On just about every first date scheduled through a dating app, Rowan Rosenthal could count on one awkward moment happening again and again. "The waiter would ask what we want to eat and the other person would try to be polite and say something like, 'She'll have this,' and that's the point where I'd be like Oh this is kind of uncomfortable," Rosenthal says. Rosenthal is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns. But many of the people they met on dating apps assumed that Rosenthal was a woman, and didn't think to ask for their pronouns. Rosenthal had to make a tough decision in situations like that: Let their dates misgender them or risk making it (more) awkward by correcting them. Maybe the answer seems simple (because it's important that people know how to refer to you), but first dates are already nerve-wracking and it seemed unfair to Rosenthal that pronouns were one more thing they had to worry about.
So, they set out to fix it. As a product designer at OkCupid, Rosenthal is in a position to change the way users experience the dating app. "I thought Why don't we add pronouns to people's profiles? Hopefully, in a lot of cases, that would help with situations where you're on a date and you're already anxious," Rosenthal says. So they pitched the idea to OkCupid, and the pronouns project was born. Starting September 10, LGBTQ+ users will have the option to display their pronouns prominently on their profiles.
In launching this update, OkCupid is the first mainstream dating app to allow users to choose their pronouns (queer dating app Grindr also launched an option for pronouns in 2017). The company hopes the pronoun option will not only cut down on awkward experiences like Rosenthal's, but also help gender non-confirming people be able to affirm their identities.
Many people in the LGBTQ+ community have already been including a sentence that reads, "My pronouns are...." in their bios, because they want people to know how to refer to them. So OkCupid wanted to create a more prominent way for users to feature their pronouns, but they also wanted to do it right. So the company partnered with LGBTQ+ advocacy group GLAAD to figure out the best way to give users the pronouns option. With the update, users will have the traditional drop-down selection of "he," "she," or "they," with an additional space to write in any other pronouns they use. Some people, for instance, use the gender-neutral pronouns "Ze/zir" and some use no pronouns at all.
“Everyone should be able to express who they are, in their own words, and to have the opportunity to find romance with someone who respects and appreciates them,” Zeke Stokes, vice president of programs at GLAAD, says. OkCupid's pronoun update "raises the bar for LGBTQ-inclusion on dating apps," Stokes says.
Right now, the ability to showcase pronouns will only be available to users who identify within the LGBTQ+ community, meaning anyone who chooses gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgender, non-binary, or any of the other sexual orientations or gender identities that aren't straight and cisgender, when they set up their profile. Rosenthal says the update might later be launched to every OkCupid user, but the dating app's first priority is to serve the community who needs it most.
"At the end of day [OkCupid] wants to facilitate really great connections," says Melissa Hobley, chief marketing officer of OkCupid. "And those connections start from a place of celebrating who you are."