Find Yourself a Wing Ma’am

Welcome to Oh Gay Cupid! Autostraddle’s OkCupid series. We get lots of questions on Formspring regarding online dating, so we finally got a bunch of people together to talk about it. While OkCupid isn’t the only online dating site for queers, and maybe isn’t even the best, it does seem to be the one we use most often. We’ll be discussing all things OkC, including meeting friends, first dates, profiles, fuck-ups, letdowns and more. Even though it’s the ‘OkCupid Series,’ the advice given in this series could easily be applied to any online dating site.

oh gay cupid okc

Oh Gay Cupid! illustrations by Rory Midhani

Every single day new apps are being rolled out. Google Reader replacement? There’s an app for that. Girl Guide cookie seeker? There’s an app for that. Queer dating? Well here’s the exception. Even though there’s a constant stream of new apps for queer men and women, the male market thrives while the female market stays relatively stagnant. With any app release you have to give it time to get off the ground before you can call it a success, but when you look at the numbers for Grindr and its ilk, you have to wonder what’s holding back the lady market.

There are plenty of location-based dating apps that try to follow Grindr’s model and I’ve had experience with a lot of them. Most of the offerings are simple: here’s a grid of users and here’s the way to message them. But while Grindr’s six million, Scruff’s four million and Adam4Adam’s three million users offer an overflowing buffet of suitors to anyone anywhere in the world, the female market is limited in both app and profile selection. And more to the point, does knowing your proximity to another gaymo give you enough incentive to meet up? And what if the closest user is two borders away?

I’ve often wondered if w4w dating up apps falter because our needs are at odds with the needs of our apps. One could argue that women simply don’t want hookups, but I don’t believe that’s the case, nor is it the only problem. If we buy into the idea that men want casual partners and women want long term relationships, the refractory period before another success could be a few hours for a dude and a few weeks, months or years for a lady. So a happy Grindr user will keep logging on, while his female counterpart will turn away from her app and probably cause her new partner to do the same. Maybe the majority of us want different things, but how do you balance successful experiences and user loyalty?

Well you could start by running a queer website with an incredibly hilarious staff (I know we’re the reason some of you are dating), but a Straddlr app isn’t in the cards right now. But if A-Camp was any indication of how queer women meet, date and hookup in the real world, we should put community at the forefront and leave fucking on swings as a happy bonus. That’s why Wing Ma’am could be different. Not only because it knows exactly where you are or because it has a shiny, bright UI, but because it has an alternative view of queer dating beyond “just a hookup app.”

I spoke to Ariella Furman, the founder and creator of the Pittsburgh-based Wing Ma’am as they await the results of their IndieGoGo campaign. Following a breakup in 2012, she teamed up with some Carnegie Mellon grads and decided to put all of her extra energy into starting something for the LGBT community. Instead of drawing up an app to meet her needs, the development process started by interviewing hundreds of queerios to figure out what potential users truly want. Unsurprisingly it isn’t just a pink version of Grindr.

Furman told me their concerns extended far beyond dating. 

When surveyed by Wing Ma’am, LGBT women often noted that in their city, it was hard to meet people or know what was going on. They also said that there was a lack of unity and access to information was difficult. When they did attend queer lady events, they didn’t think there was enough attendance or participation. Some people felt like it was hard to feel a part of the community. Even if this is not the case for all cities, I believe that most LGBT women can agree that the scene is a bit “clique-y.”

The idea behind Wing Ma’am is to provide a centralized place for women to safely meet other women as well as stay informed about events. For the first time, we’ll have access to each other as well as to information. Wing Ma’am serves as a guidebook for the LGBTQ women, no matter how she identifies, or even if she doesn’t identify. Everyone will feel welcome and the mobile space will be inclusive for all, LGBTQIA and otherwise. A success story of a standard user would be that she finds friends through the app, starts attending events within her interest group, and eventually creates her own event related to her interest group. We want Wing Ma’am to be about everything: the social networking, the profile-making, the friendships and the matchmaking, the event making, and sure, the inevitable hook-ups that will probably happen.

Wing Ma’am wants to break down social barriers, inspire unity and start a social movement by focusing on community interactions and the ways people connect in the real world. In addition to one-on-one chats, it’ll give users the opportunity to advertise to all of the queers in their area, from giant raging parties to craft shows to Pride parade meetups to low-key poetry readings to Autostraddle brunches. Their polls showed 40% of those surveyed are willing to host their own events, but right now only 5% of them are actively doing so. Large scale promoters, individuals and anyone in between can advertise their events and get noticed with minimal legwork. Even in small cities without a major gay strip, curious queers can still find one another by tagging their profile with all of their interests. That way even if you aren’t part of The Clique, you can still log on, realize your barista’s queer, discover she needs an alternate for dodgeball and play a round the same week.

Not just a shiny grid via Wing Ma'am

Not just a shiny grid via Wing Ma’am

But part of building community involves creating a safe space. Echoing Crazy Blind Date, events are limited to public venues to keep everyone in line. In their next wave of development, they’ll introduce a user-generated and verified directory of safe, queer-friendly spaces with the best places earning a Wing Ma’am Certified designation. It’ll give a nod to LGBT-owned establishments so your soon-to-be book club can throw its rainbow dollars at a friend! On the user side of things, their support team seeks to prevent harassment by scanning conversations for blacklisted words and stepping in when needed. And if you prefer that users don’t know your exact location, you can turn off the locator and still show up on their profile feed.

