Queer spaces Mumbai

The double-edged sword of online dating

When Arielle Noronha, who identifies as a transwoman, joined Tinder, she had low expectations. “But it really surprised me when I matched with men who were organically attracted to me,” recalls the 22-year-old PR professional. Although she assumes men perceive her to be cisgendered on the app, she had pleasant experiences when the acquaintances materialised into a date offline.

While international online dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and Happn have extended their services to the LGBTQAI+ community in India, queer-specific portals, like the Chinese app — Blued and homegrown app Delta, have also made their foray in the domestic market.

In a recent survey conducted by Tinder, in collaboration with Savanta Group Limited, 73% respondents said that online dating apps have helped normalise their sexual orientation, ‘come out’ offline and explore romantic relationships.

The survey was conducted across India between March 19 and April 18 with a random sampling of 500 respondents (18-45 years) from the LGBTQIA+ community.

“I identify as a gay man and if I go to an event or a bar, there is a high chance that I may run into someone with different sexual orientation. The online dating apps provide a platform to express our identities,” shares Anirudh Mahale, a 30-year-old writer and founder of Guysexual.

No apps for women

While there’s an increase in options of apps for the queer community, security remains a concern for users and a challenge for app developers.“My mental health deteriorated when I used Grindr, as I came across homophobes, misogynists and male chauvinists who were abusive [towards] my femininity,” recalls Jeet Dalvi, a 25-year-old content writer from Bangalore, who identifies as a transgender woman. Toxic masculinity arising out of patriarchy and discrimination against effeminate gay men, lesbians and transgender persons are rampant on the apps. “As a matter of fact, there are no specific apps for transgender people and lesbians which proves the point,” declares Ms. Dalvi.

The authenticity of a user and data privacy are matters of concern as well. Last year, Grindr came under fire for sharing sensitive data on HIV status and location of its users with third party companies, prompting them to stop this practice. Privacy concerns have been raised with Blued app too, which was criticised for its live streaming option. “We have received feedback on how live streaming had content that was abusive and pornographic,” says Sanyam Sharma, marketing director at the app. “We are working on this and we have 24x7 support through the admin profile that takes action immediately if anything is reported as spam.”

Mr. Sharma justifies the video calling option on the app as a service aimed at providing familiarity with one’s date before one meets them offline. “We are also getting psychologists on board so that the users can seek help if they [face] any abuse,” he says.

Lack of transparency

Users have also encountered fraudulent profile pictures and blackmailing on these apps, apart from solicitation for paid sexual services. “There have been times where my picture was used to represent other people’s profile on Grindr. There is no proper security and we cannot even report them. Transparency is something which is missing in the online dating apps,” says 25-year-old Ankit Dasgupta, a social media manager.

When Delta, claiming to be India’s first homegrown dating app for the LGBTQAI+ community, was launched, they focused on tightening their security. With more than 50,000 users since its launch last year, every profile has a ‘trust score’, which certifies the user’s behaviour and authenticity.

Ishaan Sethi, co-founder of Delta, observes that the number of queer users on dating apps has not increased dramatically since the Supreme Court partially struck down Section 377 in September last year. “That’s because there’s a lot of work to be done in India when it comes to normalising dating for queer people,” he says.

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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 10:11:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/the-double-edged-sword-of-online-dating/article27358678.ece

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