Before Billie Lee, of Vanderpump Rules, was a household name, she had just as much anonymity on dating apps as the rest of us. So she could choose whether or not to say that she's transgender in her profiles. "Now, they can just Google me and know," she says. But before her name became search-friendly, a guy she matched with would either have to read her profile to know that she's trans (if she decided to say so in the bio), or he'd find out whenever she felt ready to tell him.
There were pros and cons to both choices, Billie Lee says. If she said she was trans in her profile, then she knew the guys who read it didn't have a problem with her gender identity. But if she didn't say it in her bio, then she got way more matches in the first place. "That's just the way it is," she says. A lot of the time, cisgender people aren't comfortable dating a transgender person, even if they were enamoured before they found out their match is trans. It's true even within the LGBTQ+ community, as evidenced by new data from HER, a dating app created for queer women. According to the data, transgender women who use HER "work" more than twice as hard to get the same number (0r fewer) matches as cisgender women, the app's data shows.
By "work," they mean that trans women physically swipe right more often. Most people who use dating apps don't feel the need to swipe right on every option their phone offers. They have the chance to be selective, and decide who gets a right swipe and who gets a left swipe based on things like appearance, mutual interests, and personality. But, according to HER's data, transgender women generally swipe right 7 to 8 times before they match with someone, while cisgender women swipe right just two times for each like back. Trans men and non-binary users also have more luck than transgender women, at 5.5 swipes per like and 3.5 swipes per like respectively.
We got along so well. We laughed and we talked for hours on the phone, and then I told them I'm transgender and I was ghosted.
Billie Lee of Vanderpump Rules
Those numbers don't necessarily translate into "working harder," unless you think about the physical work it takes for trans women's thumbs to swipe significantly more photos. But, the data does say something about what it's like to date as a transgender woman, Billie Lee says. "I've had amazing strong connections where we were literally so compatible and we got along so well. We laughed and we talked for hours on the phone, and then I told them I'm transgender and I was ghosted," she says.
That kind of reaction to her being trans is part of the reason she came out publicly on Vanderpump Rules. Billie Lee wanted to show that transgender women are fun, and normal, and have the same kind of lives as everyone else. "But we definitely are still at a place where trans women are rejected from jobs, the unemployment rate is three times higher than the general population, and we're rejected in dating. Because our society and our government says that we are wrong," Billie Lee says.
Billie Lee is straight, so she's having meeting cisgender men online, and then being ghosted once they learn she's transgender. But, the transgender women using HER are likely looking to date other women (since the app was originally created for queer women to connect). So the struggle for transgender women to find people who are willing to date them is real even in LGBTQ+ spaces. So, when the app created a community for trans women during its relaunch earlier this year, it became a space for the trans women who use HER to commiserate about some of the shitty dating experiences they've had. "We wanted to specifically serve communities of people who don't necessarily have safe spaces for fearless exploration," Noa Gutterman, HER's senior growth marketer, previously told Refinery29. HER's new communities are essentially like Facebook groups; they're spaces where people who identify within the group (whether it be for queer women of colour or for people who like to talk TV) get to chat about the issues facing them.
The trans women community, for example, is a space where trans women who use HER can talk about how hard it is to date cis people, as well as share tips for when things get awkward. It's been so successful, Gutterman says, that the app decided to launch two new communities: one for transgender men and one for non-binary folk. While the data shows that transgender women have the hardest time on dating apps (at least in terms of right and left swipes), trans men and non-binary people struggle, too. On HER, transgender men are reported more often than people of any other gender. It's clear to HER, that trans and gender non-conforming people need a space of their own, even on a queer app. "A lot of gay men and lesbian woman don't understand trans people," Billie Lee says. "We are kind of all under the same umbrella of the community, but we definitely have a distance there."