Even though it’s easy to call Wing Ma’am a lesbian app, as many of us know, L is just the tip of the iceberg. Identities, orientations and expressions are often misunderstood and forcing someone to choose between M or F creates a huge barrier to entry that many aren’t willing to straddle. Wing Ma’am will allow users to identify as Lesbian, Bi, Trans*, Queer, Androgynous, Pansexual, Intersex, Questioning, Asexual and/or nothing at all. You can finally enter a queer space as labelled or label-free as you want. If you’re interested in a particular subset of human beings, you can search for them specifically. And even more importantly, Wing Ma’am will listen to its users, adding more options as they’re educated about all of the different nuances. You can even give Furman a call directly!

We have had very humble beginnings, but we always plan to stay open and attentive to the queer lady audience no matter what. Listening to our community is what has guided up from the beginning with our surveys and what will guide us going into the future. We will keep evaluating our app not only on technical fluidity, but also on safety and inclusiveness. We will constantly be improving. This is a grassroots effort and we want to stay as close to our users as possible!

If a queer lady app that focuses on community sounds like a thing you want to download, maybe it’s time to get on board. Following the assumed success of their fundraiser (they’re more than halfway there!), they’ll test the app in July in three cities polled from IndieGoGo. It’ll be offered as a free app, but with added perks for paid subscribers. Then they’ll tackle the rest of America in August and move onto Canada and the UK. If you want to help bring Wing Ma’am to your city while giving yourself an excuse to talk to cute passerbys, sign up to be an ambassador and get some free swag while you’re at it. Because when it comes to getting a foothold in the gay app market, even a Wing Ma’am needs a wingman.

Profile photo of Kristen

Hailing from Vancouver, Kristen's still trying to figure out how to survive Montreal's Real Legitimate Canadian Winter. So far she's discovered that warm socks, giant toques and Tabby kittens all play a role in her survival. Her ultimate goal is to rank higher than KStew in the "Kristen + Autostraddle" Google Search competition.

Kristen has written 140 articles for us.

30 Comments

  1. Thumb up 3

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    Wing Ma’am sounds like an awesome app! Surprised the article didn’t mention SheSeek, which is a pretty decent app for finding events/venues by city, even though it’s not strictly a ladydating app. Could we get these two apps to sync up somehow?

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      I know! Unfortunately Canada’s going to be a bit away, but I assume when they “don’t release it for us” they mean they won’t organize an on-the-ground campaign. But hey, if you have a few spare minutes between your shitload of courses, get in contact with Ariella and see what you can do!

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    This is exactly what I want! I am so jealous of my gay male friends because they have all of these apps and can find each other so much easier it seems. But this is exciting news, I can’t wait to try it!

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    What perfect timing! Just earlier today I was wishing there was something like this for meeting more LBGTQ people, especially women and genderqueer people. I’m considering volunteering, but I’m having a hard enough time keeping up with my current job that I’m not sure I’d be any good. :(

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      I don’t think they’re going to require a major time commitment. If you were going to go to a queer-friendly event anyways, you could go an hour earlier and pass out pamphlets for Wing Ma’am. And if you’re shy about meeting people, telling them about a queermunity is a great conversational topic. I know it works when I talk about writing for the biggest independent, girl-on-girl culture website!

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      Hey there Mariah! Thanks for your interest. You can volunteer as much or as little time as you’d like. It’s a really fun way to meet other people. Volunteering just entails going to a few queer events in your city and handing out flyers. More involvement would also mean leaving flyers at various establishments, and less involvement means going to events you were already thinking about attending, but spending the first hour or so of your time there telling people about the app. The volunteer forms are on our website. Thanks for your interest!

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      Thanks kd! This will definitely be great for people travelling or those newer to a city. It’s hard to weed through dozens of websites to find out about events going on. This centralizes everything so it’s easier. We’re pumped to get this thing out there in August!

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      Thanks moose! Yes, we’re so excited to be spreading the word. We have a few experts on the team who are great at community building. We want to aim for a couple hundred to a couple thousand users per city to keep things really active! We definitely will have to rely on Word of Mouth also, so feel free to spread the link via Facebook or Twitter. You never know who is listening!

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    I want this app! I feel like I need it in my heart? Except I want it to also be able to let me somehow app-wingman my friends. Or my friends to wingman me. Like instead of “there is a hot available single 20 feet from you” it would be like “There’s some girl 20 feet from you who really wants you to meet her other friends who’s also into knitting and stuff” you know?

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    This is so great! I’m really thankful that Autostraddle covered this. The more media attention it gets, the more popular it will be when it comes out, and the more likely it is to achieve the critical mass needed to sustain itself. :D This could be really big! I’m excited!

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    Wooah, it’s like a literal “gaydar”! This is going to be so useful and awesome! I second Vera: thanks for writing this, Autostraddle, because the more publicity this thing gets, the better for all of us :)

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    Hey everyone! Just wanted to post an update for our app. Our IndieGoGo didn’t make it, but we had some incredible backers come in that allowed us to continue this project. Our app is now completely redesigned as well as our splash page website: http://www.wingmaam.com

    We’re almost there! We’re collecting signups now to prepare for the launch. We’re so excited that it’s happening! We have a web-based demo coming out in 1-2 weeks just to try and get feedback on. User feedback is really important to us (we are the app For Us, By Us.. not just By Us).

    Then, we’ll finish and tidy things up for a launch in November on the phone. Right now, if you have any interest in this at all we’d love it if you can sign up on the website. This helps us prove that the queer women’s community is large and thriving. In addition, we’re creating a self-sustaining community of people so that the app is fun from the start.

    Thanks for keeping in touch, commenting and the feedback has been incredible!

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