Navigating Dating Beyond the Binary

When it comes to sex and dating beyond the binary, not only are we given no blueprint, no representation, and no guide whatsoever, but we’re also working against the heteronormative messages we’ve all been indoctrinated with by media and culture from birth. Here are five ways I’ve learned to safely and creatively navigate dating spaces as a nonbinary person.

Dating in 2020 can be a challenge for anyone, especially amid a global pandemic, but navigating dating as a nonbinary person more than that. It is a constant exercise of resilience and vulnerability.

When it comes to sex and dating beyond the binary, not only are we given no blueprint, no representation, and no guide whatsoever, but we’re also working against the heteronormative messages we’ve all been indoctrinated with by media and culture from birth. And it’s these messages that set the tone for the modern dating scene. On top of that, transgender and gender nonconforming folks routinely deal with microagressions, misgendering, and harassment on dating and hookup apps, regardless of how inclusive they claim to be.

For all of these reasons, dating, especially with apps, can seem like a mentally and emotionally daunting task for a nonbinary person. But if you approach it with a few things in mind, it’s both possible and potentially liberating.

Here are five ways I’ve learned to safely and creatively navigate dating spaces as a nonbinary person:

Choose your dating apps wisely

For those of age and otherwise able to use them, dating apps can open up the dating pool, especially if you find it difficult or  unsafe approaching people in person. A few apps have been putting forth more initiative into making their platforms affirming, inclusive, and accessible to more genders, sexualities, and diverse relationships.

While unfortunately dating apps are not available to minors, there are other ways to meet queer people online — even though all of them won’t be the right place to look for dates — like Facebook or Reddit groups, queer Tumblr blogs, or the message boards here on Scarleteen.

If and when you are able to hop on dating apps, it’s about quality over quantity. Here are a few I think are worth your time spent crafting that perfect bio for:

Lex

From the people who brought you the Queer Personals instgram, comes Lex, a personal-ad style dating app for by and for queer people of all genders. Lex prioritizes safety and inclusivity in their app. Lex doesn’t require you to connect another app to sign up, and uses minimal identifying information. You can choose to connect your instagram, or make an instagram specifically for Lex, and gives you full control over your information. You can post 3 “personal ads” a month and respond to as many as you’d like. The queer people I’ve met through Lex, especially during quarantine, have become some of the coolest, nicest people I know, and I’m excited to be able to meet and flirt with them in person.

OK Cupid

Ok Cupid has been around for a while and has consistently evolved their platform to be inclusive of all genders, sexualities, and relationship styles.

They use question prompts to determine whether you and another person are compatible on a fundamental level, including politically and ethically. You can select which or all gender(s) to connect with. You also can identify your sexual orientation as one or more of a dozen options and identify your gender as one or more of nearly two-dozen including nonbinary, gender fluid, and genderqueer.

Of course, there’s a catch. You eventually have to answer the unfortunately inevitable, “I want to be included in searches for [Select One] Man/Woman” question… but you can decide whether or not your profile is shown to straight people.

#Open

#Open (called “Hashtag Open”) is a newer kink-positive, sex-positive app that caters to the alt-sex community. Their mission is proudly and loudly one of inclusivity and identity.

You can choose from a number of gender identities, sexual orientation, and relationship orientations and choose to list your pronouns. But the best part is that their “include me in searches for…” question has a nonbinary option, and the option to select more than one. They have a detailed preferences section that lets you use hashtags to communicate exactly what you’re looking for. Under the “boundaries” section is even a “hard-limits” section where you can list your non-negotiables using hashtags and be alerted of potential conflicts.

And there’s really no catch. It’s a very new app, so it’s just starting to grow it’s user base and could stand to be more user-friendly, but it has potential and partners with many notable sex educators!

There is still no perfect dating app for transgender and gender-nonconforming folks (and by all means, if you build apps, let’s talk!) but in the meantime, these are probably your best bet!

Be explicit in your intentions

If you’re using dating apps, use your bio to communicate who you are and what exactly you’re looking for, to the extent that you feel safe doing so. For example, in my bio, I have “they/them pronouns only”, “nonbinary/genderqueer” and “looking for casual, communicative, intimate sexual relationships with queer cuties”.

Signaling the type of relationship and shared values you’re looking for will save you time and energy. It helps if you try not to be vague. A way to go about this more subtly though, that I and many other queer folks incorporate, is by including hashtags that are relevant to your politics, your identity, and/or your queerness. For example, in my profile I have #TransIsBeautiful #BlackLivesMatter, and #KeepYourLawsOffMyBody included.

Not only will you be weeding out at least some of the incompatible, bad, or unsafe people on the app, but you’ll also yield more quality potential matches, reserving your energy.

Think outside the apps

Queer and trans folks have historically had to rely on the creation of alternative spaces or means of communication when it comes to intimacy and dating, and the age of digital media is no different.

