, I was presented with two buttons: Straight and Gay. Nothing else,” recalls Brockwell. “I was furious and emailed them to let them know, at which point they said they’d build it into an updated version of the app. They did, but the damage was done.”

“I was made to feel like my sexuality was a weird, niche, non-mainstream choice. Like some kind of exception.”

The journalist had a similar experience on Lovestruck: “I emailed them about this and their reply was (it’s so comical it’s almost untrue), that their database couldn’t handle it and I would have to sign up once as straight and again as gay. They offered to give me the second, superfluous, ridiculous membership for free as they’re a paid service. I declined.”

Varley told The Memo of similarly eye-rolling experiences: “Newer entrants Inner Circle and Coffee Meets Bagel which seem promising in many ways don’t appear to allow gender choice at all,” she explains. “It assumes heterosexuality, or doesn’t allow for changing gender preference.”

“It makes you roll your eyes at the lack of basic flexibility and recognition of bisexuality or pansexuality as genuine ways of life.”

Trans Rights protesters at Pride in Halifax, Canada. Pic: istock/tomeng
Trans Rights protesters at Pride in Halifax, Canada. Pic: istock/tomeng

Who else is alienated?

Despite their own far-from-golden experiences, both Brockwell and Varley expressed concerns that other sexualities are even more overlooked than their own.

“Apps tend to assume cisgender and can be completely exclusive of people who don’t identify as either gender, who are gender-fluid, or who want to communicate or search for people who prefer to identify their transgender,” Varley said.

“This isn’t about both genders as that’s no longer the world we live in. This is about focusing on all.”

“While we’re constantly overlooked and forgotten about, there are other sexualities that have it worse,” echoes Brockwell.

“Pansexual people are often excluded from even the more progressive apps, or forced to sign up as bisexual which isn’t the same. There are also issues for transexual, asexual and intersex people, and who they’re shown to. Ideally all apps should ask about your own sexuality and gender identity, AND the sexuality and gender identities of the people you’d like to meet.”

What the dating app developers say

Robyn Exton, who is bisexual herself, founded the women-only dating app Her.

“The main problem I’ve experienced from apps is more of a user one, particularly on the straight apps,” she told The Memo.

“As soon as you mention that you are bisexual on your profile, you open yourself up to the ‘unicorn crusaders’ (couples looking for a threesome), which gets a bit annoying if that’s not what you’re looking for.”

“Society seems to think that being bisexual means you waiver from someone who can’t make their mind up, to a hookup fiend, to someone who’s bound to cheat on their partners,” she explains.

Unlike the apps previously mentioned, Her accepts acknowledges a host of different sexual identities, and at present, you can use the app to identify as lesbian, queer, gay, bisexual, bi-curious, fluid, pansexual, flexisexual, polysexual, aesexual, TBD [to be decided], questioning, straight – or simply leave it blank.

According to Exton 30% of the Her user base identify as bisexual.

Obviously however, a bisexual user won’t find a male match on Her’s all-female user base, but Exton says the app is a product of her own personal experiences.

“My personal experience and one shared by most of my friends had been finding a great way to meet women to date,” she explains. “There were already some great products for straight people where I could easily get a date with a dude, but finding women in a product I wanted to use was much harder. So I wanted to make a way for women to meet each other.”

“We don’t cover every eventuality of what everyone is looking for, we focus on a specific set of problems and try to help solve them, problems experienced by bisexual, lesbian, queer, asexual, pansexual and many other sexualities for female identified and non-binary gendered people,” she adds.

Apps with bisexual search functions

At another end of the spectrum, Javier Gomez Acebo, developed his London-dating app Clocked so that you can search for “men”, “women” or “both” from the one dating profile.

“We tried to make Clocked as inclusive as possible,” said Gomez Acebo. “For that reason we gave all our users the option to search for both sexes should they so wish.”

However, for the Clocked app to work you have to self-identify as either a man or a woman, which inherently excludes any genderqueer people. The simplest function is clearly not always the most inclusive.

“We didn’t include trans or intersex options,” says Gomez Acebo. “We didn’t include the option of JUST bisexuals, as we wanted to keep the experience as simple as possible.”

“From the app point of view you need a frictionless signing up and options system otherwise you risk having a drop in sign ups.”

Gomez Acebo acknowledges that bisexual and transgender people are often overlooked by dating apps. “Definitely, but probably due to a lack of awareness,” he says.

“For most people when you talk about LGBT it usually gets translated to Lesbian, Gay and ‘The Others’.”

According to Gomez Acebo, scale can also stand in the way of diversification.

“A few of the legacy dating sites have big enough databases and have all options to include all gender identities or preferences available – not only including bisexuals but Trans and non-cisgender – but I wouldn’t say that it has been properly catered for,” he says.

So what’s the answer?

For Brockwell and Varley creating an inclusive dating app is about offering different options and simply setting and inclusive tone. Both women call out OkCupid as a progressive frontrunner, while Brockwell also drew attention to the beard-lover app Bristlr for declaring they wouldn’t add gender options at all until they knew they’d got it right.

“Some apps are especially inclusive, and that’s wonderful,” says Varley. “OkCupid is excellent in very many ways, and in their flexibility of self-identification and search it’s leading the way.”

“It’s a huge miss from dating apps in not recognising the much greater acceptance of varied and fluid sexualities and gender identities.”

“Millennials especially, are hugely open about gender and sexuality, and these things are only becoming more and more accepted as part of mainstream life,” she adds.

“I’d like us to be included on par with gay and straight,” says Brockwell, “I’d like to see support for other identities too. And I’d like bisexual people to not be shown to couples unless they explicitly agree to it first.

“Newsflash: I’m not a sex toy to spice up your marriage. I’m a person.”

“Human sexuality goes a long, long way beyond gay and straight,” she says, “I’d have thought software engineers would relish the challenge to tackle this in their UI.”

Consider the challenge set.

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