Dating as a gender nonconforming gay person can be, to say the least, interesting. I’ve had dates that run like a courtroom exchange: “You say you don’t believe in gender, so why do you identify as gay? Shouldn’t you be pansexual?” Others are English lessons: “I’m sorry, I’m just having a hard time with this. The singular ‘they’ is not grammatically correct — you know that, right?” [Ed note: The grammar gods approved the use of the singular “they” in 2017.]
I don’t like either of these scenarios. I’m not saying that my identity is iron-clad in logic, but you needing me to pass some test in order for you to validate my identity shows a lazy approach to critical thinking. I would also point out that identities aren’t, in fact, the result of anything systematic — they’re developed from experiences, values, social connections, and other, you know, human stuff. Besides, I don’t want to channel my awesome debate-team skills with you. I just want human respect on a human date with maybe human kissing.
Here’s how to (probably) get off on the right foot with that ambiguously gendered hottie who uses nonbinary pronouns.
1. Don’t make gender the main focus.
It’s a little personal for a first date. After all, you’d feel weird if every first date you had turned into a spontaneous coming-out story. It can also start to feel a little predictable. We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re getting bored. Of course, talking about gender isn’t completely taboo — it’s really about striking the right balance. Asking what my pronouns are? Yes, please! Asking who/what I identify as? Amazing! Asking me if I’m on hormones? That’s a little much.
2. Accept that their identity isn’t a puzzle for you to solve.
I’ve had my fair share of dates where the other party was trying to figure out my gender. What was I, really? What gender did I aspire to be? Those were bad dates. When normal things like going through airport security get you get pulled aside for an intrusive pat-down, you tend to lose interest in entertaining outside opinions on gender — especially ones which feed a binary, medicalized narrative. Pro tip: Sex and gender are not the same thing.
3. If you make a mistake, apologize.
You’ve likely been socialized to use only two pronouns for people. And although it can be triggering to be called by my birth pronouns, I know that habits are hard to break. Heck, even my family makes the occasional pronoun mistake. Should you screw up someone’s pronouns, express remorse, correct yourself, and move on. It can be that simple.
There’s also the other side of the coin…
Being a gender nonconforming person navigating the dating scene has its challenges. Maybe you’re agender. Maybe you’re nonbinary. Maybe you’re new to dating as, well, you. In that case, I recommend the following.
1. Take time for self-care.
If you experience dysphoria, dating can be especially rough. Even if a date is going well, it can seem like your body is… not quite there. Something as simple as catching your reflection in a coffee shop mirror can knock you off balance when you’re having a bad body-image day. If this happens, be nice to yourself and take some time to chill out. I swear by a bubble bath, heavy on the bubbles. I have a friend who swears by playing with Snapchat filters. Do whatever feels like kindness to yourself.
2. Celebrate your gender.
When online dating, it can feel like a raw deal deciding whether or not to put your pronouns in your bio and thus having to explain parts of yourself that others don’t have to. That’s why I personally love Tinder’s inclusive gender options — there are 37 of them, and you can choose whether or not to show your gender in your profile. Looking at your profile and knowing that it captures all parts of you is a powerful thing.
3. Have a disaster date plan.
Really, this is important no matter who you are. It’s worth thinking about what makes a date disastrous for you and how you can recognize when one is happening. I know it sounds basic, but if you are a gender nonconforming person, it’s tougher. We live in a society that doesn’t make much space for us. Learning how to reclaim that space includes speaking up (or walking out) on bad dates. For example, do you feel comfortable educating your date about why gender confirmation doesn’t necessarily require a medical transition? Do you have the social reserves to explain why the phrase “drag” doesn’t really apply to your 24/7 life experience? Figure out what your M.O. is when uncomfortable situations arise so you can be prepared.