Dating apps have always felt like a bit of a minefield to me. I first came out as bisexual at 17 but having met my current boyfriend at a festival two years ago, I’ve been out of the dating game for some time.
Meeting a romantic partner in the 21st century often necessitates the use of apps like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge: 75% of young adults aged between 18 and 24 use Tinder; 31% use Bumble. I certainly felt the effects of the internet when I came out and began to explore the world of dating authentically.
I grew up in a rural area where there were no spaces for teenagers, let alone queer teenagers. I had no hope of meeting anyone in person unless I wanted that person to be a boy. When I came out at 17, I felt so much pressure to 'prove' my bisexuality to the world that I joined Tinder and matched with every woman I could muster.
I put so much pressure on myself that I matched with people who I wasn’t even sure I was attracted to or compatible with. Known as 'comfort right-swiping' – where users feel bad for swiping left too much on a dating app and so swipe right on someone even though they don’t find them attractive – I wanted to prove that I was bi 'enough', not only to myself but to the LGBTQ+ community and the outside world.
I would swipe for hours on Tinder and when I ran out of people to match with, I would look elsewhere. Often, I would encounter the same people on different dating apps, particularly other queer women, and I would match with them on various platforms to up my flirtation game. Flirting with women is an entirely different game from flirting with men and I would practise with anyone who would let me. In many ways, I found it easier, and this gave me a renewed sense of confidence.
When I was single, I was famous for deleting and re-downloading dating apps, unsure of whether I wanted to meet someone in person or on the internet. Make no mistake, there are benefits to both, but I can’t help wondering whether it would have been possible for me to meet a woman in person, as I did my current boyfriend. Navigating dating apps as a queer person is complicated, let alone as a bisexual woman: findings from the Pew Research Center demonstrate that LGB people are more avid users of dating apps than their straight counterparts but 56% report receiving an unsolicited sexually explicit message or image, compared to 32% of straight users.
I was hypersexualised, erased and misunderstood; comments like 'So you're up for anything then?', 'Are you really bi or are you just gay?' and 'Threesome?' were an almost daily occurrence.
It’s reassuring to find out that I’m not alone here. Twenty-three-year-old Hannah* says: "I felt pressured to match with other women when I came out as bisexual, even if I wasn’t attracted to them. I felt I needed to prove that I was bi enough, as though my queerness was almost tenuous." Rachel, 32, is married to a man and feels that she is often viewed as 'less' bi because of this. "Romantically, I gravitate towards men. I always felt bad for not at least trying to date women so I would swipe on women and go on dates even if I felt it wasn’t the right vibe," she says.
Having been with my boyfriend for two years now, I’ve had time to reflect on what it was like dating as a single, bisexual woman. If I’m totally honest, I’m glad that I no longer have to navigate it. Society assumes that it’s easier for bisexual people to date because statistically, there are more options, but this doesn’t factor in the biphobia experienced by so many, nor the stigma from within the LGBTQ+ community itself.
Feeling the need to justify or 'prove' bisexuality is all too common among bisexual women. Research from Stonewall suggests that 27% of bisexual women and 18% of bisexual men have experienced biphobia from within the LGBTQ+ community. Sadly, this behaviour is particularly evident on dating apps. I can’t count the number of times I have experienced overt biphobia, particularly from straight men and even from lesbians.
Coming out and beginning to date, all I wanted to do was declare my sexuality. I had spent the best part of 18 years hiding and in a state of confusion so the most liberating thing I could do was advertise my bisexuality, which I did in my Tinder bio. I did this in the hope of attracting like-minded, understanding people. Perhaps this was naïve.
I was desperate to establish myself within a community and even more desperate to prove my ability to flirt with women. I expected to enter the world as a newly out bisexual woman and experience only positivity but the narrative didn’t quite unfold like this. I quickly realised that not all queer women are open to the idea of dating bisexuals. The term 'gold star lesbian' – denoting a lesbian who has never slept with a man – is a badge of honour in certain sections of the queer community, as though there’s a correct path towards becoming a lesbian.
As a result of these hierarchies, I received outright rejections from a couple of lesbians who were distrusting of women who had been with men. "I don’t date bisexuals, sorry," one woman told me. I was shocked that someone could be disgusted by the idea of being with me, as though I was somehow less queer for having dated and slept with men. I felt invalidated.
Straight guys weren’t much better. I had one experience where I had been messaging one person for a few days, decided to bring up my identity and was met with invasive questions about my sexual preferences. So that was the end of that.
Part of the reason I dated exclusively women at university (when I wasn’t being rejected for my bisexuality) was that I was eventually forced to turn off men as an option on apps like Tinder. I was hypersexualised, erased and misunderstood; comments like "So you’re up for anything then?", "Are you really bi or are you just gay?" and "Threesome?" were an almost daily occurrence.
As I embraced my identity, I realised that I no longer existed in the cosy, naïve bubble in which I grew up. The comfort right-swiping intensified as I became desperate to find even a half-decent person. Now I know that bisexual women like me should never feel forced to 'prove' their sexuality. We aren’t confused, we aren’t pretending and we aren’t less valid than anyone else on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Uttering the words "I’m bisexual" is enough.
*Name changed to protect identity.