Online dating is exciting, and hopeful – but is also full of sharks, waiting to take advantage of our vulnerability and hopefulness. This is true in mainstream dating circles. It is even truer in societies which are traditional and gender- and caste- bound as India is. And of course, it is truest of all in queer dating circles online, where we risk our safety, our trust, our hearts, for a connection, an intimacy, and a love to enrich our lives.
On AYA, we enter into this dating space knowing that there is some effort on the part of the app owners and admins to ensure that there is no such thing as a fake profile. We upload a selfie when we want our account authenticated – the admins know each profile and what it says. This is in addition to our profile data and the details we fill in about what we want and who we are. More and more apps are turning to this form of identification to protect the people on their platforms. But there are limits to what the AYA team can do to protect us without violating our privacy and our dignity.
How do we protect ourselves?
Here are a few tips about protecting yourself and finding safe people to interact with online and on AYA:
– Openness –
The profile which is full of details can feel like an overshare, or perhaps like too much information. But think of it in another way – the profile with so much sharing is an effort at openness, and at honesty. It is an effort to show you something in order to interest you. Pictures (not pictures of just impersonal parts of the body!) of them in the world, of their faces, of them in activities, are ways you can say, this person exists in the real world and is probably worth thinking about reaching out to! Your own openness might be limited right now, but consider also what you can share and what you can’t. (Intimacy is not merely about your real name and picture, after all.)
– False flags –
It is difficult to parse this, because many of us are in the closet, we are scared of showing our faces, we are scared of being outed. Generally though, if you read a profile and it seems to contradict itself; if the profile picture shows you a celebrity or a model or is someone’s glam shot, do a little digging before you make up your mind. The person may be protecting their identity, or they might be trying to glam you into thinking of them as attractive without showing you their own selves. I’m not saying you should be mistrustful of every person whose face you can’t see. But use some care for yourself.
– Pushy conversations –
Let’s say you’ve reached out to someone or responded to someone who reached out to you. You’re discussing movies, common interests, hopes and dreams – and they want to meet. Or they want you to send pictures of yourself. Perhaps they want risque pictures? And when you aren’t sure, or want more time, they challenge you, or put you down. The emotional pressure on you to reveal yourself becomes harder and harder. Stay strong, and true to yourself. Even if this person isn’t doing this with a motive of exposing you or using your image for something more sinister, they are pressuring you and trying to force your consent. Trust is a two-way street.
– Money –
The queer community is vulnerable, fragile. Many of us live with parents, or in rented homes with difficult landlords. Some of us are in unsafe workspaces, or don’t have work at all due to queerphobia and transphobia. And so, it is not unusual for us to be struggling financially. And perhaps you feel privileged, secure. You want to support your community. Or perhaps you’ve been in contact with someone online and you genuinely feel attracted to them and feel you are falling in love with them. But please – please be careful about giving any and every sob story you hear your financial support.
This is a difficult space to navigate. I spoke to several friends who use dating apps about this, and at some point, everyone realised that you cannot really know if a profile is “fake” or not fake. They made their way cautiously but hopefully. Quite often this trust paid off. Sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes the other person was real, but an asshole. It happens. Dating is weird and complicated and hopeful.
Whatever step you are at on your dating journey, I hope you have a good, safe and exciting 2021. Happy new year!