With the new Tinder announcement that they are increasing their gender options beyond the current binary "man and woman" to encompass "37 new gender identity options", from transgender female to agender, I can't decide whether, as a woman "on the shelf in need of overdue fun", I see this as something that will move mountains or just produce ripples in my dating pond. In many ways, being able to let someone know, upfront, the intricacies of your gender identity is an absolutely positive move but it says much more about a changing society at large than it does about the actualities of my dating potential. Society is moving on and the structures of society are widening to allow many more people in. This can only be a good thing, a positive thing and the right thing. We have been hammering on the door for long enough. In an age where we know that rigid gender expectations harm everyone – men on Tinder posing with mountains and sharks, women trying to look like celebrities for unhappy men, and trans women expected to look hyper-feminine – to begin to loosen the grip of gender binaries can only be a good thing. It matters to see yourself reflected and embedded in the structures that exist. It matters to feel authenticated; I'm here, I want to date, I wouldn't mind having sex and, by the way, I'm proudly trans femme with a smattering of non-binary thrown in. That feels right and comfortable, like I occupy a space more fully than when I just tick the female box only to face a barrage of questions later. I think that, in 20 years, we may have moved on from that list of questions; when did you know, how did you know, what have you had done since, does your family know – and on, and on.
Dating is tough as an older woman, no matter how new your pussy is.
But for now, those are questions that people ask, cis people mainly. They are questions that seem to matter to people and until a broader range of people inhabit spaces like Tinder, they will continue to be asked. Maybe that is the point of the new options: merely to increase the diversity of people occupying the space and to dilute these questions into non-existence. More options might not break down the dating dilemma that sees many trans women posting messages about loneliness on a Saturday night; maybe that will still go on, at least while generations of trans people transition later in life. That's really part of our issue – that dating is tough as an older woman, no matter how new your pussy is. Whatever your options to let people know your gender, after a certain point, you enter the grand age of invisibility. You could describe yourself as anything, but people first and foremost see you as "older", as "ageing" and, sadly, as "post-sex". But Tinder is right, we do have to begin to break down the barriers that silently say that trans people should occupy trans-only spaces or spaces defined just for trans people: trans nightclubs, or clubs for trans "admirers", or trans dating sites (pre-/post-op/dick/shemale/little bit extra). I'm not trying to shame anyone who fancies me (god forbid; love me, please) but up to now we have been given only a sliver of land to occupy. 10 or even five years ago, joining a dating/sex site and saying you were transgender would have been unheard of. Maybe we just need to jump in and begin the process of breaking down the rigidity of others’ gender expectations. When I first tried to transition, as a teacher, people were genuinely shocked that I felt that a school could cope with my keeping my job and transitioning. Scroll forward 10 years and we have many trans teachers and pupils within our schools, working and learning. Their processes and histories are not hidden away from view, shushed away on sabbaticals or cloaked in the phenomenon of "passing". It's not perfect yet – but the landscape is changing. A couple of years ago I did an experiment (unscientific) on a really well-known dating site (pre-Tinder). First, I just put up a photo of me: a nice, smiling one; I lied about my age and described my hobbies in a way that made me seem entirely uncomplicated (reading, cinema, eating out with friends). I had a lot of interest and potential dates. In the interest of research I went on a couple. I'm not easy company, it came out, and the dates were disasters. Then I added that I was transgender. I was upfront and clear.
Will my being able to describe myself as "trans femme" bring more cocks home to roost?
The number of people interested in the (reasonably) young, uncomplicated blonde dropped off to almost nil. A couple of men did ask me if I was pre-op (with penis) or post-op (brand new vagina) and, to be honest, that is always a little off-putting. I'm all for casual fun but to them my gender identity resided in my knickers and not in my soul, brain or being. To allow them to define me by my genitals felt too quick, too easy, too wrong. I wonder: if I did the same experiment now, would there be a difference? Would my being able to describe myself as "trans femme" bring more cocks home to roost? I then, for research, added that I was HIV and transgender and the hits slimmed down to a very manageable zero. And I suppose that's the point. How much information do we need to use as shorthand for date or quick-fuck currency? Now, being able to define yourself authentically matters. Whether or not it brings any more to the yard is another issue. People often talk about "not needing or liking labels" but more often than not they are people for whom the existing labels fit very nicely; in a sense, they have label privilege. Only when labels don't fit do you become acutely aware of trying to squeeze yourself into somewhere that feels uncomfortable or not quite right. If we declare who we are as a point of pride for our own selves, then there is a real benefit. I am proudly and politically a trans woman and in many ways that's the simplest explanation of me.
Words matter, introducing new words matters, because how many people on Tinder might not have heard about "genderqueer" as a title? Or honestly encountered someone who describes themselves as "non-binary fluid"? Words create space and legitimacy and it cannot just be us, the trans folk, using these words to describe ourselves. When others create options for us we have a place to reside, even for a moment, while looking for flirtatious fun... *In the interests of public service I am currently describing myself as a range of different identities on Tinder to see if I can find someone special to share my uncomplicated, stress-free life with (or just have sex with). I'll let you know. **Writing this article meant adding words to my laptop's dictionary; times are a-changing. ***It seems that although Tinder has introduced many ways to express your own gender identity, when it comes to searching for love (or fun), you still have to follow the binary path of "man or woman", which is incredibly disappointing; I really like my peeps!