We’ve gotten especially crafty during quarantine. With the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a queerly-beloved game, queer people have taken it upon themselves to set up virtual dates that take place at one another’s islands. If you’re a fan, joining queer ACNH Facebook groups or Discord chats can be a great way to meet folks. In general, joining the queer Facebook groups in your neighborhood is a good way to potentially meet friends and dates alike. As long as the group rules permit, you can use it similarly to a personal ad.

Social media has also made it easier to host and hear about events that are exclusively for the trans community or that are explicitly transgender and gender non-conforming affirming. For example, @QueerSpeedCruising is a new queer speed dating/cruising event that takes place periodically in New York, when we aren’t in the middle of a pandemic. It was started and is run by two queer comedians, Alex Schmidt and Lily Marotta, who recognized the importance of having a safe space for queer and trans/GNC people to meet and mingle in an environment with none of the pressure, anxiety, and expectation that might come along with a one-on-one date.

HER, another social dating app for lesbians and queer women and nonbinary people, has been hosting virtual speed dating events periodically throughout quarantine.

You can also check the websites and social media pages of your local LGBTQ+ center or reach out to them directly to find out if they have any virtual mixers or dating events coming up. If not, suggest one!

Throw out heteronormative (s)expectations – write your own scripts

We live in a society where heteronormative sex and dating scripts are, quite frankly, inescapable. All of us come into our nonbinary or otherwise gender diverse identity in different ways, but wherever we’re coming from, it’s normal to feel nervous, inexperienced, or unprepared for intimate relationships and sex that exist outside of those prevailing narratives and gendered power dynamics.

Binary gender roles and expectations limit sex and relationships for straight, cisgender people as well, but they’re even more salient for gender-nonconforming folks. Questions arise like “Who messages first? Who pays for the date? Who makes the first move? What pet names am I comfortable with? You may find that you want to use different words to refer to your genitals, not want to use certain body parts or engage in certain types of sex. Which is wonderful because pleasure is about (so much) more than penetration, and it isn’t limited to our genitals! Reading queer inclusive sex education books like  S.E.X., second edition: The All-You-Need-To-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties, Trans+ and Trans Bodies, Trans Selves can also really help expand your understanding of what sex and intimacy can look like.

Other great resources for learning your desires and boundaries when it comes to romantic and sexual intimacy are Scarleteen’s Sexual Inventory Stocklist, and this zine, both of whch can help you determine what you are and aren’t comfortable with when it comes to sex and your body and help you communicate that to your potential partners.

The sex toy and gender-affirming product markets are expansive and growing, making all kinds of sex and fantasy possible and pleasurable for people of all genders, no matter what genitals you have or whether or not you want to use them!

Unlearning these scripts and rewriting the rules can be scary and hard, but thinking through your needs and asserting your boundaries is so worth it!

Above all, prioritize your safety, comfort, and wellbeing

Dating new people can be thrilling and exciting, but at the same time, it can be anxiety-inducing and both physically and emotionally vulnerable. This vulnerability is two-fold for transgender and nonbinary folks, who experience dating abuse & violence at alarmingly higher rates, and this abuse comes both IRL and virtually.

So often we are met with messages on dating apps that range from harmful and hateful to ignorant and disgusting, which, on top of the regular fatigue that comes online dating, is exhausting. As a result, it is crucial and self-preserving to dedicate adequate time and resources to your mental health and well-being.

If, and when it’s safe, to meet someone in person again, choose a public place where you feel comfortable, preferable somewhere welcoming of queer and trans people and with gender-neutral bathrooms if that makes you feel more affirmed. Ensuring your environment is a safe space may help you feel more at ease during your date.

Tell someone reliable who you trust  — like a parent, sibling or friend — where you’re going, and what time you’ll think you’ll be returning. You can give them access to your phone location or determine an emergency word or phrase, and check-in periodically throughout the date.

An important way to prioritize your wellbeing is to consistently communicate and assert your boundaries when it comes to intimacy, touch, and sex. This could include going over pronouns, setting expectations and parameters for the language you use around your body parts, discussing appropriate safer sex methods, and more. Also, pay attention to how a potential partner responds to these discussions. How they respond to open communication around sex is a good indicator of whether they’re someone you end up wanting to be intimate with.

The bottom line

Yes, dating can be a figurative minefield for nonbinary folks. But by practicing boundary setting and body autonomy and awareness, you’re taking precautions that will not only lead to more positive experiences but also preserve your emotional energy.

Remember, you deserve to be excited about dating and enjoy yourself. I hope, with the help of these tips, you will be able to lean into the thrill of dating and the potential for intimacy and pleasure. Because the reward — living, lusting, and loving, fully and freely as your authentic self — is so sweet!

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