Prior to the M14 Dating Conference 2017 in Amsterdam last month Charly was able to speak to one of our speakers, Robyn Exton. In conversation they discussed the LGBTQ community’s relationship with dating apps, both the positive and negative aspects of that relationship, how apps can become more inclusive and the future of HER.
How do you think dating apps will change the LGBTQ community?
Aside from legal progessions since the Stonewall Riots, apps have made some of the biggest most recent changes within the community. There’s a lot of debate around whether or not it’s all change for the best. I think it’s created a lot of visibility within the community.
People sometimes question if that’s to the detriment of the physical spaces in our community – bars and clubs used to be so important to the community, but with these advances people don’t need them in the same way anymore. That could be a combination of societal acceptance and people using apps to meet and communicate.
Overall I think it’s wonderful that those barriers have been taken away when it comes to meeting people like yourself. It used to be terrifying and really difficult – it made you question huge amounts before you even had the opportunity to explore. I think it means progress, even if that might mean losing a few things that used to be important.
It provides a safe space, helping you realise how many people like you are out there where you may not have before…
Exactly, I remember my friend experiencing Grindr for the first time and looking in the office at people we knew on there. We were initially worried that we were outing these people, but actually it was great for them to see other gay people – people to have conversations with and build networks with.
Knowing that there are millions of other people like you to befriend, you realise how many options there are for who you may want to spend time with. That’s really valuable.
What are some of the issues with apps in the LGBTQ space?
People often see the LGBTQ community as a really inclusive and supportive family. Yet some of the biggest issues I hear from the male side are things like racial profiling. Apps have allowed filtering by race, enabling people to be intolerant of other races.
Some apps have big issues with drug use, with hook-ups defined around that. The issue is ensuring people are practising safe sex whilst doing that. There are, however, a lot of great companies working to raise awareness on this issue and make it clear this isn’t okay.
In the female space there’s a lot of bias against different sexualities. There’s a long standing and vocal issue some lesbians have with bisexual individuals. They’re often happy to say that and post it in the app. Almost half of our community are bisexual, so it’s completely unacceptable.
In a way, as much as straight people need to become more educated about LGBTQ lives, people within the community need to become more aware of these issues – accepting trans individuals, stepping up for non-binary people, understanding how to talk to someone about their gender pronouns, that sexuality doesn’t have to be so clearly defined. Definitely more acceptance.
What could mainstream apps be doing better for the LGBTQ community?
Even simple things like being able to express your identity and express who you’re interested in. Opening up those options further would mean the world to the LGBTQ community. People may learn and understand from that, it’s not as simple as binary gender.
The search option can be one of the main issues – you want to include everyone and ensure no one is missed out. If you’re allowing people to free-write and completely self-define, how do you ensure people are still able to search for each other?
Usually those options are toggles for people to select, which would give people an opportunity to say who they’re interested in. For example if I were non-binary with fluid sexuality, I’d probably choose the interested options of male-identifying, female-identifying, non-binary, transgender, and other listed gender identities. Then depending on what another person has said that may bring us together.
So instead of having just two options, you have eight options, it’s just working out what those options are.
For people working on mainstream apps, where can they seek better education and information on this?
The internet is a great resource! Even as a simple basis for understanding that gender identity, sexuality, gender expression, romantic expression are all different things. There’s a brilliant illustration called the Genderbread Person – it covers how all these different aspects interlace.
Depending on where you are there’s usually a national resource center; Stonewall for the UK, Human Rights Campaign for the US and many others. There’s a lot of documentation out there on the best ways to approach people and make them feel included.
How does HER handle gender identity and sexuality?
For us, our identity is about other peoples’ identities. We go to levels that might not be necessary for others, you can do broad terms to make people feel more included. What we want to allow is really true expression of your identity.
We have around twenty-three gender identity options and seventeen sexuality options. It’s not something we’ll ever limit – if someone wants their gender identity added, we’ll add it.
Expressing who you are is at the forefront of what we do, whereas for some apps it’s just a function. Being inclusive of others should always be accounted for. Allow people to be every part of who they are.
What’s next for HER?
The social part of our community has been the bloodline inside HER. We want to grow that a lot this year, creating communities within communities and helping people meet others like themselves. The events we run will be a big focus in making physical spaces and real experiences for our communities to meet this year.
It’s great to know someone’s there online, but it’s incredibly powerful to meet the real person. You can develop an IRL friendship.
How big is the community now? Across how many countries?
We have around two million users, and we’ve hosted about twenty thousand people at events – usually about four hundred to a thousand people at each event. The app is live in fifty five countries, and the events run in five countries.
It’s been wonderful to watch HER developing as both an app and a dedicated community. We can’t wait to see what’s next for Robyn and HER.