It is nearing 2 a.m. as I check to see if my roommate is asleep only a few feet away from me in our dorm. Silence. I pull my covers up over my head to hide the brightness of my phone. I open the Tinder app and am greeted by a cute indie boy: messy hair, has a meme account, and is a minimalist with only three t-shirts. I swipe left, of course, and a few more times out of habit.
I go to my settings and read over my bio.
Just some bangs held together with elmer’s glue 6 foot 9 since that matters Looking for a boy who will treat me right
I delete the last sentence.
I go to the swipe distance and bring it down to one mile. I scroll to the section where it asks who I am looking for. Currently set to men. I stare at it for a long time, because my life is a movie and I have to build anticipation. There are three options to choose from: men, women, and everyone. I select everyone, save it, and immediately turn my phone off. A few minutes pass, and I start swiping.
For most of queer history, LGBTQ+ people have been forced to live underground. Coming out, and staying out, was a dangerous, sometimes life-threatening act. This suppression and secrecy meant a lot of queers never found their families or themselves. But in the era of dating apps, an unlikely hero rose up to save the day. Tinder, known for it’s cringe hetero hook-up culture, brought the queer underground into the pockets of every queer.
Like Tinder, I initially didn’t know how gay I’d be.
Early on in my childhood, I’d tell myself bedtime stories — a completely hetero actvity — but they did always revolve around me making a life together with my female best friend. We’d live in the same house, both of us married with husbands we never talked to. We’re rich, obviously, and so we’d spend all our time painting and writing and holding hands and cuddling during movies while our husbands made dinner or something domestic. But what straight little girl didn’t do that?
As I grew up, hand holding turned into mistaken kisses, tender caresses, and what Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams had in “The Notebook.” Again, wouldn’t call that gay, per se.
Then I got to college, and all hell broke loose. You know what came next: I fell in love with my best friend. It ended in heartbreak — I’ll save that story for another article — but the silver lining was that I finally connected the dots and admitted to someone I was — you know.
By pure delightful accident, Tinder created a safe, streamlined process for queer people to do the nasty. And no, I don’t mean sex; I mean come out of the closet.
Up until that point, I envisioned coming out to be this grand proclamation — that I had to stand up in the bleachers of a crowded auditorium and scream “I love you Lea*.” (*Michelle, circa Glee)
From this would come a grand backlash. While statistically, there would be people who accepted me, that also meant there would be people who hated me for it. I grew up in a conservative Christian household, so this point was really hammered home for me.
When you grow up in a community that fosters zero attachment to LGBTQ+ people, watching media that hardly includes them, it can feel like finding other queers is a lost cause. I didn’t want to come out. I didn’t want to be gay. All I knew was that I wanted a woman to hold me.
“The first time I used Tinder, I was with a friend trying to figure out if I was attracted to women,” says Cynthia Salaysay (she/her, Scorpio), a lesbian who found her first girlfriend on Tinder. “It was a safe way to see how I reacted to different women.”
The history of being queer in America is riddled with lost jobs, friends, families, and lives — all so that a person of the same-sex could and want to hold them.
But on Tinder, a queer can do what I like to call a soft launch or “soft coming out.” I was able to announce it to the queers only — in one-mile increments at a time, outside the purview of the heteronormative world.
“Tinder helped me put myself out there before I was ready to really put myself out there,” said Taylor Short (she/her, Capricorn), a lesbian adventurist and world traveler. “Nowadays, I’m pretty outwardly gay, as in people can probably tell that I’m queer without asking. But when I first came out, I cared a lot more about what the general public thought about my queerness.”
This soft launch has proven essential for many queer women in their coming out experience, especially for those who were still seeking confirmation around their same-sex desires.
“So I never actually was like ‘I’m gay,’” said Zoe (she/her, Gemini), a lesbian pursuing the arts in LA. “It was when my first girlfriend and I started being official that I casually slipped in, ‘by the way, I’m dating a girl.’ But without that introduction to her through Tinder, I wouldn’t have had that relationship to ‘come out’ in a way.”
The first girl I matched with (who messaged me first, cause that’s lesbianism) told me she thought I was pretty and wanted to get dinner sometime.
Holy F*ck. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I spent 20 years yearning for a woman to flirt with me, and it finally paid off. Don’t ever let anyone tell you manifestation doesn’t work.
In real life, trying to figure out if a girl was 1) gay and 2) gay for YOU seemed to be impossible. I think most closeted queers will agree that they have put in at least 10,000 hours analyzing their crushes every look, walk, breath, sit, and sneeze, pleading to know if it’s reciprocated.
And now here I am, just working a day shift at my summer ice cream shop job, as a girl asks me out. There was no way in hell I was going out with her, because I was a chicken and I honestly still hadn’t convinced myself of my queerness yet. But I. Could. Not. Stop. Smiling.
Gay or not, I knew I was on the right track. And, spoiler alert, it only took one date with a theydy to completely sell me on it. I was a big ol’ homo.
With the introduction of gay romance into my life, it was only a matter of time before I craved the platonic. It hit me like a speeding bullet: the imperative need to build my queer community. Enter, again, Tinder.
For queer people, finding one’s community means so much more than just finding friends. It’s acceptance. It’s knowing you matter. It’s feeling alive — really alive — for the first time.
“Before I even talked with anyone on Tinder, just seeing that other queer people existed and occupied such a diverse range of presentations/energies/embodiments was actually thrilling,” said Clare Palmer (they/them, Libra), a queer San Francisco physics teacher.
In an article for the New Yorker, queer author Douglas Stuart asserts that in the ’90s, “personal ads were [his] first connection with a gay community when [he] was a young man.”
These ads, posted in newspapers since the 1690s, along with secret gatherings were just about the only means of safely socializing for the rural and suburban queer populations until the 2000s. Those lucky enough to live in metropolitan areas could venture to a gay bar or sex shop, but that luck came at a price; police raids and local hate crimes were almost expected until the last couple of decades.
Tinder offers the best of queer aspects of historical queer socializing: exclusion from the hetero world and wholesale access to community in one convenient and safe platform.
“Being on Tinder, I have made so many connections to other queer people — both platonic and romantic, both irl and url,” said A (they/them), a queer poet.