Growing up in a conservative small town without sex education and folks who were openly queer, I consigned myself early on to an ill-fitting heterosexual identity.
Sure, I exchanged secret kisses and caresses with “gal pals” behind closed doors. But without anyone telling me otherwise, I just thought I was “weird.” Everyone around me was straight, and all my friends (who were cis girls) dated cis boys. By senior year of high school, I had begun to feel a little out of place having not dated men by that point, too fixated on the girls in my grade. So, in an effort to blend in and have a “normal” sex life, I entered college a virgin and on the hunt for boys.
No amount of unsatisfying sex with men I wasn’t attracted to could convince me to look elsewhere for awhile, even if the sight of a penis was anything but arousing to me. But it was in college where I finally became friends with openly queer people, resulting in my coming out as pansexual by the end of my first year there. But it wasn’t so much my friends that encouraged me to be more true to myself — it was dating apps, specifically OKCupid, that were largely responsible for my newfound honesty.
Before acknowledging my attraction to women, it was exceptionally difficult for me to figure out what I wanted sexually. And after a couple of painful breakups and having one of my partners assault me, it was even more challenging to dip my toe back into the dating pool. So, I sold out (at least that’s how I felt at the time) and downloaded OKCupid on my phone. I’m awkward and unsure IRL, but I figured I might be able to choose and flirt more effectively using the Internet’s more anonymous protection. I filled out my credentials, wrote a bio I would blush at by this point, and answered a bunch of questions before exploring my options.
Immediately, I found a bunch of cute girls in my matches, which really made me feel like I hit the jackpot. But since I’ve never dated a woman before, I hesitated in reaching out to the cuties I had my eye on. While I pondered this, the messages rolled in from about a hundred boys in the area. Though that sounds brag-worthy, as someone who’s not exactly attracted to men, this felt more burdensome than anything else. I was motivated to try some things out though, so I decided to meet up with a boy on campus that seemed as interested in art as I did. He was studying graphic design, wore the cutest snapbacks and rode a skateboard (something that was so appealing to me at the time).
When we met up, I quickly discovered we had nothing in common. I was specifically seeking out unpretentious, and he turned out to be my worst egotistical nightmare. He blasted music loudly from his phone everywhere we went that day, which really embarrassed me, and bragged about how he would be my first serious boyfriend. Thoroughly creeped out, I ditched him mid-date, though I’m not sure if he noticed since he never stopped talking the entire time we spent together.
The next boy I chose to meet up with was very into yoga and spirituality, something I thought would be further in the direction of what I would like. During the date, we watched The Blair Witch Project and made out in his bed. However, his insistence on having sex and on making rude comments about my rumbling belly (which was noisy from anxiety) prompted me to leave mid-date once again. In one last tired attempt, I made a date with a boy I had been talking to through the app, who we will call Mason. He was a graphic designer, like my first date, but was very quiet and shy. With his beautiful face, exceptional style, and calm, mysterious demeanor, I was hooked pretty quickly. Convinced I had finally found a boy up my alley, we dated for a month. While he was very sweet and caring, kissing him made me feel nothing and I honestly had no desire to take intimacy with him further than that. Feeling awkward and ashamed, I left his room early during one of our Netflix & chill dates and never spoke to him again.
Since I saw Mason as someone that I would definitely have vibed with if the attraction was there, I decided to reroute my journey completely. If I didn’t vibe with the yogi and the gorgeous tortured artist, it was time for my dating pool to get a makeover. For the first time, I stated I was looking for “women only” on my OKCupid profile. And since that moment, I’ve felt freer than I ever have.
This doesn’t end with a love story between me and a cis woman. Because dating is challenging in any circle. My first date with a girl was awkward (because I’m still awkward no matter what), but it was actually exciting. I actually cared if she liked me, if I was impressing her, and if I would get to kiss her at the end of the night. The latter didn’t happen because it turns out she wasn’t feeling it as much as I was. But I ended that night understanding myself a little better, anyway.
I talked to lots of girls after that failed date, and still sometimes talk to one lovely girl I met on OKCupid from the UK. We’ve never been able to get the timing quite right for something to culminate, but still, we’re on each other’s minds frequently enough to stay in touch after three years, which I think is pretty magical. I even fell in love with a girl for the first time two summers ago. But once again, challenging circumstances resulted in things going unrequited beyond sleeping next to each other, daily caressing and secret-telling. And I cherish that.
Because without having been given the power to filter matches and discover folks that suited me with OKCupid, without the confidence in my queer sexuality that dating through the app gave me, I may never have experienced that magic at all.
In my junior year of college, the summer after falling in love, I deleted the app. I felt like it had run its course, and I could finally inhabit the world as an openly queer person. I came out as pansexual to everyone in my life early in the school year. Without OKCupid, however, I felt nervous about initiating a romance IRL besides a few failed flirtations. That was until I met Skylar, an incredibly feminine and delightfully eccentric genderqueer human that showed up to my campus apartment one day to collaborate on a writing project. With all the “training” OKCupid gave me in knowing what I liked and what I needed, I went in. And as soon as we kissed for the first time, I finally felt fireworks. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s something I had never felt with another person before– that aha! moment. And though Skylar appeared to be a man to me at the time (they wouldn’t come out about being genderqueer until a month into our relationship), I went through with it, following my gut instinct that this was the person that I wanted to have sex with and maybe even love one day. Almost two years later, we’re living together and are deeply in love. I’m in the best relationship of my life, and I have very serious plans to marry and have a family with Skylar.
I’ve read a lot about “gay baby jail,” and the struggles of certain folks who stay closeted, never exploring their full and authentic selves. I feel like dating apps really gave me the confidence and security to explore my queerness slowly but surely. They helped me figure out, without the risk for judgement, what I really want out of life. Some friends expressed disappointment in my journey since I ended up with someone who has a penis, but as a trans person and an educated human, I know Skylar’s penis doesn’t make them a man.
In fact, they’re one of the most feminine people I know–and their genitals don’t contradict that fact in the slightest. Once I opened my mind (and my OKCupid filters) to feminine people, I freed myself from “gay baby jail.” Now I get to live happily ever after with my gorgeous partner, finally liberated from the constraints of a heteronormative society in my relationship. And let me tell you, I do not miss dating men. Not in the slightest.