Her App and His Intrusion

by Penny Robo

A bit of a ruckus was caused recently during a takeover of dating app “Her”. For the uninitiated, takeovers are a commonplace practice where a product or service’s social media presences are basically “hosted” by an outside person as a promotional tool. And for a dating app this is a natural fit, allowing them to create and a cultivate a carefully curated image of who you’d find there. They can present bright, talented, beautiful people as examples of their users. Looking for a girlfriend? Look no further! Our users are brilliant, gorgeous, diverse; there’s a fit for everyone!

And Her has a special distinction within the dating app scene: it’s for lesbians! Oh yes, a dating service just for women loving women. So who did they choose to be the face of their first takeover in honor of Transgender Awareness Week?

A straight man.

A scruffy, bodybuilding, straight man named Aydian. To his credit, he is a trans man, and not the only one to perform takeover duties that week (then again, he also had the honor of being the first trans man featured on the cover of Gay Times magazine despite being, you know, straight and married to a woman) but that’s a whole other can of worms, so my first question must be: why? Why would a dating app for women feature a man?

Shifting Definitions

Her states that their service has expanded beyond just being for lesbians to become an inclusive service for lesbians, bisexuals, nonbinary and genderqueer & fluid people, etc., and isn’t intended to strictly cater to cis gay women. I won’t argue with the intent that they’re projecting with that mission statement, but it’s certainly at odds with the sentiment they’ve demonstrated thus far.

Her has had problems before, not all of which I can personally verify, but many corroborated by multiple people, such as trans women regularly having profiles deleted when they don’t pass as cis. The big one I’ve heard about, though… my God. Various self-identifiers allow people to customize their dating profile, marking themselves as lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, but identifying oneself as a trans woman was a suspiciously absent option early on.

When the trans option finally arrived, it came in one flavor: trans man.

This may have been a direct response to demands from the trans masculine community, I don’t know for sure, but trans men demanding continued access to women’s spaces despite their identifying as, you know, men is a widespread issue. For now, though, we’re looking at Her, and the fact that they found including men in their service a priority over including trans women, and how this most likely came about from views held wholly on their end.

Inclusivity as Deception

It’s around now that people will crawl out from the woodwork and, Zeus bless them, they mean well, explain that trans women are women and an additional identifier is totally unnecessary. But that’s not how it works in real life. That’s certainly not how it worked for MichFest, the “women only” gathering that openly accepted trans men while rejecting trans women.

On the women’s side, one can’t help but be initially perplexed at this inclusion. Upon looking into it, you’ll probably find a reasoning closely aligned to this: despite what they felt inside, to the outside world they were perceived and treated as women, and share common women’s experiences regardless of how they now identify.

But there’s a slight issue with that idea on paper versus how it eventually unfolds. The push for inclusion of trans men in women’s spaces is typically not a priority for anyone but TERFs, who make a nasty habit of undermining trans women’s identities and continuously refer to us as men, with trans lesbians being the worst offenders in their eyes. How can this blatant disrespect and open disgust for trans people coexist with acceptance of trans men?

It doesn’t, and it can’t. Because they don’t see trans men as men.

They see trans men as “lost sisters”, as women in denial, as butch dykes who took things just a step too far, as people who provide plausible deniability against accusations of bigotry in the short term, and eventual ingroup members in the long term. Trans women are objects of disgust, but trans men pull double duty as objects of pity and useful tools.

But why would a trans man, who has almost assuredly lost friends and family relationships, suffered personal, social, and financial hardships, all as a result of their trans status, turn around and allow themselves to have their own identity undermined and belittled by being part of a space defined by its women only status? For many, it’s precisely because of said hardship and loss; inclusion in these spaces lets them retain a piece of their world, of the community they were a part of before coming out. Like trying to rekindle a friendship with someone who’s grown apart from you, it’s a totally understandable and utterly human desire.

But for others, it isn’t to reduce perceived losses in their personal lives: it’s an insatiable sense of entitlement. They belonged to that space before, they can’t be denied that now. They had access to that dating pool before, they can’t be denied that now.

Shifting Norms

The news has been flooded with revelations of improprieties by men in power, and the US seems to be collectively realizing just how deeply affecting the power dynamics of gender, money, celebrity, and influence truly are. The surface has only barely been scratched, yet the move toward a greater social consciousness raising regarding  these dynamics is moving in the right direction.

With any luck, this will stifle the swaying power of trans men’s demands in women’s space inclusion.

And this is the context in which the trans men option in Her came about. Not as a step toward inclusivity, but as a declaration of their definition of women. A public declaration that they erred in their app’s name: they called it Her, but they wish they would have called it Ovum.

I don’t believe Her’s expanded mission statement to be in good faith, but a reverse-engineered explanation for permitting trans men in their space. Bringing in anyone else, whether trans or genderfluid or nonbinary, is simply the price they’ve decided to pay to maintain good optics.

Their response to criticism on Twitter was canned, a quick explanation that they’re not only for cis lesbians that displays just how much they really care:

HER is a community of LGBTQ women, trans, non binary and queer folk. We’re open to & here for a huge variety of identities across the LGBTQ+ spectrum & in celebration of Transgender Awareness Week are excited to tell stories of the different people that are part of our community.

That their response failed to grasp the issue with the very simple and incredibly basic complaint of “this is a straight man on a lesbian dating service” isn’t an oversight or an accident. That kind of ignorance is intentional. No amount of retcons can explain that away.

“Learning” as a Shield

One of the biggest enemies of social progress comes from within: the desire for ideological purity. Individuals that don’t completely align with this month’s definition of wokeness are thrown under the bus without a second thought. There’s a difference between giving yourself or your community space from toxic elements and demanding perfection from all those you interact with. The latter totally ignores that life and society, in all its complex, myriad challenges and trivialities is an ongoing learning process, and one that requires incredible vigilance to even begin stripping away the countless biases and falsehoods imparted by the reigning definitions of normalcy.

People grow and learn and change, and recognizing that one must crawl before they walk applies figuratively to all aspects of life is necessary to see real change in the world.

But this idea has been successfully weaponized, allowing individuals and organizations to cling to outdated, unhealthy, unjust, and nefarious views and methods. And all they have to say is that they’re learning, no matter the fact that their knowledge gap arises from willful ignorance of reality rather than genuine lack of understanding. It’s a shame that those who use inexperience as a shield against criticism get a free pass while those genuinely trying to better themselves are often ostracized by those they’re trying to be better for, but it’s a difficult line to read for most.

In this case, however, I think the side of the line Her falls on is crystal clear.

This may change. They may decide to drop male identified people entirely, but I don’t believe it will be unless they’re backed into a PR corner or purchased by another company. I’m fortunate in that I’ve no need for a dating app, but if I did, I wouldn’t place my faith in a service that would define my chromosomes before my character.

About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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