Navigating Grindr as a Non-Binary Trans Boy

Trigger Warning: Transmisogyny

Grindr is primarily a space for gay men, which means it’s full of machismo, femmephobia, racism, and general nonsense about gender. I’m a non-binary trans boy, and I’ve only recently been afforded a level of masculine expression which allows me access to grindr, and it’s an absolute trip. Here’s my weird, uncomfortable, validating experience of grindr in southeast London.

Grindr has several categories you can use to describe yourself and use to filter potential hookups, but gender isn’t one of them. This is a welcome deviation from most dating and hookup apps (and government forms). But I sometimes lament that men who are looking for trans women aren’t filtering me out because we’re all in the “trans” tribe (“tribe”, yikes, I know). Instead, other users make assumptions about my gender, even though I explicitly state it on my profile: “I’m a trans boy. I’m not a trans girl, I’m not a cross-dresser. Be chill, babes”.

“On grindr, trans men are ‘ftm’, not ‘trans’.”

Like most places, if you say ‘trans’ on grindr it’s assumed you mean ‘trans women’, which reflects the patriarchy’s general vibe of hypervisibility and sensationalism for trans women, and invisibility, unknowability, but also passibility and cis semi-assimilation, for trans men. Of course the passibility on grindr doesn’t go very far because the first thing you’re expected to supply in conversation after “hey” is a dick pic.

On grindr trans men are ‘ftm’, not ‘trans’; and trans masc people aren’t ‘masc’ at all, they’re often ‘femboys’ like me. Lots of grindr profiles express interest in “cd/TS/TV/femboy”, or sometimes simply “trans [women] and fem guys”, as though those are all the same thing—because to the average grindr guy, they are the same. They are all expressions of femininity, anchored somehow to the gay scene (or a phallic ‘maleness’) that the grindr guy is familiar with where masculinity is prized. Femininity is punished, or fetishized (another punishment).

Many of the grindr men who are into fems (femmes) have blank profiles, because to express interest in the feminine on a gay hookup app is apparently risky or otherwise uncomfortable. Grindr is a semi-public space where I’ve had to tell self-described ‘straight’ men that I’m not a woman and so they’re barking up the wrong tree, and they respond either with disbelief or, more commonly the admission (it feels so confessional) that they’re not straight, that “boys are pretty good fucks if I’m honest” but they’re not “out” yet. Even on a gay hookup app, with a pictureless profile, they’ll lie about their straightness because the threat of punishment for deviating from heteronormativity is ubiquitous.

“I don’t have testicles; I have a vagina. It feels like an apology.”

Why are they on a gay hookup app, if they’re so interested in femininity? Why don’t they just seek out women? Maybe because the grindr guy is obsessed with dick. More likely though, he fetishizes what he sees as the ‘deceit’ of trans people (read: trans women). He wants to be ‘tricked’ by a ‘trap’. This is a grim reflection of the mainstream media narratives about trans women which is used to justify their murders.

Lots of guys, thinking I’m a trans woman, neg me to be more femme: “you’d look better if you shaved your armpits”. They see my small breasts and think they’re growing from estrogen rather than shrinking from testosterone, and they take it upon themselves to comment on how ‘well’ I’m performing femininity. It highlights the transmisogyny that trans women face all the time: that their appearance is up for public discussion, and that the only acceptable femininity to embody is cis approximation.

I often have to tell potential hookups that, no, I don’t have a dick—at least not one which is attached to my body. They’ll reply, “whatever you want to call it, i don’t care”, thinking that I’m a dysphoric trans woman. No, I mean I don’t have a penis, I don’t have testicles; I have a vagina. It feels like an apology.

Lots of guys are concerned about my voice. Is it fem? Is it… ‘convincing’? At that point I usually stop to inform them that, ugh, I’m not a girl and I’m not trying to pass as a cis woman, as a trans woman or a cross-dressing man, and this isn’t hot anymore (if it ever was). Here they usually block me or ask “What’s your problem?”

“As a trans ‘man’, I’m constantly told that I’m undesirable.”

There’s also a lot of self-hatred: fat men saying “no fatties”, black men saying they only want white guys, hairy men saying “no hairy guys”, feminine guys saying “no femmes”, people over 30 saying “no people over 30”. What would it look like if we desired ourselves? Forget masc4masc, I want mascara4mascara.

Why do I bother with grindr at all? It’s the only gay man’s space where I feel even marginally comfortable and safe, because I can find out if a potential partner is transphobic before meeting them. When I do find people who have even a basic understanding of gender, and they see me as the boy I describe myself to be, AND they want to have sex with me, it’s extremely validating. Plus, it can be useful for doing sex work.

As a trans ‘man’, I’m constantly told that I’m undesirable. Still I find my own transness is, fairly often, a vehicle for the visibility, the self-recognition (dare I say, sometimes—birth) of transness in my partners and we become a trans4trans pairing, which is pretty cool. Contrary to the fears of the religious right, transness isn’t contagious. But the realization that trans people can have livable, happy lives is sometimes all we need to start coming out.

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