Kimberly Lopez: One step forward, stinging steps back — using dating apps when you’re nonbinary (Column)

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns and letters to the Times written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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I am a curious person. I blame my own nature for the awkwardness I weather on a daily basis, because despite reading online the accounts of legitimate concerns and horror stories of people like me attempting to make traditional dating methods work for them, I recently downloaded that infamous dating app. You know the one I’m talking about. 

Here’s what happens when you’re nonbinary and you get on an app known notoriously for its hook-up culture, based on the experiences of one baffled, slightly bedragged white queer whose personal style was recently described as “soft lad”: you tipsily download the app after a friend’s birthday celebration; you have a persistent headache that looking back is a hilarious precursor to what will follow; you open the app and you’re pleasantly surprised that you’re able to identify as nonbinary, only to immediately be misgendered in the next step by being forced to be perceived as either a man or a woman to others. You’ve read the stories, and yet, it surprises you how much this stings, like pressing your fingers into a fresh bruise. 

I’ve had a fairly “normal” experience thus far, I think. A friend laughed at me the other night because I gave them access to my phone, and they read my bio which lauds me as being a “Farmer’s Market queer.” Strangers on the internet need not know that I have only been to the farmer’s market twice this season; it’s all about how you advertise yourself, after all. That same friend insisted I needed pictures of myself with others instead of my meticulously staged selfies, only to take an extremely unflattering photograph of me and my best friend set at an angle that can best be described as “the aliens are about to come and getcha.”  

I’ve had a few genuinely lovely conversations on this app with others about my cat, their cat, about Kate Bush, about that idealized version of ourselves we all have — need I remind you about “Farmer’s Market queer” so soon? — and I’ve accidentally ghosted at least two people. Whenever I talk about my experiences, I grin about how ridiculous the whole thing is, and I play into the expectations of others of what it’s like to be a singleton, attempting to date while catapulting toward their thirties. We’ve all watched romcoms. We’re all aware of the script, the tropes, and how they are written and performed. I was raised as a woman; I know how this goes. 

Here is what it’s like when you’re trans and you’re forced to classify yourself in a way that actively dismantles your own gender identity: It’s asking yourself, “Am I going to get hate-crimed today?” in a tone of voice that’s pithy, ironic, because it hides the fear that persistently haunts you. You’re terrified of meeting up with someone in person, because then your transness cannot be denied. 

How do I explain to my friends that my anxiety around dating apps doesn’t exclusively stem from being a millennial navigating a landmine of stimuli, and instead it’s because I have no idea whether that person who thought it was important to list themself as a Slytherin is a terf? 

How do I even begin to explain the overwhelming pressure to be one of the “good” trans people, to be functional despite depression being a major problem in our community, to be calm and accepting, to smile and reassure “it’s OK” whenever anyone accidentally refers to me by the wrong pronouns? How do I put into words the exhaustion I feel anytime I talk to someone new, wondering how much I am going to have to educate them on what it’s like to be nonbinary, when considering how much emotional labor I peform on a daily basis around the cis people who love me most? How do I admit out loud that trans love and joy and happiness feels like a pipedream most days because trans suffering is the only narrative the media seems to care about? 

I wish I lived in a world where all I needed to be concerned about was whether or not someone on an app was going to bully me about my intense love of pop music, but the reality is that I am living inside of a marginalized body whose very existence goes against the way our society is built. My gender is pure anarchy. My identity is taboo. The fear that lives within watches me steadily, hidden just beneath the surface. 

Still, I remain curious. Occasionally I swipe right. 

— Kimberly Lopez (they/them) is a queer, nonbinary librarian living in the heart of Lawrence. They can often be found reading romance novels or ranting about the validity of boy bands. Their obsession with Harry Styles is “perfectly normal” and “healthy.” Follow them on Instagram. Read more of their work for the Times here.

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