It’s not just straight men who find themselves single and lonely, wondering how they got to their 20s (or later) without a date. There are some gay men who identify as incels. Let’s broaden the discussion to people who have little or no dating experience, and who identify as LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or related identities including non-binary, pansexual, two-spirited, and intersex). Some of this post is based on my experience as a bisexual woman.
I’ve been chatting with a therapist, Jenn Seeley, about queer and trans adults who haven’t started dating yet. No matter what your orientation, dating requires some degree of availability, desirability and connection. There are however a few things that make dating easier for some of us LGBTQ+ people, and some reasons why it’s harder than for straight people.
Why dating might be easier for LGBTQ+
Queer people are not stuck in a traditional culture where half of the people (straight men) are expected to “make the first move” while the other half (straight women) are only supposed to give subtle signals of their interest. (The unfortunate side effect of the tradition: it’s hard for two women to signal interest in each other, because both were socialized to passively wait for someone else to ask them out!)
Why dating might be harder for LGBTQ+ people
If you grew up assuming you were straight, it takes time to figure out your sexual orientation. Although some people experiment liberally, a shyer person might wait until they know their own desires before feeling ready to seek a partner. If you are bisexual, it can take years to sort through the confusion, in my experience!
In a homophobic city or town, it’s dangerous to hit on a stranger of the same gender. If you haven’t had much social experience, you might not know what is safe in your location. So an inexperienced person might cautiously limit themselves to dating at queer community events – if there are any. It takes a lot of cultural awareness to drop hints that only a queer would get, within a straight environment.
With the exception of the youngest generation in liberal places, a queer person’s self-confidence has likely been undermined by years of living in the closet, stigma, bullying and discrimination. You may be estranged from your family, and uprooted from the values and religion you learned as a child. You are more likely to be a survivor of child abuse or other adverse childhood experiences (more details). These traumas have likely led to depression, anxiety, addiction or other mental health issues, which further reduce a queer person’s desirability and confidence to connect with others.
This goes double for trans people
Dating is a big challenge for gender-variant people in our society, including transgender, non-binary, intersex and two-spirit people. (I’m writing as a cis (not trans) woman who is not gender-conforming, and who has been close to some trans, intersex and non-binary folks.)
Until recently, most trans people stayed in the closet until adulthood, living uncomfortably in the gender role they were assigned at birth. Some closeted trans people don’t date because of gender confusion, so they have no relationship experience when they transition in adulthood. Others start relationships in their youth, and when they figure out they are trans, it often causes major change or ending to their marriage. Either way, a newly-out trans person is often trying to start dating in a new way, with a changing body, well into their adult years.
Our society’s mainstream conventions for what makes a body attractive are very different for men and women. A trans woman who was born with a male body shape might go to great lengths to transform her body, and still not “pass” as female, and thus not be attractive to many people who desire women. Some trans and non-binary people reject the idea of passing, and may deliberately present themselves with masculine and feminine features simultaneously (such as a beard and a skirt). There are some folks who desire people whose bodies don’t conform to the binary mainstream conventions!
The heavy discrimination against trans people causes high rates of poverty, violence and traumatic experiences, which again lead to mental health issues that will inhibit their dating and relationships.
The high risk of violence may make it unsafe for a trans person to invite a stranger on a date. Even a safer approach, such as online dating, presents a dilemma: Reveal your trans status up front, and get rejected due to ignorant discrimination? Or wait until you meet someone who finds you attractive, reveal yourself, and then maybe get attacked?
Trans people are more likely to be autistic, which means many will have difficulty in social interactions with neurotypical people. Discrimination and trauma may have also led a trans person to be socially isolated. A trans person who has limited social skills and experience will find it difficult to navigate the social challenges of transition and starting to date in their new body and identity.
All that being said, I know many queer and trans people who have successfully met dating partners, experienced love and sex, and gotten married. It is possible to live true to yourself and to find people who love the real you.