Inclusivity on Tinder: How we can learn from the most popular dating app

Zoe Helding

In anticipation of today’s romance-filled holiday, I took a look at Tinder, one of the world’s most widely used dating apps, and how it has evolved and innovated to become more inclusive of LGBTQ communities.

Last November, Tinder introduced a feature allowing users to directly input their personal gender identity, replacing the restrictive ask to identify as either a man or a woman. This development was widely praised as a model for inclusivity in tech and social media. But this small patch is only a makeshift solution, designed by Tinder without sufficient consideration of the actual experiences of transgender and gender nonconforming (trans) individuals.

While Tinder users can list themselves as any gender on their public profile, they must still select whether they wish to appear in searches for either ‘Men’ or ‘Women.’ No option exists to appear in searches for both men and women or to limit oneself to people who have indicated a willingness to match with trans users.

Tinder’s problematic gender setting

Tinder’s gender setting is simply an optional extra line in one’s profile – hidden away in the app’s menus. It only allows trans people to access a matchmaking system identical to that of its cisgender (non-trans) users and does nothing to disrupt the experience of its current user base.

Since the app’s inception, Tinder’s trans users have been subject to not only pervasive harassment from other users, but also to the blind punishment of the app’s own anti-harassment system.

Tinder, among other platforms, allows users to report others for inappropriate behavior, suspending the account of the “offender” automatically after a certain number of reports. Trans users frequently are wrongfully reported just for identifying as or disclosing that they are trans and are then effectively banned on the basis of their gender identity. Reinstating one’s account is a burdensome and lengthy process, and the fact remains that even if it weren’t, the victims of harassment should never be subject to the same penalties as their harassers.

The ‘first step’ to progress

While Tinder’s CEO claims that this new development marks only the “first step” in a greater process of changes, he has already made clear that the reliance on a traditional conception of gender is a feature, not a bug. In other words, the enforcement of a gender binary is simply a function of “the way the app works.”

Even though LGBTQ activists and influencers from organizations like GLAAD were part of the discussion around this patch, they could only do so much when asked to improve upon a fundamentally flawed system. A serious solution to this pervasive issue requires deliberate and disruptive design decisions, not quick fixes.

Tinder’s attempt to make its site more inclusive and address the problems of transphobia proves it requires far more effort and nuance than a single blank user field. But it’s not just on Tinder to ensure that all communities can seek and find support. In all of our own individual lives and work, we should be unafraid and vociferous in our promotion of trans-inclusive systems and language. Whether through the design of an app or the wording of a memo, we should always reflect upon how our “traditional,” restrictive choices often constrain our conception and expression of gender, thus excluding an entire community.

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